Robbie Shakespeare, who played some of reggae’s greatest bass lines, died in South Florida on December 8 at age 68. Shakespeare, who was part of legendary drum and bass team Sly and Robbie with Sly Dunbar, reportedly suffered renal problems in recent years. No cause of death was reported.
In July, 2020, Shakespeare was named at number 17 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s 50 Greatest Bassists of All Time. That list includes Motown Records maestro James Jamerson, and Bernard Edwards of Chic. Plus, Shakespeare’s mentor, Aston “Family Man” Barrett of The Wailers.
Saxophonist Dean Fraser, a longtime member of Sly and Robbie’s Taxi Gang, remembers Shakespeare as “a very serious person when it comes to music, especially his music.”
They played on some of the Rhythm Twins’ biggest productions including Baltimore by The Tamlins, Revolution by Dennis Brown and Anthem, the Black Uhuru album that won the first reggae Grammy in 1985.
“Robbie was a super-duper musician who took the music to all corners of the world,” Fraser noted.
Shakespeare was originally from Jacques Road, a tough area in east Kingston named for the family of Amy Jacques, second wife of Pan African leader Marcus Garvey.
After playing in bands such as The Hippy Boys and Youth Professionals, he branched out as an in-demand session musician. His credits in the 1970s include Concrete Jungle by The Wailers, Marcus Garvey by Burning Spear and Peter Tosh’s Legalize It.
He and Dunbar were the driving force behind Tosh’s Word, Sound And Power band, before leaving to revive the Taxi label Dunbar had started in the mid-1970s.
They worked with some of the biggest names in pop music during the 1980’s and 1990’s. Including Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Manu Dibango, Mick Hucknall of Simply Red, and No Doubt.
Robbie Shakespeare was awarded the Order of Distinction by the Jamaica Government for his contribution to the development of reggae. He and Dunbar are recipients of the Musgrave Gold Medal.