Cover Versions, Gone but not forgotten, Sampled

It’s Funk, Jah, But Not As We Know It

This record will be 50 years old this year…half a century young and still sounding like nothing that’s been before or since. Well, to a point…

Lee Perry‘s Jungle Lion is vintage Perry, from the stoned, lion roaring madman-isms at the beginning to the sun-baked skank as the record’s groove kicks in, to the echoing brass refrain that lifts the recording up and out to the moon and back, the hook that keeps the whole acid-fried masterpiece from falling apart.

Lee PerryJungle Lion (7″ mix)

The production on Jungle Lion is insane. The band is locked in and tight, bass and drums laying the groundwork, that wet slap of chicka-chicka guitar adding the scratchy colour like a toddler with a crayon dragged across a piece of paper; messy, unique and creative. Perry toasts over the top in his own freeform fashion, the needles of the mixing desk accelerating far to the right and stuck in the red as he ‘Ughs’ and ‘Aows’ and ‘ch-ch-chs’ his way across the top. ‘Dan-dee-layon! Jung-gal layon! Fay-ah!‘ It’s funk, Jah, but not as we know it.

That brass refrain. The hook. You’ll definitely have heard that elsewhere. The keener scholars around these parts will point to Al Green‘s Love And Happiness and take the bonus round for 15 points, please, Jeremy.

Al GreenLove And Happiness

Now, I don’t know quite what wizardry The Upsetter was capable of manifesting inside Black Ark, but it seems to me – and I may be well off the mark here – that Perry sampled, yet didn’t sample, the horn refrain from Al Green. What I mean is, the refrain on Perry’s track is the same music, not merely a version played by Perry’s horn section, but sampling wasn’t a thing in 1973…or was it? Exactly what technology was available to maverick studio heads with no boundaries and serious creativity overload?

My thinking is that Perry simply played Al Green’s track and, using a studio microphone set up next to the speaker where Love And Happiness blasted forth, recorded what came out. Remember how, back in the days before ghetto blasters with in-built radios, you used to tape the charts? Yeah, exactly like that.

So Perry takes Green’s track – the delicious guitar riff in the intro as well as the horn refrain – and builds his own warped and inventive take on a soul classic. Nothing new in this of course – most reggae tracks began life as sun-baked covers of the soul music that crackled and crept across the US services airwaves and onto the Caribbean – but Lee Perry’s masterstroke is in the direct lifting rather than the direct copying that his peers would do.

Al Green’s original is such a great track. Stately yet understated, quietly assured and coasting on a slow fever bed of warm hammond and honeyed brass, the perfect foil for the Reverend’s measured, restrained vocal.

He always surrounded himself with great musicians, did Al, from the Rhodes sisters on backing vocals, to the slow ‘n steady Al Jackson Jnr on drums and Leroy Hodges on bass, to his guitar player and sometime-co-writer (and brother of Leroy) Teenie Hodges. I’ve written about Teenie before, a relative unknown in the guitar world but, for me, a guitarist whio appeals to me far more than some of the usual names who appear on those ‘Best Guitarists Ever’ lists. He’s such a fluid player, Hodges, clean and clear, with the most delicate of touches. Those fingers can hover an inch above the frets and his guitar will sing, clean and chiming, bluesy and soulful. No wonder Lee Perry was keen to employ him in whichever manner he could get away with.

One great horn refrain, two outstanding records.

 

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