Lee "Scratch" Perry, the mighty Upsetta, the extraordinary, flamboyant human bird of paradise, Jamaican expatriate, Bob Marley's producer and mentor, one of the Beastie Boys' musical idols, the godfather of Reggae, the stepfather of dub, and a genre-producing human machine (perpetuum mobile) entirely of his own, partly space alien ... died in Jamaica last year (August 2021), at the age of 85.
I didn't know.
What I also didn't know is that, apparently, Lee Perry was a vegetarian. And he seems to have become a vegetarian "at the turn of the century", i.e. around the year 2000.
How do we know?
There are several sources:
In an interview with Lee Perry posted on the website "Exberliner" from December 2005 (republished in 2012), it says:Exberliner: "You keep rabbits and fish in the front yard of your home in Kingston, the same place where you used to have your legendary Black Ark studio."
Lee Perry: "They were here in the beginning, before any human being was here. When the cannibals was here, the rabbit was here and they had some vegetarians. They swear not to be anything but vegetarian for ever, and then maybe bacteria or fronteria or side-teria cause a problem…
If human being don’t care who God is, He don’t owe them any favour. When the human being is showing ungratefulness to God, running down on this and not praising God, killing the animal and eating the animal dead meat and drinking blood, then what favour should God owe them?
If God should know them…meat eating, blood drinking…God is not stupid. God is forever and God is live and watching people, and him say, “Thou shall not kill”.
From reggaerunnins.com (some time in 2006):
[Lee Perry:] "A quiet life? I live a quiet life. I used to eat meat, I don’t eat meat anymore. I used to drink wine and the rum, I don’t drink it anymore. I used to smoke ganja, herbs, and marijuana and cigarettes; I don’t do those thing anymore. I’m livin a life and choosing the vegetarian food. And it bring me back to when I came here first as an angel.
I was eating vegetarian, so I start to copy the cow, and copy the animals. Because I start to copy animals, I discovered that the cows are vegetarian, and that they should be respected, and not to be killed and eat[en]. I am vegetarian of the highest spirit, the highest knowledge, and the highest wisdom. And there are things that the animal know… things that the human being cannot know. Beca[use] human being don’t make friend with them. The human being butcher them and kill them. And when you kill the cow, the cow curse the butcher. And the butcher sell the meat. So when you buy the meat from the butcher, the meat has been cursed. And some end up with a big, fat belly, some end up with big fat legs, some end up with big fat body." (IVU 2006)
Referring to the year 1952:
"“I was loving animals,” Perry adds, “so I have to take care of the goats, feed the goats early in the morning and feed the rabbits. I used to run the goats for energy, so I didn’t want to stop the goats and the next thing I know, I end up in Lucea Hospital for six months because the head of the toe [Lee Perry had a toe injury] come off.”" (Katz 2006) ... Lucea (Hanover Parish, Jamaica) is where Lee Perry died in a hospital (Noel Holmes Hospital) in 2021. It might have been the same hospital.
From a text dictated by Lee Perry to be included in a book, from around 1988:
"[...] Ministers of crimes and governors of wrongs, killers of animals and eaters of flesh which is known as the cannibal (we call them the Cannibal Squad, name given unto them by God) [...] Animal rights come first, not human rights, because we were all animals before we became humans on this planet Earth. [...] This vision is for the Wicked who deny God and say there is no God, and “It won’t be long, it will be soon,” says the moon, the stars, the sun, the clouds, the rain, the rainbow, the birds; and the animal from the jungle that speak through the wind say, “Vengeance is ours to take revenge, and the cannibals that eat our flesh…” As for the bird hunters, it worse, and as for the animal killers, they get a permanent curse. Catch a fire, vampires, and burn yourself out, but there is no antidote to remove the poison of the animal flesh from the cannibal’s throat. Conquer-Worm from the Earth and Maggot-Flies soon sort them out and get even with them that kill the animals and shoot the birds for their selsh pleasures. “Enjoy death,” says the dead birds and “Enjoy death,” says the dead animal. “The curse of the animals is on the cannibals, the curse that can be cured by no doctor, no scientists and no psychiatrists,” says Fire, Jahoviah, Jah Rastafari on the wire; Blabba Blabba, Abba Abba. Death to all robbers." (Katz 2006) ... But it seems that Lee Perry, inspite of these conceptual meanderings, still ate meat at this time.
This seems to refer to the year 1989, when Lee Perry stayed with his future wife Mireille Ruegg (or maybe actually spelle Rügg) Campbell in Zürich, Switzerland:
Thus, on November 30, 1991, Rainford Hugh Perry [Lee Perry] and Mireille Ruegg Campbell were married before 12 guests in an intimate ceremony conducted at a Hare Krishna temple in Zurich" (Katz 2006).
This is a comment by Lee Perry which seems to be from 2002:
This comment seems to refer to the year 2003:
"Could it really be that the man who had perpetually venerated ganja, using it daily for several decades, was now no longer partaking of the “wisdom weed”? As so much of his oeuvre since the mid Seventies had depended on his relationship with the substance, it seemed practically incomprehensible that Perry was no longer smoking marijuana. And yet, Perry had gradually removed unnecessary and potentially harmful substances from his diet, first rejecting alcohol, then becoming a strict vegetarian, so perhaps the abandonment of herb was not such a giant leap, particularly for someone in his late sixties. In any case, the purge resulted in a shaky start to the tour, perhaps as Perry experienced some kind of withdrawal symptoms. In time, one of the most notable effects of this change came during interviews, which were now much more open and less cryptic; compared to the chaos of the Eighties and Nineties, the post-ganja Perry was resolutely coherent." (Katz 2006) ... This seems to confirm that Lee Perry became a vegetarian "around 2000", i.e. no later than 2003.
This refers to the year 2006:
"“My music going to heal people by the ears, by the words that them hear, and it gonna heal them by the spirit vibration that I put into it, because there’s no meat; I used to love meat very much and that was where I have to burn down the studio, because most of it was creating o meat and cigarette and wine, but these set of music that I’m putting out now have no meat, no cigarette, no wine, no ganja, nothing, so it’s pure—pure, clear spirit that whosoever believe in the word that I said, those are the chosen few that will be saved out of the world from 144,000 sins, and the rest belongs to the Devil. Sometimes I like to tease because I learn by practising with the words and the teacher was showing me that the words have two meanings, forward and backwards, so when you go forward, you can’t do anything but come back, that means future and past." (Katz 2006)
Lee Perry was born in 1936. That means, that he became a vegetarian at the age of around 64 (i.e. around the year 2000).
Lee Perry on his 2008 record Repentance.
An article on Reggaeville.com posted on 29 March 2011 discusses the abovementioned documentary film "The Upsetter: The Life & Music Of Lee Scratch Perry" and narrates the following:
Lee Perry burst on the scene with a brand new sound, inventing a genre of music that would come to be called Reggae while mentoring a young Bob Marley and gaining international recognition as a record producer and solo artist. Soon he was being called upon by musicians as diverse as The Clash and Paul McCartney to provide his unique sound to their recordings. In the 1970’s, he constructed his own recording studio in his backyard; The Black Ark studio became a hotbed for the production of Reggae and Dub music and made Scratch quite wealthy and famous.
[...] [Lee Perry went to live in London and ...] [a]fter a decade of alcohol, ganja and inhalant fueled artistic output in Europe, Lee banned all toxic substances from his body and adopted a strict vegetarian diet. With the help of his new Swiss wife, Lee spent the 1990’s putting his life back together piece by piece, reclaiming his position as an international superstar in the process. [...] [The film] is equally a documentation of 30 years of Jamaican music and culture as it is a study of one of the most creative and inspiring human beings of all time." (Reggaeville 2011)
I don't think that by "strict vegetarian" (above) they mean "vegan" but rather an "actual" vegetarian who does not eat fish and does not eat meat, not "even" occassionally.
