The Upsetter: The Life & Music of Lee Scratch Perry
Directed by Ethan Higbee and Adam Bhala-Lough
95 mins, 2011, video
INTRODUCED BY ADAM BHALA-LOUGH
The Upsetter is the fascinating story of Lee “Scratch” Perry, a visionary musician and artist from poor rural Jamaica who journeyed to the big city in the late 1950’s with dreams of making it in the burgeoning record industry. Lee Perry burst onto the scene with a brand new sound, inventing a genre of music that would come to be called Reggae while mentoring a young Bob Marley and gaining international recognition as a record producer and solo artist. Soon he would be called upon by musicians as diverse as The Clash and Paul McCartney to provide his unique sound to their recordings.
In the 1970’s, he constructed his own recording studio in his backyard; The Black Ark Studio became a hotbed for the production of Reggae and Dub music and made Scratch quite wealthy and famous. At that time in Kingston however, gang warfare driven by warring political factions was causing havoc in the streets. In the chaos that ensued, the gangsters and the police both extorted Scratch for unknown amounts of money, threatening his life on many occasions. Despite the disruption, Scratch and a Rastafarian band named The Congos managed to complete the album that would be considered by historians as his single greatest achievement. Surpisingly, Scratch’s label Island Records refused to release it, deeming it too experimental and overtly spiritual for mainstream tastes. Around the same time, Lee’s relationship with the Rasta community came to an abrupt end and his wife and the mother of his children left him for a studio musician.
Shortly thereafter, The Black Ark mysteriously burned to the ground and Scratch fled to Europe. After a decade of alcohol, ganja and inhalant fueled artistic output in Europe, Lee banned all toxic substances from his body and adopted a strict vegetarian diet. With the help of his new Swiss wife, Lee spent the 1990’s putting his life back together piece by piece, reclaiming his position as an international superstar in the process. In 2006, at the age of 70, Scratch triumphantly embarked on a world tour to spread his message of peace and prosperity to his adoring fans in the US, UK, Russia, Brazil, Japan and New Zealand.
The Upsetter charts 70 years in the life of Lee “Scratch” Perry in his own words through an exclusive interview given to American filmmakers Ethan Higbee and Adam Bhala Lough in Switzerland in 2006. It is equally a documentation of 30 years of Jamaican music and culture as it is a study of one of the most creative and inspiring human beings of all times.