Music: The rhythm kings

Drum and bass are at the heart of popular music and for 20 years Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare have been acknowledged the best. But who are their own favourites?

Drum'n'bass: it's the foundation of popular music; the engine which drives rock, pop, soul, funk, jazz, reggae, and anything else you care to name. And for more than two decades, Jamaica's hardest have been drummer Lowell "Sly" Dunbar and bassist Robbie Shakespeare, acclaimed as masters of groove and propulsion. The breakthrough was in 1977 with The Mighty Diamonds' "Right Time", a revolutionary record, with Sly's radical drumming matching the singers' insurrectionary lyrics blow-for- blow.

Since then, they've manifested in a variety of guises: as members of Black Uhuru; as producers (they were behind Chaka Demus & Pliers' string of pop-reggae hits a few years back); as hired guns for artists from Grace Jones to Ian Dury; and as artists in their own right with a series of dubbed-out rhythm orgies culminating in their current Strip to the Bone, a dense, hallucinatory team-up with remix terrorist Howie B. As Black Uhuru lead singer Michael Rose used to chant, "Robbie Shakespeare hit you when you're near, Sly Dunbar hit you from afar".

Sly Dunbar defines "groove" as "a wicked, wicked drumbeat. If they can dance off of that, you add a bass to concrete it, to shape it into a song. If that a gwan, everything all right. A little guitar, a little keyboard ting pon it, like making a cake: different tastes to make it perfect".

So it seemed a reasonable notion to ask the Rhythm Killers who they regard as the champs in their field. Their nominations go something like this.

Motown rhythm section

James Jamerson (bass), Benny Benjamin (drums)

Robbie: Everything wha' dem do, the groove was right. Not really ever a bad song come out, everything was wicked, wicked, wicked.

Sly: If you check all the Motown songs, they always have a memorable bass-line. If you play 10 Motown songs, you remember the bass-lines. Any musical person could sing you the line: you remember the bass-line more than the lyric of the song.

Picks: Jr Walker: "Shotgun"; Temptations: "My Girl"; Miracles: "Get Ready"

Stax rhythm section

Donald `Duck' Dunn, replacing Lewis Steinberg, (bass), Al Jackson Jr (drums)

Sly: Al Jackson was the greatest recording drummer. When they were going to record (Bill Withers') "Ain't No Sunshine", which Booker T (below) produced, they'd just got a drum kit that day at the studio, and he took it out of the box and played it as is. All he did was tighten the snare. Another time he was playing live and the snare drum burst, so he just pulled over a tom-tom and started beating on that. Nobody even knew the snare drum had burst. For a drummer, if the snare goes, it's like everything has gone.

Robbie: Donald "Duck" Dunn was wicked, but I never know 'til lately that he was the one who played for Stax. I don't get to do my reading!

Picks: Booker T & the MGs: "Green Onions", "Time Is Tight'; Wilson Pickett: `In The Midnight Hour.'

Various Atlantic rhythm sections

Primarily Chuck Rainey (bass), Bernard `Pretty' Purdie (drums)

Sly: Bernard Purdie was wicked; he used to do all the (New York) Atlantic sessions with (producers) Jerry Wexler and Arif Mardin.

Robbie: Then there was the Muscle Shoals rhythm section. I don't know their names. I haven't done my research and I feel like a dummy.

Picks: Aretha Franklin: "Rock Steady"; Herbie Mann: Memphis Underground album

Various Channel One and Studio One rhythm sections

Including Boris Gardner (bass), Leroy `Horsemouth' Wallace (bass)

Sly: Credits don't really exist in Jamaica. You come to England and everybody know from word of mouth who played what in Jamaica! Credits started when (producer/bandleader) Bunny Lee put the name of the musicians on the record and it start from there. Somebody come from England and know everyt'ing 'bout every music, who play what on what. We say, "Wha'? Me na know!" Before that it was "backed by the Bunny Lee All-Stars" or "the Joe Gibbs All-Stars". Who is "All-Stars"?

Pick: Heptones: "Why Did You Leave Me To Cry"

Bob Marley & the Wailers

Aston `Family Man' Barrett (bass), Carlton `Carlie' Barrett (drums)

Sly: Carlie had a style like nobody else. He did some things when he played a roll, it was just inside. When they play a wicked song, you know it's a wicked song. So much groove when they played!

Picks: "Duppy Conqueror", "Crazy Baldhead"

The Beatles

Paul McCartney (bass), Ringo Starr (drums)

Sly: Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, they proved themselves from time. They really have a track record.

Pick: "A Hard Day's Night"

The Rolling Stones

Bill Wyman (bass), Charlie Watts (drums)

Sly: Charlie Watts? Wickedest drummer!

Pick: "Satisfaction"

The Who

John Entwistle (bass), Keith Moon (drums)

Sly: Keith Moon was great, especially when performing live, yunno. When he died, they never was The Who again.

Robbie: I never know the bass player's name, but I love his style.

Pick: "See Me, Feel Me" (from Tommy, as performed live at Woodstock)

Sly & The Family Stone

Larry Graham (bass), Greg Errico (drums)

Sly: Wicked, man, wicked, man. Awesome. Cosmic.

Pick: "Sing A Simple Song"

The Meters

George Porter (bass), Joseph `Zigaboo' Modeliste (drums)

Sly: The wickedest rhythm section.

Robbie: When I was young I used to listen to them.

Sly: And I'd think, "How can we copy them?" And nobody could. That rhythm section was so unorthodox - in a class by itself.

Pick: "Look-A-Py-Py"

Various

James Brown rhythm sections, including Bootsy Collins (bass), Clyde Stubblefield (drums)

Sly: We asked Bootsy to play some funk for us, to play "Sex Machine", and he was playing the guitar part too!

Robbie: Bootsy played guitar for us on "Boops" and the albums Rhythm Killers and Language Barrier.

Pick: "Sex Machine"

Weather Report

Jaco Pastorius (bass), Peter Erskine (drums)

Sly: That's my jazz rhythm section!

Robbie: He did things nobody had ever done on the bass. We were on a tour of Japan and he was on it. You think Jaco would have a fancy bass? One old Fender bass. He was the one who took out the frets, said he couldn't afford a fretless bass.

Sly: Them harmonics things he played, I never heard nobody play. A full song, harmonic style.

Pick: "Birdland"

And, of course...

Robbie Shakespeare (bass), Sly Dunbar (drums)

Sly: The wickedest Sly & Robbie groove for all time is (Grace Jones's) "Pull Up To The Bumper" and "Boops".

Robbie: A Black Uhuru song, "Fit You Haffe Fit".

Sly: What drummer could play that? Totally different between the snare and the foot drum.

Robbie: Wicked.

Sly and Robbie's `Strip to the Bone' is out on Palm Pictures

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee