Robbie Shakespeare death: Sly and Robbie bassist dies aged 68

Together with drummer Sly Dunbar, Shakespeare formed one of the most influential rhythm sections and production duos in the history of reggae

Kevin E G Perry
Wednesday 08 December 2021 22:26
Influential bassist Robbie Shakespeare dies aged 68

Famed reggae bassist Robbie Shakespeare has died at the age of 68.

Shakespeare and drummer Sly Dunbar, known together as Sly & Robbie, were highly acclaimed for their talent both as a rhythm section and as a production duo.

The pair worked on hundreds of songs together, from early reggae recordings with the likes of Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer through to later collaborations with pop and rock artists including Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan and Grace Jones.

According to The Jamaica Gleaner, Shakespeare had been living in Florida and died there following complications during kidney surgery on 8 December 2021.

Shakespeare was born in Kingston, Jamaica on 27 September 1953. He started his career as a session musician before teaming up with Dunbar in the mid-Seventies to become Jamaica’s most prolific and sought-after rhythm section.

In a 1997 interview with The Independent, Shakespeare recalled the first time the pair recorded together, saying: “From day one, when we first went into the studio together, we had that special chemistry. Definitely. Musically we’d have to set up a special channel to God to ask him why what we play always comes out right.”

Robbie Shakespeare (left) with Sly Dunbar attending The MOJO Honours List in London in 2005.

As well as their success as musicians, which saw them playing on seminal reggae records such as Peter Tosh’s Legalize It and The Mighty Diamonds' Right Time, Sly and Robbie also established themselves as an inventive and genre-defining production duo.

In the Nineties, they produced hits including “Tease Me” and “Murder She Wrote” for Chaka Demus & Pliers. The following decade, they enjoyed further international success as the producers of No Doubt's “Hey Baby” and “Underneath It All”.

Last year, Rolling Stone placed Shakespeare at number 17 on their list of “The 50 Greatest Bassists of All Time”, just one of many accolades he received during a long and illustrious career.

In 1999, Sly & Robbie won the Grammy for Best Reggae Album for their record Friends. Two decades later, in 2019, the pair were nominated once again for the same award for the Sly & Robbie vs Roots Radics album The Final Battle. He was nominated for 13 Grammys in his career, winning two.

Jamaica’s Culture Minister Olivia Grange confirmed the news of his death and called Shakespeare one of the country’s great musicians.

“[Sly and Robbie] 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,” she said in a statement.

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