Alongside his counterpart Sly Dunbar, his playing was heard on classics by Black Uhuru and Peter Tosh, and on albums by Dylan, Jagger, Yoko Ono, Jackson Browne, and Carly Simon.
Photo: David Corio/Redferns/Getty Images
09 December 2021 | James Porteous | Clipper Media
Robbie Shakespeare, ‘Wickedest Bass’ in Reggae, Dead at 68
Alongside his Riddim Twins counterpart Sly Dunbar, the bassist played with everyone from Black Uhuru to Bob Dylan across more than four decades
08 December 2021 | David Browne | Rolling Stone
Robbie Shakespeare, the renowned reggae bassist who helped move the genre into new sonic territory and whose playing was heard on classics by Black Uhuru and Peter Tosh as well as albums by rock icons such as Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger, has died at age 68. His death, from unconfirmed causes, was announced on Twitter by Olivia Grange, Jamaica’s Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment & Sport.
As half of the long-standing and prolific rhythm section Sly and Robbie, with his longtime friend and collaborator Sly Dunbar on drums, Shakespeare was rooted in the reggae rhythms of his native Jamaica. But he and Dunbar were also sonic mad scientists, moving their sound — and the music — into even more syncopated, electronic-driven territory on classic singles like Grace Jones’ “Pull Up to the Bumper.”
“Big, big loss,” Black Uhuru’s Michael Rose tells Rolling Stone. “Nobody sounds like Robbie. He had the wickedest bass. You’ll never find nothing like that again.”
“Words cannot describe the sadness we feel at the loss of our dear friend Robbie,” Zak Starkey posted on Instagram. “A giant of a man who brought deep outta space bass to the world and so much great times to us in Jamaica. We will miss you so. Truly thankful to u for yr massive part in our music — we could not have done it without you.”
Born Sept. 27, 1953, Shakespeare was raised in East Kingston, Jamaica. After learning to playing guitar, he became an early protégé of bass legend Aston “Family Man” Barrett. “One evening I was there going about my business when I saw him there rehearsing with a band named the Hippy Boys,” Shakepeare recalled to United Reggae in 2012. “When I saw him playing his thing I said, ‘Wait.’ Because I was always attracted to bass, you know. … The sound from the bass that time there hit me and I said, ‘Shiiiiiit.’ I said to him, ‘I want to learn how to play this thing. You haffi teach me.’ Then the next morning he woke me up and started giving me some bass line lessons.”
08 December 2021 | Bruce Haring | Dateline
Robbie Shakespeare, whose influential work as a bassist and record producer saw him nominated for 13 Grammy Awards, has died at the age of 68. He died at a hospital in Florida, according to news reports, where he was recently undergoing surgery related to his kidneys.
The Jamaican artist was part of the duo Sly and Robbie with Sly Dunbar.
“When it comes to reggae bass playing, no one comes close to having the influence of Robbie Shakespeare,” tweeted Jamaican prime minister Robert Holness. “He will be remembered for his sterling contribution to the music industry and Jamaica’s culture.”
Sly and Robbie joined forces in the mid-1970s as a producing team. Their work first drew acclaim for the production on Mighty Diamonds’ 1976 album, Right Time.
They went on to work with artists such as the Rolling Stones, Madonna, Sting, Bob Dylan, Britney Spears, U2 and more as a rhythm section and production team. They were credited with introducing the “Rockers” beat.
In the 2011 documentary Reggae Got Soul: The Story of Toots and the Maytals, they were described as “one of the most influential artists ever to come out of Jamaica.”
Shakespeare was nominated for 13 Grammys in his career. He won twice, once in 1984 for Best Reggae Recording for Anthem and then in 1998 for Best Reggae Album for Friends.
In 2020, Shakespeare was placed at No. 17 on Rolling Stone’s greatest bassists of all time list. “I appreciate the fact that others looking in can see what we are doing for the music,” he said of the list. “This makes me feel like a baby.”
