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Reggae Made From 'Scratch'? Give It a Try

Lee "Scratch" Perry throws himself into the mix Feb. 12 at Crossroads. (Sonar)
By J. Freedom du Lac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 5, 2006

Is Lee "Scratch" Perry the greatest pop music artist you've never heard of?

Last year, Perry -- the mad genius of reggae -- appeared at No. 100 on Rolling Stone's list of "The Immortals: The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time," right behind the likes of Guns N' Roses, Carlos Santana and Curtis Mayfield. In the magazine, the Beastie Boys' Adam "Adrock" Horovitz paid tribute to Perry with a loving and amusing essay in which he rhapsodized about the producer-mixologist-songwriter-performer's famously bizarre behavior.

Recalling the first time he met the diminutive Jamaican studio whiz, Horovitz wrote: "He had on a shiny outfit with little things taped all over him: notes, a lot of pictures, studs, mirrors and bottle caps. . . . He also had a video camera and was taping everything -- the sky, the buildings, all of us -- except he had no videotape in the camera." Horovitz, of course, also had high praise for Perry's production skills, noting that Scratch recorded some of Bob Marley's best early work (songs that sounded raw, "like punk records," he wrote) and also did wonders as a dub remixer. "There are only a handful of producers who can make a band sound interesting and different, no matter who they are, and Lee 'Scratch' Perry is one of them," the rapper explained.

So, then: Lee "Scratch" Perry, influential, important, immortal .

Now, name one of his hits!

According to an entry in "The Rock Snob's Dictionary," the "formerly forgotten" Perry was rediscovered, sort of, after the Beastie Boys declared him cool. As such, the book says, Perry -- who made a cameo on the Beasties' 1998 album, "Hello Nasty" -- "now plays to packed houses of young hipsters, few of whom actually know any of his songs." (You know, like "People Funny Boy," "Return of Django," "Roast Fish and Cornbread" and "Curly Locks.")

But hey, at least they know him.

See for yourself when the 100th greatest himself performs at Crossroads on Feb. 12.

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As best we can tell, Perry has never collaborated with the fiery British protest singer Billy Bragg. But the two artists might as well have sound-clashed in the studio: Bragg has been called a "one-man Clash," after the punk-rock greats who once used Perry as a producer.

Bragg, who splits the difference between Joe Strummer and Woody Guthrie (or, if you prefer, Strummer and Bob Dylan), performs at the Birchmere on March 26.

That will be one month after the reissue, by Yep Roc Records, of several of his albums from the 1980s, including "Life's a Riot With Spy vs. Spy" and "Talking With the Taxman About Poetry."

* * *

After her April 1 performance at Lisner Auditorium, the Cape Verdean chanteuse Cesaria Evora will likely have some people talking about Billie Holiday -- even if Evora doesn't agree with the comparison.

The barefoot diva from thearchipelago off the coast of Senegal sings the blues (or, at least, Cape Verde's version of the Portuguese-inspired blues, known as morna ) in a plaintive, honeyed voice that's struck more than a few listeners as being very Lady Day-like.

Evora, however, disagrees, having told W magazine this about the Holiday comparisons: "She was one of a kind. I am a different kind." A good kind, to be sure.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company