An article in the Guardian from January 2012 starts with the headline "Lee 'Scratch' Perry: 'When I was a man, I was a cannibal'". Further down, the article goes on:
"How do you describe your personality?
[Lee Perry:] I describe my personality as like an animal among cannibals. I don't like to say that I'm a man, because I don't want to be a man. I think I'm an angel.
What's wrong with being a man?
[Lee Perry:] They do things that the devil do. Understand? Understand when I was a man I was a cannibal. I decide not to be a man, I want to be an angel, so I don't eat what the man eat. I don't smoke what the man smoke. So I stop smoke. I stop eating what man eat. I stop eat fish, I stop eat meat. I stop eat like an animal. I don't smoke any more because I wish to be healthy. So what man do I don't do any more. I do different.
What do you like to eat now? What is your favourite vegetable?
[Lee Perry:] I like broccoli, I like cabbage, calalou [.], choko [chayote] and others.
So mainly green vegetables, no orange ones?
[Lee Perry:] I drink orange juice, I eat banana. Brown banana, green banana, whatever banana it is, I like it.
So no marijuana, just broccoli?
[Lee Perry:] When the time come when you have to stop smoke, you can drink it. You can make soup with it, you can make tea with it and make other things. Like soup. Treat it like a present or a treasure. A lot of people take herbs, but if a lot of people take this herb, then there wouldn't be the riots.
Don't smoke it, drink it!
[Lee Perry:] Drink it. Or you could eat it like a vegetable. Or something like that. One love.
[...]" (The Guardian 2012)
In the footnotes of the article it says: "Lee lives in Switzerland and has done for the past 32 years." That would mean, that Lee Perry moved to Switzerland in around 1980. This cannot be correct.
The footnotes also say that "calalou" is the same as Collard greens (The Guardian 2012). I doubt this is correct.
In the 2015 documentary film "Lee Scratch Perry's Vision of Paradise", Lee Perry sings (starting at around 5:31 min): "To human beings, this is my message to you: stop eating dead cows, stop eating dead goats. And this is my vote, and that I make my oath, stop eating all the dead goats" [Schaner 2015]. This documentary is from Germany (directed by Volker Schaner) but is almost in entirely in English (there's one exception towards the end) with German subtitles. The German subtitles say (the German equivalent of): "... my oath, stop eating all the dead animals". But to me it sounds more like, Lee is saying "goats" again. But I'm not 100% sure.
In this same documentary (at around 48:06 min), the is a small spider crawling around Lee Perry's art studio, where he is in the process of painting together with the British artist Peter Harris, and Lee says (although it's not exactly clear, but the German subtitles make it clearer): "We don't kill anything around here, alright?" (Schaner 2015)
Again, in the same documentary (at around 1:13:20 hrs), Lee says (about how the xploitation of Africa came about): "All right, everybody wants to be a king, so they're going to even sell god to be a king." [Other person: "Mmmh. So, they're selling their own god?"] Lee: "They sell the animal[s] first. Sell all the animal[s] to white man in Europe. [..] because god choose the animal[s] and did not choose them [humans]. They sell [.] the animal and then they sell god next, to Europe." Then, pointing to a poster of African animals (zebras, peacocks, elephants, lions, ostriches, etc.), Lee says: "So, these were the ruler[s] of the Earth before human being[s were] here. And then human being[s] start[ed] to kill and eat them. [...] Human being, cannibal. Jealous of these fat animal[s] [...]" (Schaner 2015)
And again, in the same documentary (at around 1:25:40 hrs), Lee Perry sings: "A new generation shall rise who don't need no soldiers, no police. We shall [.] eat no meat. We shall eat no beef. We shall drink no rum. And we shall, shall need no bomb. [...]" (Schaner 2015) Lee might be singing "We shall let eat no meat", but I'm not sure.
