Is there some unwritten rule that every ground-breaking musician must also have a screw loose? I don't mean to assert that Lee "Scratch" Perry is actually mentally deficient, but on the basis of the footage compiled in the documentary The Upsetter: The Life & Music of Lee "Scratch" Perry, it would be easy to conclude that something is not quite right with Mr. Perry.
One of the reasons I wanted to see this particular doc is because I hoped to learn more about Perry, oft described as a legendary musical figure. I first heard about him when he worked with The Clash to produce their version of Junior Marvin's "Police and Thieves" in the late 1970s, but as The Upsetter shows, Perry first rose to fame in the 1960s as the talented producer of dozens of ska records. Perry, who was born in a small town in Jamaica, credits his later success to a stint working on a construction crew building a highway; the rhythmic sound of rocks being smashed against one another made a deep impression on his musical soul. Eventually he got an entry-level job at a recording studio and worked his way up until he became a widely sought after producer.
The documentary is on firm ground as it establishes Perry's reputation, with a remarkable amount of video footage depicting the early days of his career. Perry explains that he wasn't satisfied with his success as a ska record producer, and so returned to his religious roots. Perry's inspired mixing of spirituality with ska led to the birth of reggae in the late 1960s.