Now that Phil Collins has left the country, the coast is clear for the classic reggae/dub duo of Lee "Scratch" Perry and Mad Professor. Each is a living legend, and together are a spectacle not to be missed. The duo is slated for shows in Israel on December 8, 9 and 10, along with The Robotiks and other special guests. The first show, a triple bill, will feature the only local appearance of laid-back rap superstars De La Soul (see cover story on page ).
Reggae mastermind Perry is a famously colorful eccentric. He's been known to use his everyday wardrobe as a post-modern pastiche bulletin board for pop art, to appear onstage holding animal dolls, and even to interrupt songs for stream-of-consciousness rants about topics like Steven Spielberg's ET.
Perry's erratic behavior might shape his out-there creativity, but it also makes him difficult to work with. Born Rainford Perry in 1936, his music career began in the Fifties, when he worked with Coxsone Dodd and the legendary Prince Buster on their Sound System - a traveling dance party that brought Western rhythm and blues to Island culture. The mix later gave birth to roots reggae, dub and ska, spawning a musical revolution. It was behind the decks of the Sound System that Perry earned the nickname "Scratch," referring to his manic, chicken-like motions at the controls.
After producing some hits with Dodd, the two parted ways acrimoniously, and Perry went on to begin a solo career, collaborating with Joe Gibbs. The relationship with Gibbs ultimately disintegrated because of personality conflicts and creative differences.
In 1968, Perry formed his first record label, Upsetter. As Scratch's music became well-known in Jamaica (and eventually in England), his reputation as a creative genius and oddball persona bloomed. In the meantime, Perry developed dub, which began as a type of stripped-down, echoed-out reggae remix. Because of the limitations of technology at the time, Perry was known to spend days playing with tape loops, pushing the limits of four-track recording.
Perry built The Black Ark studio in his back yard in Kingston and there, under his direction, Bob Marley and the Wailers (whom Perry had played an active role in discovering) laid down many of their formative recordings. When Marley and the Wailers became big enough to sign with Island Records, Perry slammed Marley as a sell-out and a discredit to his race.
In the Eighties and early Nineties, Perry repeatedly went underground, often resurfacing under stage names until legendary rap group The Beastie Boys brought him back to the public eye. The Beastie Boys, who had referenced Scratch's work in many of their albums and publicly cited him as an influence, brought him onstage at their Tibetan Freedom Concert in 1997 (he would later record lead vocals on "Dr. Lee, PHD" for the group's Hello Nasty CD). It was around this time that Perry began collaborating with Mad Professor. Today, Perry's seminal dub recordings are more popular than ever, and every year he treats the public to reissue CDs.
Known as "Mad Professor," Guyanan/British Neil Fraser is probably the most revered figure in contemporary dub. He built his own radio as an eight-year-old, and a fully-functioning home studio just a few years later. The studio changed shape until it became "Ariwa," the DJ/producer/mixer's traveling system. Professor's best-known mainstream recording is No Protection, his 1996 dub remix of Massive Attack's second trip-hop album, Protection.
The Mad Professor-Lee "Scratch" Perry connection was inevitable; they're both known for pushing genre limits and home-grown technology, and both have built underground media empires out of their homes. At least one of their names is in the liner notes of almost every classic dub and reggae recording, as well as those of other genres. (Perry also produced ska-rockers The Clash, while Professor collaborated with early trance-meisters The Orb, synth-pop group Depeche Mode and alternative trendsetter Perry Farrell.) The duo has released five albums and gone on several tours together. This week's mini-tour of Israel promises to be an event for the archives.
Located in a warehouse on the Tel Aviv Port, the Heineken Vibes Hangar should pack in the fans for the December 8 triple treat of Lee "Scratch" Perry, Mad Professor and De La Soul. Doors open at 9:30 p.m., with tickets priced at NIS 170. Call the Hangar box office at (03) abc-defg. Taking place at Jerusalem's Ma'abada Theater between Matisyahu gigs, the December 9 show will feature local DJ Atzmon Avrahami warming up the crowd. Doors open at 10 p.m., with tickets priced at NIS 109 and NIS 119; (02) 629-2000. Along with guest vocalist Earl 16 of Leftfield, the December 10 concert at Tel Aviv's Goldstar Zappa club is called for 9 p.m., with tickets priced at NIS 139; call (03) 649-9550.