In a video posted on Facebook on 6 September 2015 (but it may be from earlier), someone asks Lee Perry "How do you stay so young and energetic and strong?" to which Lee replies:
"I don't eat meat anymore. I stop[ped] eat[ing] meat. I don't eat what is alive. I eat vegetable[s]." (Anon 2015) (The video appears to have been recorded in Portland, Oregon, USA ... because the video description says: "Hanging with Lee "Scratch" Perry after the show last night @startheaterpdx [...]" (Anon 2015)
In an Instagram post from 27 October 2016, Lee Perry praises an "alkaline" diet. The post says: "HELLO YOU PEOPLE OUT THERE 📡EAT ALKALINE ELECTRIC FOOD AND BE HAPPY FOREVER
AND BE HEALTHY FOREVER ☝🏾️🌟🍀
I AM ALREADY VEGETARIAN BUT I WAS VERY HAPPY WHEN I LEARNED ABOUT DR.SEBI AND HIS HEALING ALKALINE ELECTRIC DIET [...]" (Perry 2016).
In a post on the website angelfish.com from 13 February 2017, there are some snippets of (what seems to have been an) interview with Lee Perry:
... angelfish.com: "We asked Lee about his views on eating meat and this is what he said:"
“A healthy outside starts from the inside!
Animals are my friends and I can’t eat my friends.
You are what you eat so I am vegetarian and I am ageless.
Don’t eat the dead to stay alive.” (Angelfish 2017)
The website angelfish.com states that Lee Perry is vegan - but it seems to be a website by a vegan, and this might be *wishful thinking* ... I couldn't find any indication of Lee Perry having been vegan anywhere else.
(angelfish.com wrote: "As a vegan, Lee has a strict diet of vegetables and healthy foods. At an early age, Lee decided that eating meat was not for him." ... I also couldn't confirm that this is accurate. From what I understand, Lee Perry became vegetarian around the year 2000 - not at a young age. ... angelfish.com: "So is it Lee’s vegan diet that makes him the Peter Pan of the music world or does he have another secret?")
... angelfish.com: "We asked Lee about his views on water and he said:"
“Drink more water. Pure water is the best way for greater health.
Love water love life. No water, no life.” (Angelfish 2017)
In a video interview by House of Strombo from 2017 (posted 12 June 2017), Lee Perry mentions not eating meat various times - which is awesome and was facilitated by the show's host, George Stroumboulopoulos, who also appears to be a vegetarian (House of Strombo 2017) and according to Wikipedia is "one of Canada's most popular broadcasters". According to Wikipedia, Strombo is actually vegan (and straight edge).
To the question "How old are you now?" Lee Perry answers (at ~ 3:01 min): "Well, I put ... I used to be addicted to meat. I put meat away [i.e. stopped eating meat], put everything that is dead away, so I eat live vegetable, and become live. Live vegetable, and become really live, extremely ... extremely healthy ... Anything that is dead I put away."
He also says that his "ban" on cigarettes (i.e. not smoking) was not permanent, that he still smokes "herb" sometimes. He goes on to ask for "herbs" and he goes on to smoke a joint. (In another interview in 2016 (at ~12:25 min, Ableton 2016) and shortly before his death in 2021 (at ~0:57 min, Rolling Stone 2021), Lee can also been seen smoking "ganja".)
At ~6:40 min, Lee says: [...] I disconnect from evil."
Strombo: "Have you always been that way? Even when you were a kid?"
Lee: "When I was eating meat, I wasn't like that."
Strombo: "So that's the change. When did that happen?"
Lee: "When I listened to the word of God say: 'Thou shalt not kill' ... So, if you're wicked enough to kill something and eat it, you're not lucky [? -- hard to understand] and not any [?] good to yourself who do that. ... Thou shalt not kill. [.] you kill an animal and eat the animal, and you is there to be punished".
Strombo: "How long ago was that? Cause we've heard, our whole lives, we've heard 'Thou shalt not kill'. When were you able to apply it to that?"
Lee: "[When the] animals start[ed] to cry ... and when the tree ... first people to startto complain were the trees, the herbs, the weed [marihuana], the plants, the flowers, and all they start[ed] to complain. Oh, they cut them down. 'They chop us down.' [...] and [...] start complain 'They kill us and eat us'."
