Robbie Shakespeare, the Jamaican bass guitarist best known as half of the reggae and dub duo Sly and Robbie, died on Wednesday, Jamaica’s culture minister said. He was 68.
Born Robert Warren Dale Shakespeare in East Kingston in 1953, Shakespeare was a prolific bassist who worked with reggae greats including Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Gregory Isaacs over a career that spanned five decades.
Jamaican Culture Minister Olivia Grange called him one of the country’s great musicians.
“I am in shock and sorrow after just receiving the news that my friend and brother, the legendary bassist Robbie Shakespeare, has died,” she said in a statement that did not describe the cause of death but said he “had been ailing for some time”
“This fantastic team took bass playing and drumming to the highest level.”
(1/3) My condolences to the family, friends and fans of Jamaican Reggae musician and record producer, Robbie Shakespeare of the Sly and Robbie fame. <a href=”https://t.co/Q1C1FZBQ4G”>pic.twitter.com/Q1C1FZBQ4G</a>
Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness also paid tribute to Shakespeare in a Twitter thread.
“When it comes to reggae bass playing, no one comes close to having the influence of Robbie Shakespeare,” said Holness. “He will be remembered for his sterling contribution to the music industry and Jamaica’s culture.”
Named to ‘best bassist’ lists
Shakespeare’s work spanned the roots reggae, rockers and dancehall genres with distinctive bass grooves, their rhythms often serving as a template for dub producers.
In loving memory of Robbie Shakespeare who died yesterday, it’s only fitting that this should be our Throwback Thursday video. <a href=”https://t.co/V5vXFeu0ft”>https://t.co/V5vXFeu0ft</a><br>SRHQ<a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/ThrowbackThursday?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#ThrowbackThursday</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/SlyandRobbie?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#SlyandRobbie</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/RobbieShakespeare?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#RobbieShakespeare</a>
Shakespeare also contributed to pop and rock releases from the likes of Sting, Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan, Cyndi Lauper, Grace Jones and Simply Red, whose leader Mick Hucknall called his influence on reggae “immeasurable” in a social media post.
He learned to play bass at the hands of Aston Barrett of the Wailers and the Upsetters band.
Named several times to “best bassist” lists, including Rolling Stone’s 50 Greatest Bassists of All Time, Shakespeare formed a duo with Sly Dunbar called the Riddim Twins, their first collaboration a band called the Revolutionaries.
In 1974, the pair formed an independent production company and record label called Taxi Records.
Their first production with Gregory Isaacs, called Soon Forward, was an instant hit.
Years later, the pair produced Murder She Wrote, the dancehall song by Chaka Demus & Pliers that crossed over into pop charts internationally in 1992.
Sly and Robbie were was nominated for 11 Grammy awards over the course of their career, with one win for best reggae album in 1998 for Friends.
Shakespeare’s death is one of a number that have taken place in the genre over the course of the pandemic, a list that has included eccentric producer Lee (Scratch) Perry, Bunny Livingston, an original member of the Wailers, and Grammy-winning frontman Toots Hibbert of Toots and the Maytals.