When Barrett joined the Wailers, Shakespeare took his place in the Hippy Boys and also played with the Aggravators, another local band. In 1973, Shakespeare’s life changed when he was invited to hear Dunbar play at a reggae club, Tit for Tat. “I said, ‘Who’s Sly?’ ” Shakespeare said at Red Bull Music Academy in 2008. “’Sly’s a drummer.’ ‘Alright, come on.’ We went over there and Sly is sitting down on the drums, and I said, ‘Whoa, he can beat a drum. That’s a good sound, I want a session with that youth.’ … We started playing and everyone was jumping, ‘Whoa yeah!’ The studio was packed, and they said, ‘Yeah, that combination is wicked.’ It started from there.”
“The first time we played together I think it was magic,” Dunbar said in 2009. “We locked into that groove immediately. I listen to him and he listens to me. We try to keep it simple.”
Shakespeare and Dunbar soon became members of the Revolutionaries, the house band for Jamaica’s Channel One studio. That outfit pioneered the heavily syncopated reggae offshoot that came to be known as rockers. The duo also started their own production company and record label, Taxi. During the mid-Seventies, the two, known as the Riddim Twins, appeared on classic albums by Tosh and also recorded with nearly every major reggae act, including Gregory Isaacs, Dennis Brown, and Barrington Levy.
Shakespeare and Dunbar reached a new level of success and renown in the late Seventies when they joined one of reggae’s biggest bands, Black Uhuru. That association led them to Island Records head Chris Blackwell, who soon recruited them for Grace Jones’ genre-smashing Nightclubbing LP in 1981. Starting around this time, Sly and Robbie began incorporating more computer-generated rhythms and sounds into their tracks. In 1985, the first year the Grammys included a category for Best Reggae Anthem, the award went to Black Uhuru’s Anthem, produced by Sly and Robbie.
Demand for the duo grew, and soon they appeared on albums by Dylan, Jagger, Yoko Ono, Jackson Browne, and Carly Simon. “Bob was one of my all time writers and singers from a long time,” Shakespeare said in 2012 of working on three Dylan albums, starting with 1981’s Infidels. “When we worked with Bob, he worked the way we work. He’d just go in the studio and start playing and we’d just jump in. There wasn’t any pressure from him — you’d more pressure yourself to make sure you get the right thing. Which I do, mostly every session, to get the right thing, the right flavor, the right mix.”
Into the 2000s, the duo worked with Sinead O’Connor and also remixed Britney Spears’ “Piece of Me.” In 2020, Shakespeare was ranked 17th on Rolling Stone’s list of the greatest bassists of all time. Asked where he would have placed himself on that list, he joked, “Number two.”
Published:Wednesday | December 8, 2021 | 3:18 PMYasmine Peru/Senior Gleaner Writer
Robbie Shakespeare, one half of the powerhouse rhythm duo of Sly and Robbie, has died.
A close associate confirmed his passing to The Gleaner a short while ago.
Shakespeare had reportedly been ailing for some time and had undergone surgery related to his kidneys. He was living overseas and was in hospital in Florida.
In July last year, he placed at Number 17 on ‘The 50 Greatest Bassists of All Time list’, compiled by the prestigious Rolling Stone magazine.
When The Gleaner reached out to the Grammy award-winning bassist at the time, he said he was humbled by the recognition,
“Bwoy, I appreciate the fact that others looking in can see what we are doing for the music. This makes me feel like a baby.” The A-lister, whose fingers have lovingly stroked the chords on many hit songs for artistes, including Gwen Guthrie, Grace Jones, Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs, Bob Dylan and Peter Tosh, spoke passionately of the value of hard work while subtly throwing shade at the ‘entitlement’ culture.
“No matter how much people hail Sly and Robbie as the legends, and despite two Grammy wins and 11 nominations, we never ever feel like anything we get in life, we must get it. There have been a lot of sleepless nights and ‘eatless’ nights, too. Nuff time we go to bed hungry, so we remember these things and take stock. There are so many other great bassists out there who they could have chosen, and yet they chose me, and I am grateful,” Robbie Shakespeare told The Gleaner.
