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We’re reissuing Lee “Scratch” Perry and the Upsetters’ Eastwood Rides Again on orange vinyl with red splatter in our store this month, so we’re hipping you to the album here since it isn’t available in full on streaming services.
For reasons that are probably left unanswered, buried deep in the recesses of unknowable history, four of the first six albums by the legendary reggae group the Upsetters—helmed by Lee “Scratch" Perry—are, in their titles, and song titles and subject matter, deeply indebted to the spaghetti westerns of the 1950s and '60s. Formed in 1969, and finding their greatest chart success that year too, their first album, Return of Django is meant as an audio sequel to the blaxploitation western Django—itself the inspiration for Django Unchained—and their fifth album was literally titled The Good, The Bad and the Upsetters. Their second album, titled simply, Clint Eastwood, had songs about murders, being an outlaw, and well, being Clint Eastwood.
An insanely prolific group in short bursts—they put out 11 albums in seven years, even accounting for a three year gap they had in there—Eastwood Rides Again is the group’s sixth album in two years and the sequel to Clint Eastwood, in that it features Perry with a six shooter, looking like Eastwood in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly on the cover. The title track starts with Perry moaning “Clint Eastwood rides again,” and the album has songs about evading capture (“Catch This”), Django again (though it’s mostly a reggae-fied cover of “Ol’ Man River”), and running off with a woman (“Baby Baby.”)
The highlight of the album, though, is listening to Perry and the Upsetters cover Eddie Floyd’s immortal “Knock on Wood.” It’s a rare cultural exchange between the Stax soul powerhouse and the enclaves of reggae; two genres and cultures that didn’t have much overlap in 1970. This cover is fun for how stripped down the Upsetters make the song, and how much it accomplishes without the horn section and without Floyd playing the blustering frontman.
Anyone hoping for an actual crossover into spaghetti western music for the Upsetters might be, uh, upset here; this is a largely instrumental reggae album, as fun and freewheeling as the other five Upsetters albums released in 1969 and 1970. However, it’s fun to imagine these songs as soundtracking a theoretical western movie that never got made, that a producer contracted the best reggae band on earth to soundtrack an Eastwood movie set in Kingston, and this was the result. Eastwood Rides Again is a perfect reggae album for the dog days of summer, and we’re psyched to be able to reissue it.
You can’t stream the whole album on Spotify, so we leave you with this: hilariously, someone has set a bunch of Eastwood Rides Again songs to Clint Eastwood videos on YouTube:
Andrew Winistorfer is Senior Director of Music and Editorial at Vinyl Me, Please, and a writer and editor of their books, 100 Albums You Need in Your Collection and The Best Record Stores in the United States. He’s written Listening Notes for more than 30 VMP releases, co-produced multiple VMP Anthologies, and executive produced the VMP Anthologies The Story of Vanguard, The Story of Willie Nelson, Miles Davis: The Electric Years and The Story of Waylon Jennings. He lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota.