Rockstone: Native's Adventures with Lee Perry at the Black Ark

Native / Lee "Scratch" Perry

  • AllMusic Rating
  • User Ratings (0)
  • Your Rating

Rockstone: Native's Adventures with Lee Perry at the Black Ark Review

by Steve Leggett

This fascinating album has sort of a strange history. Wayne Jobson, who had already put out a Jamaican single ("Mother Country," produced by Errol Thompson with his old band Little Madness), had a chance to play some of the songs he had been writing with his brother Brian for Lee "Scratch" Perry at Perry's legendary Black Ark Studio one September day in 1977. Perry was enthusiastic about what he heard and was eager to produce the songs, particularly since, as Perry declared, Jobson was an Arawak Indian. Jobson, who was a sixth generation Jamaican with an English, African, Spanish, and Scottish heritage, was unable to convince Perry that he wasn't Arawak, but plans went forward to track the songs. Jobson assembled his then-current band, Native, and with veteran Jamaican producer and mentor Joe Higgs along as a percussionist, started work on the tracks with Perry at Black Ark, coming up with rough mixes and version dubs of maybe half a dozen songs. Jobson took these rough tapes to London to shop then around to labels and was able to wrangle an album deal with Arista Records. He then returned to Kingston and Black Ark ready to finish up the project with Perry. But both Perry and his legendary studio were now in the process of a maddening descent into chaos (Perry had taken to claiming he was no longer Scratch but was instead to be addressed as Pipecock Jackson), and no further work was done on the master tapes. Perry sailed on into the rest of his undeniably unique life and Black Ark Studio quite literally went up in flames. Jobson, disappointed, moved on as well, working with other Jamaican producers on a handful of one-off singles before moving to Los Angeles, where he began a career as a respected and successful DJ. The tracks he had recorded with Perry, which were among the last to ever be cut at Black Ark, were never released and consequently assumed near mythic status among Perry collectors and fanatics.

Well, now here they are, thanks to Jobson and Pressure Sounds, some 30 years later, along with a handful of other tracks Jobson worked on during that same time period. What emerges from this story is a surprisingly consistent collection that shows Jobson was on to something way back then and that Perry, even though he was beginning a journey into a strange, self-imposed state of insanity, was still a remarkable wizard at the controls of his four-track Teac recording console. Seven of the 12 tracks here were engineered by Perry, including the almost industrial-sounding "In the Land of Make Believe" and "Meet Mr. Nobody," both of which display the signature watery dissonance of vintage late-era Black Ark tracks but with an added rock feel and a chaotic edge that seems to prefigure industrial grunge, albeit gone seriously askew into the world of Jamaican reggae. The Perry material is fascinating, but so too are the other tracks like the Jobson-produced gem "Great God Over in Zion," which features street singer Boston Jack, who wrote the song, and the striking "Black Tracks," which was produced by Jack Ruby at Channel One over a rhythm provided by the Black Disciples, Ruby's longtime house band. With several striking dub versions of these songs added in, Rockstone: Native's Adventures with Lee Perry at the Black Ark (the title, though cumbersome, perfectly fits the content here) emerges as somewhat of a great lost Jamaican album, and although one wishes Perry and Jobson could have officially finished the tracks they had begun working on back in 1977, what's collected here is more than fine and makes clear that, although Scratch's mental condition may have begun a rum and ganja-soaked dissolution, his skills at the mixing board remained undiminished even as Black Ark began sliding away under the waves.

blue highlight denotes track pick