Robbie Shakespeare, Sly and Robbie Bassist and Producer, Dies at 68
Robbie Shakespeare, the Grammy-winning Jamaican bassist and one-half of the highly influential producers Sly and Robbie who revolutionized reggae and dancehall music, has died. He was 68.
The Jamaica Gleaner reported that Shakespeare, who had been in poor health for some time, died in Florida where he had been recovering from recent kidney surgery.
“When it comes to reggae bass playing, no one comes close to having the influence of Robbie Shakespeare,” tweeted Jamaica’s Prime Minister Robert Holness. “He will be remembered for his sterling contribution to the music industry and Jamaica’s culture.”
In a career that spanned five decades, he collaborated with the likes of Bob Marley, Grace Jones, Peter Tosh, Bob Dyland and the Rolling Stones and was nominated for 13 Grammy Awards, winning two, the first in 1984 for best reggae recording for Anthem and then in 1998 for best reggae album for Friends. In 2020, Rolling Stone ranked Shakespeare in 17th place in its list of the greatest bassists of all time.
Born on Sept. 27, 1953, in Kingston, Jamaica, Shakespeare grew up in a musical family. He was involved in the music scene in Kingston in the mid-70s, playing in various bands before linking up with drummer Sly Dunbar to form the production duo Sly and Robbie, with the pair creating the indie label and production shop Taxi Records in 1974.
Sly and Robbie’s early production work with the likes of Jimmy Cliff, Gregory Isaac, Peter Tosh and the Mighty Diamonds cemented their reputation in Jamaica and also opened doors for them to work with international acts.
By the 1980s, Sly and Robbie had started to encompass digital processes into their production and had innovated the “Rockers” beat in reggae music. Island Records boss Chris Blackwell put Sly and Robbie together with Mikey Chung, Uziah “Sticky” Thompson and Barry Reynolds to form the Compass Point All Stars production group based at the famed Compass Point Studios in Nassau, Bahamas. The collective produced records for a host of A-list acts including Joe Cocker, Gwen Guthrie, Mick Jagger, Ian Dury, the Tom Tom Club and several albums for Grace Jones.
Sly and Robbie continued to refine their sound and innovated dancehall music in the early 1990s fusing it with digital instrumentation, Latin music and hip-hop. They produced the mainstream Chaka Demus & Pliers hits “Murder She Wrote,” “Tease Me” and “Bam Bam” and produced songs for Simply Red, Shabba Ranks, Beanie Man, the Fugees and Madonna.
With the dancehall explosion in the early 2000s, Sly and Robbie were in high demand for much of the decade. The duo earned a Grammy nomination in 2014 for their album Reggae Connection and another nomination in 2020 for Sly & Robbie vs. Roots Radics: The Final Battle.