15 Sept 2021


A lot of fabulous and rare versions of early Upsetters. Lee Perry making reggae history. Wonderman Years spotlights Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s output between his years of jobbing at Studio One and the foundation of his own legendary Black Ark Studios, capturing the era when roots reggae mutated into dub.

'The Wonder Man Years is an excellent collection of singles originally released on the Justice League label. (Many of these singles bore the tag "Lee Perry - Wonder Man" on the label – Scratch was a big comic book fan and wondered how come there was a Wonder Woman but no Wonder Man and bestowed himself the title!). While many of these songs have been included on other Trojan collections, the rare B-sides and obscure tracks such as "Cool Iron" by The Willows are what make this set so valuable.' -upsetter.net

'There is a period in Jamaican producer Lee "Scratch" Perry's long recording history that often gets overlooked simply because of where it falls, and that interval, the so-called "Wonderman" years (from the advent of his innovative work with the Wailers in 1969 through the very early years of his Black Ark recording studio), is covered in this collection. There is wonderful stuff here, with some of Perry's best and most classic rhythms presented in song, dub, and DJ versions. The Wailers are represented by Bob Marley's famous take on Richie Havens' "African Herbsman" and one of Peter Tosh's finest songs, "Brand New Second Hand," but there are many other highlights, including three wonderful tracks ("Beat Down Babylon," "A Place Called Africa," "Fever") done by Junior Byles and the striking, oddball "Mighty Clouds of Joy" by Lloyd Parks. Perry had a special touch with vocal trios, and in addition to the Wailers tracks, there are fine cuts here from the Stingers ("Give Me Power," "Preacher Man"), the Willows ("Cool Iron"), and the Gatherers ("Start Over," "Words of My Mouth"). This two-disc set is probably not the place to start if you are new to Perry's work, but if you're a fan, it is close to essential.' -Allmusic Review by Steve Leggett

Lee "Scratch" Perry OD (born Rainford Hugh Perry; 20 March 1936 – 29 August 2021)

'In the early 90s, it was almost impossible to score good reggae. Flipping through chests of used UB40 and Steel Pulse records, I never found any treasure, and the Trustafarians at school had all but ruined Bob for me. To top it off, most Jamaican records I could find were so aesthetically off-putting as to warrant hesitation. As it turns out, whether encased in hand-drawn covers featuring dreadlocked lions in military gear smoking joints, poorly photocopied text, severely warped, pock-marked pressings, or cheesy back covers with the wrong titles, times, or musicians, these records were Acapulco Gold. As dub reggae-- and Lee Perry, in particular-- enjoyed a renaissance in the middle of the decade (courtesy of Tortoise and the Beastie Boys), that all changed, and like rain after a drought, it soon became a deluge. There were suddenly so many damned Lee Perry records to be had-- some legitimate, some shady-- that one wouldn't know where to begin, and still may not, even today.

These two discs cull his turns as producer from 1971-1973, after his important early work with Bob Marley & The Wailers and before founding his infamous Black Ark Studio. Slim though these two years may be, they're a crucial segment of Perry's career to investigate. The early 70s were a heady time for Jamaican popular music, as it began to segue from the shuffling dance of rocksteady and American R&B; influence into its own homegrown sound, and the harder rhythmic edges of skank. The gaps between those beats, which the flipside of the singles (called "dubs") explored more thoroughly, would soon lift off into the atmosphere as their own musical form, metamorphosing the normal sounds of studio instruments into abstracted space dust within a three-minute side.

Also of growing interest was the development of "roots reggae", which embraced Afrocentric thought and Rastafarianism, a religion that had a profound effect on the music of the time. It would transform soft-core lothario Max Romeo into a Marxist of the roughest sort, and make already-excellent singer Marley an international superstar. Lee Perry was there through all of these phases, instigating trends, and developing from others a sound wholly his own. Disc one begins with Marley & The Wailers doing an Impressions track, which is then turned around by future toasting great Big Youth, who shouts until the song is his very own beast. Already socially conscious by way of a Curtis Mayfield cover, you can see the growing influence Afrocentric thought had on Perry in the studio. There's Junior Byles' classic "Beat Down Babylon", which was such a huge hit that police were reported singing the lyrics on their beat. At least four versions of the Marcus Garvey-inspired "Place Called Africa" are compiled here, each resonating with the theme as pertains to its interpreter, be it by Byles, Dennis Alcapone, or Winston Cool (aka Dr. Alimantado, the best-dressed chicken in town).