Published:Thursday | December 9, 2021 | 12:09 AMYasmine Peru/Senior Gleaner Writer
The passing on Wednesday of Robbie Shakespeare, one half of Jamaica’s internationally famous Riddim Twins, Sly and Robbie, has left the music industry in a sombre mood. The 68-year-old legendary bass player had been ailing from kidney-related complications, including a rejected organ. He died in Florida, where he had been living for a few years.
Leading the tributes to the Grammy award-winning Shakespeare was Minister of Culture, Gender Entertainment and Sport Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange.
“I am in shock and sorrow after just receiving the news that my friend and brother, the legendary bassist Robbie Shakespeare has died. Robbie and Sly Dunbar, the drummer, as Sly and Robbie, have been among Jamaica’s greatest musicians. This fantastic team took bass playing and drumming to the highest level as they made music for themselves as a group and for many other artistes locally and internationally. Robbie’s loss will be severely felt by the industry at home and abroad. He will be sorely missed. My condolences to those he leaves behind. Love you, Robbie,” Grange said in a press release.
For Jackie Jackson, an awesome bass player and one of those bassists who Shakespeare said had inspired him, Tuesday was “a very sad day”. He described Robbie Shakespeare as “the consummate bass player” and got all excited as he reminisced on the “wickedest bass line” he had ever heard him play.
“Yuh ever listen to the bassline in Baltimore by the Tamlins?” he asked, without waiting for an answer. “When I heard that for the first time, I seh ‘Rhatid, Robbie a play!’ The bass siddung. It made a statement. It lifted the song. Is like the bass alone have the song on its shoulders,” Jackson enthused.
He noted that he was happy to have been an inspiration for Shakespeare and equally glad to have known him. “Condolences to Robbie’s family and, of course, to Sly. When the Lord calls, you have to be ready. But that Baltimore bass line … ,” he added.
One of reggae music’s most famous keyboardists, Robbie Lyn, worked closely with the duo Sly and Robbie for many years, and he was among those who were aware of the extent of Shakespeare’s illness.
“For the last few years, Robbie lived in Florida and only came to Jamaica to work on a project and would leave after. The last time I spoke to him was December last year, and he was on the dialysis machine, and as expected, didn’t sound too good. I know that he has been in and out of [the] hospital and was under medical supervision. He was diabetic and treated himself with insulin for years,” Lyn told The Gleaner.
He related that just before COVID, Shakespeare had to bow out of a series of concerts dubbed Sly and Robbie featuring Mykal Rose. “They still used the name, but Robbie didn’t play. He had been going through it. He had a rejected organ earlier this year, and that just accelerated things. Sly didn’t speak about Robbie’s illness at all. When anybody ask about Robbie, Sly would answer in four words. I heard about his passing when I got the call from Dean [Fraser], who is in Florida. Sly and Robbie accomplished so much and are in demand internationally. This is a great loss,” Lyn said.
Dean Fraser, who was in the studio with reggae icon Jimmy Cliff, told The Gleaner that it was “a rough day”.
“This is the end of a real chapter in our music. We will never have another Sly and Robbie. He was one of the greatest natural musicians I have ever known. The talent and musicianship that Robbie loaned to [the] reggae music business is beyond measure. Robbie was a true legend,” the saxophonist extraordinaire declared.
Ska, rocksteady, reggae, and soul musician and multi-instrumentalist Jimmy Cliff also stopped his studio time to pay tribute to Robbie Shakespeare.
“Robbie undoubtedly made a huge impact on the music, and as a duet, Sly and Robbie made a huge contribution. His passing is a big loss, but he has done his work, and he did it to the max. We will miss him emotionally, but his soul is gone to a higher place, and we will send him on with love. Condolences to his family,” the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee said.