Robbie Shakespeare / 27 September 1953 – 8 December 2021

I recently interviewed Jah Wobble. During the conversation he self-depreciatingly referred to himself as a “dependable bassist”. Then qualified that by saying for a bassist being dependable is a virtue. To be honest, I don’t know enough about bass playing, or music full-stop, to state whether Robbie Shakespeare had a distinctive voice on his chosen instrument, but one thing is for sure, he was DEPENDABLE, and VERSATILE, readily lending his significant skills to any chosen style – from disco, funk, reggae, and rock. From measured, muscular dread to a clipped, robotic machine-like pulse, his bass-lines were, perhaps, minimalist, adding a seemingly effortless cool to every more mainstream, or “pop”, thing he touched. 

Learning his “trade” from mentor Aston “Family Man” Barrett, Shakespeare was there right at reggae’s very start, and he stayed with the “form”, arguably helping to shape it, across four decades, until his untimely death on Wednesday, December 8th, 2021. At the time of their meeting Barrett was a member of the Hippy Boys, an early incarnation of Lee Perry`s Upsetters – Bob Marley later famously pinched the band wholesale for his Wailers. Robbie would go on to join forces with both Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh when they went solo.

Barrett no doubt introduced Shakespeare to producer Bunny “Striker” Lee, and for a while both were members of Lee`s house band, The Aggrovators. As such they provided the powerful bottom-end on countless sides taken apart by Lee`s key spar and conspirator, King Tubby, plus of course Tubby`s own protege, then Prince, now King, Jammy. So if you`ve got any `70s Tubby`s or Jammy`s LPs, chances are, Robbie`s on `em. Lee, and reggae in general, is notorious for recycling rhythms and sessions – “maximizing value” from every expensive studio booking. Striker and Tubby, for example, often cut version upon version while locked in all night vigils as Waterhouse / Firehouse’s gangland guns blazed outside. This means that trying to piece together an accurate discography for Robbie turns out to be nigh on impossible. 

Shakespeare also sat in with Joe Gibb`s Professionals, and between these two outfits he`d frequently share the bass chair with contemporaries such as Leroy Sibbles, George Fullwood, and The Gladiators` Clinton Fearon. Their work either jointly, or completely uncredited. One of the drummers in The Professionals` rotating assembly was Lowell “Sly” Dunbar, and Robbie, and Sly, would famously collaborate further, first as members of Jo Jo Hookim`s Revolutionaires, at Channel One. 

It`s this lasting friendship and creative partnership with Sly for which Robbie is best known. The two played with, and produced, Gregory Isaacs and Black Uhuru – releasing hit singles and albums on their own label, Taxi. This homegrown success caught the attention of Island`s Chris Blackwell, who recruited the duo, “The Riddim Twins”, into his Compass Point All-Stars, eventually signing them as artists in their own right. 

As part of the All Stars, ensconced in Blackwell`s then state-of-the-art Nassau studios, alongside Wally Badarou, Mickey Chung, Barry Reynolds, and Uziah “Sticky” Thompson, they delivered a dynamic dub aesthetic to a global pop / rock audience, and international disco dance-floors. Maybe most memorably, sonically sculpting Grace Jones into a fierce, and timeless, icon. Through Taxi, and still active as session men, Sly & Robbie were plugged directly into emerging Jamaican dancehall vogues, which they brought to the table, and vice versa they took “new wave” back to JA. Developing a seminal stripped down damn funky sound that so many still strive, and fail, to emulate. 

With a musician of Robbie Shakespeare`s stature, and such a vast, complicated, and confusing, recorded legacy, where do you start? At the beginning I guess. This is a shellshocked chronological trek through my own collection. These are all records that I’m pretty sure Robbie had a hand in. I know that I’m biased but how many musical landmarks are listed here? It`s just mind-blowing. I`m not sure that I have any favourites as such, though Dennis Brown`s Money In My Pocket was – unwittingly – the first Robbie Shakespeare (or is it Lloyd Parks?) vinyl that I owned, and Prince Mohammed`s toast, the first “rap”, word for word, I ever learnt. 

This morning, Black Uhuru`s What Is Life? felt pretty poignant. 

Robbie Shakespeare Rest In Peace. 

Tommy McCook Dub – The Sannic Sounds – 1974

The Sannic Sounds

Cornell Campbell – Natty Dread In Greenwich Farm – 1975

Cornell Campbell - Natty Dread In Greenwich Farm

Naggo Morris – Su Su Pan Rasta – 1975

Naggo Morris - Su Su Pan Rasta

Keith Hudson – Torch Of Freedom – 1975

Keith Hudson - Torch Of Freedom

Johnny Clarke – Sings In Fine Style – 1975

Johnny Clarke - Sings In Fine Style

Burning Spear – Marcus Garvey – 1975

Burning Spear - Marcus Garvey

King Tubby – Presents The Roots Of Dub – 1975

King Tubby - Presents The Roots Of Dub

Ras Michael & The Sons Of Negus – Rastafari – 1975

Ras Michael & The Sons Of Negus - Rastafari

King Tubby – Dub From The Roots – 1975

King Tubby - Dub FromThe Roots

Tommy McCook & The Aggrovators – King Tubby Meets The Agrovators At Dub Station – 1975

