Lee Perry is one of those artists but for whose existence life, for those of us in the know, would have been a bit less wondrous. Perry is the personification of Jamaican music: From the ska era to the present digital age, he’s been making music. Along with the late, great King Tubby, Perry pioneered dub music. Commanding the controls of a stripped-down sound system, an ever-present spliff in his hand, Perry produced career-high records by Bob Marley and the Wailers, Junior Murvin, Dr. Alimantado, the Congos, Junior Byles and Max Romeo, to name just a few. In 1973 he built the Black Ark Studio in his backyard in Kingston and, for the next five years, produced some of the greatest grooves ever to come out of Jamaica. In 1978, the Black Ark burned down, and a frustrated Perry drifted for years through England and the US, finally ending up in Switzerland where he lives today. This interview was conducted in 2007 at BB King’s Blues Club & Grill with the great rastatographer Brian Jahn taking photos.
Chris: So we heard you quit smoking ganja.
Lee Perry: Yeah.
Chris: Why is that?
Lee Perry: Because I had all the amount I need. Since I was 25, I have been smoking pot and it overload the brain. Marijuana, ganja, Lamb’s Bread. I don’t smoke any more, and I never go back on my word. My word represent me.
Chris: But you don’t regret smoking weed.
Le Perry: No! I had enough. I overload the brain, everything I do, I overdo it.
Chris: Why do you think you overdo stuff?
Lee Perry: My lungs refuse to give up. My lungs say I will not give up. So I said, Well I will give up.
Chris: What inspires you in 2007?
Lee Perry: Water.
Chris: Why is that?
Lee Perry: Every day no man on this planet can not do without air and water.
Chris: I heard you talking a lot about love onstage tonight. Do you agree with the Beatles that all you need is love?
Lee Perry: It depends what type of love. You have perfect love; you have greedy love; you have jealous love. Whenever you need perfect love, that’s all there is—just perfect love. Not jealous love, not greedy love and not speedy love. Not ignorant love and not miserable love. You need perfect—that’s all we need and nothing else.
Chris: And what’s perfect love?
Lee Perry: Anti-greedy. Anti-evil. Anti-wicked. Anti-conceited.
Chris: What was the first music you heard that made you want to make music yourself?
Lee Perry: Well, definitely with me myself, me used to love music and... music with a dance, all the time. When it become a part of it. And then because the dance I used to do, it was an exercise, so the exercise take on pleasure and blood be the soul. And my first music I love was soul music.
Chris: Any particular groups?
Lee Perry: I was really a fan of the O’Jays, Temptations, Otis Redding—James Brown was a little touch in my soul but wasn’t deep enough. Marvin Gaye. Gladys Knight and the Pips… and many of those type of people. Soul music.
Chris: You used to record with 4-track technology, and now there’s digital technology. Which do you prefer?
Lee Perry: Well, if you ask me which would I choose, I would choose a tape. The tape recorder. You can do more with it than you can do with digital. In the space of making a digital CD, I can make 10 CDs, 10 separate LP/CDs with the tape. I’ll be going very fast, the digital too slow for me. Too slow. Definitely too slow. That would be driving me bored to death.
Chris: You’ve done a lot of political music in your life. Are you still doing political music?
Lee Perry: Well, the reason why I have to do that, because I know the truth—that all the government here, they’re all frauds and nothing is right. And nothing is righteous. All the governments here are sinners. And sinners are a part of their nature. And the only one government I know—I know there’s only one God, one king, one queen, one emperor, one empress, and one lady and one baby. One baby we know about, his name is baby Tafari. But the woman can’t betray her white baby, and I never seen any white shadow yet, so I have to go against those things. I have never seen a white shadow—I go all over the world, and all the people I know, their shadows are black.
Chris: So if the extra-terrestrials are sitting in their ships and looking down on Earth and seeing the mess of it that we’re making, what do you think they are saying to each other?
Lee Perry: Well, if you have anything to do with extra-terrestrials, you would know what is the main object.
Chris: What’s that?
Lee Perry: The great empower—that, the government want. This is what your president needs to make him a superstar. He need your X. And when you give a man your X, you are finished.
Chris: And what’s the X?
Lee Perry: You give away your one energy and one power. There come a criminal. We serve him in the flesh, skull and bone. And working 20 devils, they come to collect your X. And it’s your sword. And it create empower, and when they give the sword to Mr. Bush, that’s it. You na have no more sword.
Chris: If you could have an audience with Mr. Bush, what would you say to him?
Lee Perry: To repent. I would say to Mr. Bush: Repent.