Friday, December 10, 2021

Robbie Shakespeare, Bassist of Legendary Rhythm Duo Sly and Robbie, Dead at 68

Photo by Schorle
Influential bassist and producer Robbie Shakespeare died on Wednesday following complications from kidney and liver transplants he underwent a year ago. He was 68. 

Born Robert Warren Dale Shakespeare in East Kingston, Jamaica, in 1953, the two-time Grammy-winning musician was half of the iconic rhythm duo Sly and Robbie (aka the Riddim Twins); the other half of the duo was drummer Sly Dunbar, who also hailed from Kingston. The two met in 1972 but didn’t team up as a music duo until three years later. The talented pair made a name for themselves as one of the tightest rhythm sections in reggae and dancehall music–and are credited with revolutionizing the sound of those genres. Their great musical talent and stellar production skills made them highly sought-after session players. The prolific duo has played on or produced an estimated 200,000 recordings, many of which were released on their own label Taxi Records. They have worked with reggae giants such as Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tosh, Gregory Isaacs and Black Uhuru. Sly and Robbie are without question one of the most influential production duos and rhythm sections in the history of reggae music.

The versatile musicians also worked with prominent artists in other genres, including Grace Jones, the Rolling Stones, Joe Cocker, James Brown, Bob Dylan, Sinead O’Connor, Sting, Bootsy Collins, Afrika Bambaataa, Herbie Hancock, Madonna, Mick Jagger, KRS-One and Britney Spears.

In addition to recordings for other artists, Sly and Robbie released dozens of albums of their own, including superb, ambitious works such as Language Barrier, Rhythm Killers and Blackwood Dub.

Shakespeare has definitely made his mark in the bass world. His fluid, distinctive playing style has influenced legions of bassists. He lives in the pocket when he plays, which is a key part of great bass playing. The musician is considered by many as reggae music’s greatest bass player. And last year, he placed at number 17 on Rolling Stone’s list of “The 50 Greatest Bass Players of All Time.” A well-deserved honor for the musician, who will forever live on through the many recordings that he blessed with his immense talent. 

"Make 'Em Move," a track from Sly and Robbie's 1985 album Language Barrier

"Bank Job," a track from Sly and Robbie's 1987 album Rhythm Killers

Sly and Robbie performing live with Black Uhuru in 1981

Sly and Robbie provided the funky riddim for Grace Jones' 1981 hit "Pull Up to the Bumper."

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