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Upsetter Records Profile

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Upsetter Records Profile

Lee "Scratch" Perry in 2006

Copyright Samir Hussein/Getty Images

Upsetter Records - The Basics:

  • What: Independent record label Upsetter Records
  • Where: Kingston, Jamaica
  • Founded by: Lee "Scratch" Perry
  • Founded: 1968
  • Closed: 1978

The Upsetter and Amalgamated Records :

The road to Lee "Scratch" Perry's Upsetter Records is paved with disagreements. Upsetter wasn't Perry's first stab at running a label. That came when he had a falling out with producer friend Clement "Coxsone" Dodd, for whom he had been recording music at Dodd's legendary Studio One. When Perry decided Dodd was ripping him off, he headed across the street to rival producer Joe Gibb's studio, where he recorded his now namesake tune, I Am The Upsetter, as a veiled threat to Dodd. Gibb recognized Perry's talent and put him in charge of his own Amalgamated Records imprint. More fallouts would follow.

"Inventing" Reggae and Upsetter Records:

While at Amalgamated, some say Perry "invented" reggae when he produced a song called Long Shot by The Pioneers. The innovative rhythm of the song was soon being copied by musicians and formed the basis for what came to be known as reggae music. Perry churned out many hits for the label, but soon he decided Gibb wasn't appreciating him either. Cue song aimed at Gibb - People Funny Boy - and another parting of ways.

This time, Perry decided to go it alone, and he formed his own label, Upsetter Records, and put together a group of musicians (Gladdy's All Stars, renamed The Upsetters) to help him produce hits.

Upsetter Records Success:

Upsetter Records had success early on with the release of Return of Django, which became a hit in the UK as well. The Upsetters and Perry were invited to tour in the UK, but when the original Upsetters couldn't make it, they were replaced for good with another group of musicians called the Hippy Boys. The UK tour was a success, and it was during this period that Trojan Records started distributing Upsetter releases in the UK.

The Upsetter Record Shop:

Buoyed by the early success of the label, Perry opened the famed Upsetter Record Shop in Kingston. The shop was soon the central location not only for the Upsetters and the label but also for the music scene in general in Jamaica. It became a mecca for local musicians.

Thanks to the popularity of the shop and Perry's position in the music scene, the label got another boost when the (now defunct) Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation brought Perry on board to host a weekly radio show, on which he played many of his own releases.

Bob Marley Steals The Upsetters:

Frequent Upsetter Record Shop customer Bob Marley and his bandmates Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer (then collectively known as The Wailers) wanted to repeat the UK success of The Upsetters for their own band. When Marley discovered that The Upsetters felt like Perry had ripped them off on the profits on the UK tour, he got them to leave Perry and join The Wailers. An unamused Perry threatened Marley's life, but in the end, they agreed to work together, with The Wailers and The Upsetters playing together and Perry with the exclusive right to produce.

The Bob Marley/Lee Scratch Perry Sessions :

The Wailers and The Upsetters recorded together, under the production of Perry, until roughly 1971, when the musicians signed a deal with Island Records. Their releases during this period came out on the Upsetter Records label and are considered to be absolute reggae classics. Even though many of the songs they did were later re-recorded by Marley, Perry's productions are considered by many to be defining moments in the evolution of reggae and critical to introducing Marley to an international audience.

Black Ark Studios :

After losing Marley to Island Records, things got rough for Perry's small label - especially when Marley's major label success brought bigger labels into Jamaica looking for musicians. He managed to again turn his fortunes around, however, by founding Black Ark Studios in 1973. Black Ark is legendary in reggae music history. From this base - a relatively simple studio with modest gear - Perry produced what is often considered not to be only the most important reggae of the day but some of the most innovate music, period. Releases from Black Ark came out on Upsetter and other labels.

The End of Upsetter Records:

Black Ark Studios soon became a destructive force in Perry's life. The studio was filled with hangers-on and was a target for gangsters involved in the political unrest in Jamaica during the period. Upsetter Records ceased to function in 1978 and the following year, Perry had a breakdown and closed Black Ark Studios. In 1981, the studio would burn down - Perry claimed to have torched it himself, but the jury is still out on whether that is reality or legend.

More Information:

To check out a discography of Upsetter Records and of Lee "Scratch" Perry, click here.

Thank you to the wonderful Eternal Thunder for information used in this article.

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