In another four-cut span, the same basic track is run through the gamut of all possible island styles, illustrating in microcosm what Lee Perry was capable of with the barest of elements, and how much his music changed in two short years. It begins with the Stingers' "Give Me Power", rendered as a soulful group sound; "Give Me Power No.2" continues the beat, but replaces the ensemble with a bellowing toast from King Iwah, waxing more biblical than the previous version. "Sunshine Showdown" is that riddim once again, but this time it's made ridiculous by Perry himself. You can hear ringside cheering as he steps to the mic, musing and mumbling about "Smokey Joe Frazier Razor" and other inane observations about the sweet science. By round four, "Scratch" has totally deconstructed "Give Me Power" to its essence: the mix is disconcerted with sirens, brassy baritone croaks, and backwards tape chirps, with just the slightest trace of the original vocals left as ghosts. These last two takes lead the way for the more innovative breakthroughs (and breakdowns) that would take place inside the Black Ark by 1974. By stripping down certain sounds and tightening up the drums and bass, reggae could liberally take from American radio hits and make them into tougher tracks. The Chi-Lites' "(For God's Sake) Give More Power to the People" is absorbed by the Upsetters, while Byles infuses Little Willie John's standard "Fever" with his own brand of madness, leading to even further permutations by the legendary Augustus Pablo and toaster Jah T. On the latter half of the second disc, "Jungle Lion" smokes some sticky Al Green and brings in that Hi Records organ brightness; it sounds deliriously whacked-out as Perry growls into the echoplex.

Sequenced right before the move into Black Ark, the skanks and sonics at the end of the set define what people generally imagine when they think of Lee Perry. His odd sense of humor is most evident on "Bathroom Skank", which provides an excellent "towel"/"bowel" rhyme, and would lead to further scatological fixations in the future. Most prophetic are the echoed intonations that introduce the more skewed studio elements in instrumentals like "IPA Skank", "Freakout Skank", "Bucky Skank" and "Cow Thief Skank". Not only are these some of Perry's best early works (aside from the curiously absent "Clint Eastwood" instrumentals), they point the way into the future of the genre, and remixing in general, insofar as all the sounds are fair game for tweaking. This set, while not as uniformly tight as Soul Jazz's excellent Studio One overviews, or the compilations of legendary producers Leslie Kong, Sonia Pottinger, and King Tubby, has a little bit of everything to compensate, from a young Marley, to early toasting, with dashes of hard skank, proto-dub instrumentals, and oddball covers thrown in for good measure. As for compiling "Scratch", it remains an unsatisfactory effort; his cosmic joker legacy will forever elude capture, and these are all too brief glimpses of that genius at play.' -Chris Dahlen

1-1 Bob Marley & The Wailers - Keep On Moving 3:11
1-2 Big Youth - Moving Version (DJ Version) 3:01
1-3 Bob Marley & The Wailers - African Herbsman 2:26
1-4 Junior Byles - Beat Down Babylon 2:36
1-5 The Upsetters - Ital Version (aka Babylon Chapter 5) 2:57
1-6 Junior Byles & Jah T - Informer Men 3:00
1-7 Dennis Alcapone - Alpha And Omega 3:00
1-8 Maxie, Niney & Scratch - Babylose Burning (aka Babylon's Burning) 2:24
1-9 The Stingers - Give Me Power 3:17
1-10 Roy Lee - King Iwah The 1st - Give Me Power (Version 2) 3:11
1-11 The Upsetters - Sunshine Showdown 3:16
1-12 The Upsetters- Tipper Special 3:04
1-13 Peter Tosh & The Wailers - Brand New Second Hand 3:13
1-14 Lloyd Parks - Mighty Clouds Of Joy 3:09
1-15 Lloyd Parks - Professor Ironside 3:28
1-16 The Upsetters - Iron Curtain 3:07
1-17 Junior Byles - Place Called Africa 2:41
1-18 Dennis Alcapone - Africa Stand (aka Place Called Africa Verse 5) 2:53
1-19 Winston Cool aka Dr. Alimantado - Chapter 3 Of Africa (aka Place Called Africa Verse 3) 2:51
1-20 Dennis Alcapone - Jah Rastafari (aka Place Called Africa Verse 6) (aka Wonder Man) 2:30
1-21 King Medious aka Milton Henty - This World 3:10
1-22 Junior Byles - Fever 2:54
1-23 Augustus Pablo - Hot & Cold 3:29
1-24 Jah T - Lick The Pipe Peter (Part 4) 3:01
1-25 The Stingers - Preacher Man 2:40
1-26 The Upsetters - Preacher Man (Version) 2:42