Strombo: "Were you still in Jamaica when that happened or was it when you were in Switzerland?"
Lee: "No, it start in Jamaica."
Strombo: "How has Jamaica changed?"
Lee: "Don't eat anything dead. Eat what is alive."
Strombo: "Have you seen ... when you tell that to people, do you find that more and more people are listening to you and connecting to that?"
Lee: "Well, people don't listen to me. Angels listen to me."
At ~11:50 min, when talking since when Lee Perry felt that Haile Selassie I is his "twin", Lee says: "Since he reincarnate me, since he made me born again, [I] stopped eating dead meat, dead fish, dead chicken, and ... and dead duck. He showed me everything in the land of spirit."
At ~13:48 min, Lee says: "What you eat become you. Careful what you eat. If you eat dead meat, you'll become dead later." To which Strombo replies: "I don't eat dead meat, just vegetables ... and rice." Lee: "Chickens are crying, and dead chicken are complaining. And dead cow complaining, and dead goat complaining, and [..] complaining [Lee makes a "goat sound"]
At ~24:27 min, Lee is talking about his parents and says that his father was an idiot and that "my dead meat father dead. He was he addicted to dead meat. So, he eat too much dead meat, and dead meat say: 'I been waiting for you all my life. I told you -Have the power to resist dead meat-. You did not [have] the power to resist dead meat. Well, I start eat you from your feet.' ... So, [.] start eat me father from the feet [...]." ... and then talking about Bob Marley and the Wailers (who Lee says did not have the intelligence to stop eating meat - although Lee is not being very clear in his answer, as usual), Lee says: "[They - unsure who exactly, thought ... or Lee thinks that they thought] 'We love meat and we are addicted to meat, and he don't want us to eat meat.' ... [Lee:] I is [?] anti-meat. Then if they find out [would have found out] I was anti-meat, they would kill me before."
Strombo: "No." Lee: "Yes, [... unintelligible] anti-meat." Strombo: "Paul McCartney is anti-meat. [...] What do you remember of your time with Paul?" Lee: "Very good." (House of Strombo 2017)
In a tweet from 12 August 2018, Lee Perry wrote:
"MY BODY IS NOT A LIVING GRAVE OF MURDERED ANIMALS!BUT MY FOOD STILL HAVE A SOUL THAT NO ANIMAL HAS TO DIE FOR!
#LeeScratchPerry #vegetetian #Vegan #HealthyLife #HealthyFood #vegetables #vegeterianfood #veggies #GodBless" (Perry 2018a).
In the video accompanying this tweet, Lee sits at a table with lots of fruit and vegetables and says: "[...] eating vegetables, and no miserable meat, no cigarettes, and no nicotine, [...] don't eat no devil meat [...]" (Perry 2018a).
And in another tweet from 12 August 2018 (yes, same day), Lee wrote: "HAPPY AND HEALTHY SUNDAY TO ALL MY FANS WORLDWIDE FROM MY VEGETARIAN FAMILY LOVE £$P #HappySunday #GoodFood #healthylifestyle #HealthyFood #vegetarian #vegan #vegetables #stayhealthy #streetparade2018" (Perry 2018b)
In an article by Francesca Gavin on kaleidoscope.media (issue Fall/Winter 2020-2021) it says: "In the 1980s, Perry entered a decade of alcohol and depression [he was living in London, England, having left Jamaica broken hearted]. His legacy and career, however, did not end. At the end of the decade, he met his Swiss wife Mireille, a former dominatrix and reggae record shop owner, and the pair moved to the mountains outside of Zurich [Zürich, Switzerland]. He became vegetarian, gave up ganja and alcohol, and saw a shift in his career. In his 50s, he returned as a solo artist. In 1998, he appeared on the Beastie Boys track “Dr. Lee, PhD” from Hello Nasty, an album which sold over 1 million records."
In Einsiedeln, Switzerland, near Zurich, he created a new studio for himself and named it "Blue Ark", in reference to his "Black Ark" studio in Jamaica (which he burned down before he left) (Kaleidoscope Media 2021).