Robbie Shakespeare, a Jamaican bassist who, as half of the rhythm duo Sly and Robbie, performed with and produced a few of the greatest names in music whereas remodeling reggae with daring infusions of rock, blues and jazz, died on Wednesday at a hospital in Miami. He was 68.
Guillaume Bougard, an in depth pal and frequent collaborator, mentioned the trigger was issues of kidney and liver transplants.
Beginning within the mid-Seventies, Sly and Robbie had been among the many most prolific musicians within the enterprise, reggae or in any other case. Mr. Shakespeare as soon as estimated that they’d taken half in 200,000 recordings, both their very own or as backup musicians or producers for different artists.
Each males got here up from the inventive cauldron of Seventies Kingston, working as session musicians at the famed Channel One recording studio and taking part in with reggae superstars like Peter Tosh, together with on his 1978 tour as a gap act for the Rolling Stones. That tour gave the duo their first worldwide publicity.
Their sound differed from the melody-rich music of Bob Marley, Jamaica’s greatest star, with a heavier emphasis on the beat and overt influences from rock and blues, qualities that prefigured new reggae kinds, like dancehall, that emerged within the late Seventies and early ’80s.
Their willingness to push reggae’s boundaries quickly caught the eye of Chris Blackwell, the proprietor of Island Information, who noticed the opportunity of marrying their sound with North American and European pop acts.
They offered the driving beats on Grace Jones’s hit 1981 album “Nightclubbing.” They had been quickly working with acts removed from the Kingston sound of their youth, like Bob Dylan and Joe Cocker, and producing singers like Marianne Faithfull, Madonna and Sinead O’Connor.
The duo had been each hard-core reggae aesthetes and radical innovators, by no means afraid to interrupt with custom. Their work with rock musicians led them to fuse rock’s syncopation with reggae’s one-drop beat. And so they had been among the many first musicians to make common use of digital drum machines.
“Their entire profession has been geared towards creating new stuff, what nobody else had achieved earlier than,” mentioned Mr. Bougard, who additionally licensed a few of their work for launch in Europe by means of his label, Tabou1.
They had been nominated for 13 Grammy Awards and gained two: in 1985 for his or her manufacturing of the Black Uhuru album “Anthem,” and in 1999 for their very own album “Buddies.”
That was an apt title, as a result of past their musical skills, Mr. Dunbar and Mr. Shakespeare had been recognized for his or her shut private bond. They had been very completely different individuals — Mr. Dunbar relaxed and outgoing, Mr. Shakespeare quiet and cerebral — however their skills complemented one another’s, they usually might typically appear to be two halves of a single particular person.
“The longest we’ve been aside within the final 25 years is about three weeks,” Mr. Shakespeare advised the British newspaper The Independent in 1997. “It’s very tough to be aside for that period of time. I’ll go on vacation with my household, and as quickly as I attain the place I’m going to, I wish to be again with Sly, taking part in music.”
Robert Warren Dale Shakespeare was born on Sept. 27, 1953, in East Kingston, Jamaica. He grew up in a musical household, however his dad and mom had been strict and he left residence at 13. He drifted at first, moving into hassle but in addition spending time round his older brother, Lloyd, who sang in a neighborhood band.
It was throughout Lloyd’s follow classes that Robbie started to study the guitar — a home made acoustic one at first. However an opportunity encounter with the bassist Aston Barrett, generally known as Household Man, led him to change devices.
He begged Mr. Barrett to show him to play bass. Mr. Barrett, who would later be part of Marley’s band, the Wailers, mentioned sure, however provided that he stayed out of hassle.
Robbie did greater than that; he went residence and practiced all night time, and the times and nights after, till his fingers bled. Many years later, he confirmed Mr. Bougard how the strings had worn down his fingerprints till they had been virtually illegible.
Quickly he was taking part in in a collection of Kingston bands, typically a number of at as soon as. He would play as a session musician in studios through the day, then carry out in golf equipment alongside Crimson Hills Street at night time. It was whereas working within the golf equipment that he met Lowell Dunbar, generally known as Sly, already thought to be among the best drummers within the metropolis.
“He was taking part in the drums identical to how I’d all the time inform the drummers I’d play with to play,” Mr. Shakespeare advised the website United Reggae in 2012. “He was simply doing it and doing it simple and good.”
After working for a number of years at Channel One, Mr. Shakespeare and Mr. Dunbar went off on their very own, working for Mr. Dunbar’s Taxi label. That they had fast success producing “Showcase,” a 1979 album by the singer Gregory Isaacs, who at the time was one of many best-selling artists in Jamaica.
That very same 12 months they performed with the French singer Serge Gainsbourg on “Aux Armes et Cætera,” a reggae model of the French nationwide anthem, which grew to become certainly one of Mr. Gainsbourg’s greatest hits. They launched their first album, “Sly and Robbie Current Taxi,” in 1981.
Mr. Shakespeare is survived by his spouse, Marian, and a son, Mikiel. Full info on survivors was not instantly obtainable.
In 2020 Rolling Stone ranked Mr. Shakespeare seventeenth on its record of the best bassists of all time.
The pair continued to make music into the twenty first century, whilst issues of diabetes left Mr. Shakespeare much less capable of get round. Their final album, “Crimson Hills Street,” was launched early this 12 months.
“In the event you’re chosen by music, I don’t assume you get to say it’s time to retire,” Mr. Shakespeare advised The Scotsman newspaper in 2009. “It’s a really light present, and we’ve been trusted with it.”
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