2-1 Junior Byles - King Of Babylon 3:07
2-2 Dennis Alcapone - Master Key 4:08
2-3 The Upsetters - Key Hole 3:04
2-4 The Righteous Flames - One Love, One Heart 2:46
2-5 Lee Perry - French Connection 4:08
2-6 The Upsetters - French Connection Chapter 2 4:02
2-7 Lee Perry - Blackman Time 3:04
2-8 The Willows - Cool Iron 2:26
2-9 The Upsetters - Dub Organizer 3:19
2-10 Wesley Gems - Whiplash 2:56
2-11 Shenley Duffus - Good Night My Love 3:36
2-12 Shenley Duffus - At The End (Of The Rainbow) 3:46
2-13 The Upsetters - Black IPA 3:28
2-14 The Upsetters - IPA Skank 3:29
2-15 The Upsetters - Jungle Lion 3:25
2-16 The Upsetters - Freak Out Skank 3:17
2-17 The Upsetters - Bathroom Skank 4:19
2-18 The Gatherers - Start Over 2:54
2-19 The Gatherers - Words Of My Mouth 3:35
2-20 Prince Django - Hot Tip 3:20
2-21 The Upsetters - Bucky Skank 4:05
2-22 Charlie Ace & Lee Perry - Cow Thief Skank 3:32
2-23 The Upsetters - Justice To The People 3:16

Bass – Aston 'Family Man' Barrett, Clifton 'Jackie' Jackson, Lloyd Parks, Val Douglas
Bongos [Bongo Drums] – 'Bongo' Herman, Davis
Compiled By, Liner Notes – Chris Lane, Jeremy Collingwood
Cover [Cover Illustration] – Kiran Ahmad
Design – Bubble
Drums – Carlton Barrett, Hugh Malcolm, Lloyd 'Tinlegs' Adams
Guitar – Alva 'Reggie' Lewis, Lynford 'Hux' Brown, Mikey Chung
Organ – Ansel Collins, Earl 'Wire' Lindo, Glenroy Adams, Winston 'Brubeck' Wright
Percussion – Issiah 'Cool Sticky' Thompson
Piano – Gladstone 'Gladdy' Anderson
Producer – The Upsetter
Saxophone – Roland Alphonso, Tommy McCook, Val Bennett
Trombone – Ron Wilson, Vincent 'Don Drummond Junior' Gordon
Written-By – Perry (tracks: 1-4, 1-6, 1-8 to 1-12, 1-14 to 1-17, 1-19 to 1-21, 1-23 to 1-26, 2-1, 2-3, 2-5 to 2-10, 2-13 to 2-17, 2-19 to 2-23)

Recorded at Dynamics, Randy's and King Tubby's Studio.

Disc One: Tracks 4, 5, 7 to 10, 14, 17 to 20 ℗1971; tracks 1 to 3, 6, 13, 15, 16, 21 to 26 ℗1976; tracks 11, 12 ℗1973.
Disc Two: Tracks 1 to 11, 18 ℗1972; tracks 12 to 17, 19 to 23 ℗1973.

Track 1-10 written "Give Me Power No. 2" on back cover, "Give Me Power Version 2" in booklet's tracklist.