Lee 'Scratch' Perry
Roast Fish, Collie Weed, & Corn Bread
by Scott McFarland
I come here to give praise that is due to Lee "Scratch" Perry's brilliant Roast Fish Collie Weed & Corn Bread LP. In loving tribute to this record (my personal favorite), I will attempt to describe each track so that all may have an idea of the wonders which are contained within it.
Track 1, "Soul Fire", is a bit funky and a bit crazed. As with the other tracks on this album, sounds both familiar and strange weave themselves in and out of the music like a crazed god's percussion effects. That crazed god is none other than Lee Perry, the premiere reggae producer whose work from the late 60's up through the late 70's encompasses some of the finest, deepest, and downright heaviest flow of music ever recorded. Lee's voice was not as strong as some of the men whom he recorded such as Bob Marley or Max Romeo, but it wasn't bad either as the man had has an impeccable musical sense. (He did a solid job with voice and/or with "toast" of topping off literally hundreds of recordings under his own name). On this track he holds notes and goes for dissonance in a manner that probably wouldn't impress your mother or your great aunt very much, but which I find to be quite pleasing. The music slowly swirls around his vocal in a manner not entirely unrelated to Spike Jones and to James Brown or Sly Stone. Overall it's a nice "dub" reggae track. As always, the sounds present on the recording subvert themselves into the rhythm and pull you into Scratch's groove.
Track 2, "Throw Some Water In", is a catchy little number. The ladies billed as "Full Experience" make their entrance on this tune backing Scratch with some rather nice vocal parts which contribute to the track's atmosphere. Lee sings a rather eccentric lyric about water and people and radiators as the unmistakable sound of a bong pipe is heard in the background. A friend of mine once described this LP to me as "The Sgt. Pepper's of Ganja" and it's hard to argue with that description. In the grand tradition of Jamaican reggae, the tune has an easy to enjoy sing-song quality to it.
Now we start to get heavier. Track 3, "Evil Tongues", is one of my favorites. It's a slow grind which will tickle a music lover's ears the way that a slow prolonged lap dance from (insert your favorite sex kitten here) might tickle a straight man's jones. Scratch warns us about evil tongues and wicked hearts over a slowly wailing sound in a recording that would make Public Enemy in their heyday eat their hearts out. The song comes, spreads its wail and its message, and then moves away.
Track 4 is a heavy one too. It's a remix I believe of the track "Curly Locks". Surrounding Scratch's vocal and its tale of prejudice in Jamaica is a percolating landscape filled with deep rhythm. Again, Full Experience add to the full experience. The drums slowly rock and sway, and the bass grooves along.
Track 5, "Ghetto Sidewalk", is explicitly political and in that regard reminds me a bit of Scratch's old pal Bob Marley who was now making big money out of reggae music. The track sounds a bit fragile, as if the groove may fall apart, but keeps it going well enough to support some nice individualistic horn playing by someone and a nice lyric by Perry. Again, this track grooves substantially but slowly, with some good old-fashioned funk going on in the music.
Let's go over to Side Two. Track 6, "Favorite Dish", is a huge slice of brilliance fit into a relatively short interval. (I saw Scratch and his band do an elongated version of this tune on their 1997 American tour- it was absolutely amazing but that's neither here nor there). Sound effects, vocal, killer drum and killer bass are all calibrated into a massive musical charge.
Onward to track 7, "Big Neck Police" (at least I'm fairly sure that that's the case - the LP and CD jacket apparently list the tracks in the wrong sequence). This is the same backing track as was used on "Dreadlocks in Moonlight" and Mikey Dread's toast version "Dread at the Mantrols" on the recently released "Arkology" collection. It's a good track (if a bit more "normal" than the rest of this album), and Lee gives it a good singing, with Full Experience adding the backing vocals that distinguish this album's version.
Next we get track 8, "Free Up The Weed". This is another thoroughly brilliant effort, the type of track that brings the term "genius" into vogue as relates to the artist. The beat is slow and funky, and it is augmented by a variety of noises and echoes. Some plant coffee, and some plant tea, so why can't Scratch plant some collie? This question is asked over a stuttering bass drum in what turns out to be a most eloquent fashion.
Track 9, "Yu Squeeze My Panhandle", reminds me whenever I hear it of the relationship between rap music and reggae, which was one of its ancestors. The track's assertion that the DJs are against Scratch reminds me of similar claims made by late 80's rap groups. The music here is relaxed and slow, a perfect backdrop for Scratch to hold forth over.
Some of the best was saved for last - track 10 is the massive "Roast Fish and Corn Bread". The bassline stutters and grooves in a most heavy and memorable fashion. The echo, pinging sound, and voice which surrounds this grooving center do nothing to diminish its strength but rather contribute towards massive groove and towards a brilliant, atmospheric track. Some earlier mixes of this track appear on the "Arkology" collection, but the one here is the definitive version. The Scratch man is in full effect on this one.
So there you have it. If you take my advice, you'll run out and grab a copy of this CD immediately. It was released on vinyl in Jamaica only upon original issue (in 1978 I think - although some of the tracks used are copyrighted as far back as 1976) but thankfully we can all own a copy of it now. Run, don't walk, over to your local record store and check this stuff out if you haven't already!
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