King Tubby Meets The Agrovators At Dub Station

Bunny Wailer – Blackheart Man  -1976

Bunny Wailer - Blackheart Man

Inner Circle – Reggae Thing – 1976

Inner Circle - Reggae Thing

Peter Tosh – Legalize It – 1976

Peter Tosh - Legalize It

The Abyssinians – Satta Massagana – 1976

The Abyssinians - Satta Massagana

Augustus Pablo – King Tubby`s Meets Rockers Uptown – 1976

King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown

Tappa Zukie – In Dub – 1976

Tappa Zukie - In Dub

Yabby You – King Tubby`s Prophesy Of Dub – 1976

King Tubbys Prophesy Of Dub

Rico – Man From Wareika – 1976

Rico Man From Wareika

Johnny Clarke – Rockers Time Now – 1976

Johnny Clarke - Rockers Time Now

Culture – Two Sevens Clash – 1977

Culture - Two Sevens Clash

Peter Tosh – Equal Rights – 1977

Peter Tosh - Equal Rights

Trinity – Shanty Town Determination – 1977

Trinity - Shanty Town Determination

Revolutionaries – Musical Dub Attack – 1977

Musical Dub Attack

Revolutionaries – El Bamba – 1977

El Bamba

Revolutionaries – Kunta Kinte – 1976

Revolutionaries - Kunta Kinte

Carl Campbell – Zion Dub – 1978

Carl Campbell - Zion Dub

Al Campbell – Rainy Days – 1978

Al Campbell - Rainy Days

Dillinger – Marijuana In My Brain – 1978

Dillinger - Marijuana In My Brain

Horace Andy – Natty Dread A Weh She Want – 1978

Horace Andy - Natty Dread A Weh She Want

Augustus Pablo – East Of The River Nile – 1978

Augustus Pablo - East Of The River Nile

Tetrack – Let`s Get Started – 1978

Tetrack - Lets Get Started

Hugh Mundell – Africa Must Be Free By 1983 – 1978

Hugh Mundell - Africa Must Be Free By 1983

Burning Spear – Social Living – 1978

Burning Spear - Social Living

Joe Gibbs & The Professionals  – African Dub Chapter Three – 1978

Joe Gibbs & The Professionals - Chapter Three

Pat Kelly – Talk About Love – 1978

Pat Kelly - Talk About Love

Tappa Zukie – Escape From Hell – 1978

Tappa Zukie - Escape From Hell -

Gregory Isaacs – Mr Isaacs – 1978

Gregory Isaacs - Mr Isaacs

Crucial Bunny Versus Prince Jammy – Fatman Dub Contest – 1979

Crucial Bunny Versus Prince Jammy - Fatman Dub Contest

Dillinger – Cocaine In My Brain – 1979

Dillinger - Cocaine In My Brain

Prince Far I – Cry Tuff Dub Encounter – 1979

Prince Far I - Cry Tuff Dub Encounter

Prince Hammer –  World War Dub Part 1 – 1979

Prince Hammer - World War Dub Part 1

Bunny Lee – King Of Dub – 1979

Bunny Lee - King Of Dub

Mikey Dread – African Anthem – 1979

Mikey Dread - African Anthem

Gregory Isaacs – Soon Forward – 1979

Gregory Isaacs - Soon Forward

Earth & Stone – Kool Roots – 1979

Earth & Stone - Kool Roots

Gainsbourg  – Aux Armes Et Cætera – 1979

Gainsbourg - Aux Armes Et Cætera

Dennis Brown – Words Of Wisdom – 1979

Dennis Brown - Money In My Pocket

Derrick Laro – Don`t Stop – 1980

Derrick Laro - Don`t Stop

Pecker – Pecker Power – 1980

Pecker - Pecker Power

Manu Dibango – Gone Clear – 1980

Manu Dibango - Gone Clear

Black Uhuru – Sinsemilla – 1980

Black Uhuru - Sinsemilla

Tamlins – Baltimore – 1980

Tamlins - Baltimore

Junior Delgado – Fort Augustus – 1980

Junior Delgado - Fort Augustus

Viceroys – Heart Made Of Stone – 1980

Viceroys - Heart Made Of Stone

Grace Jones – Warm Leatherette – 1980

Grace Jones - Warm Leatherette

Grace Jones – Nightclubbing – 1981

Grace Jones - Nightclubbing

Bits & Pieces – Don`t Stop The Music -1981

Bits & Pieces - Don`t Stop The Music

Ian Dury – Lord Upminster – 1981

Ian Dury - Lord Upminster

Gregory Isaacs – More Gregory – 1981

Gregory Isaacs - More Gregory

Ranking Dread – Fattie Boom Boom – 1981

Ranking Dread - Fattie Boom Boom - 1981

I Mo Jah – Rockers From The Land Of Reggae – 1982

I Mo Jah - Rockers From The Land Of Reggae

Barry Reynolds – I Scare Myself – 1982

Barry Reynolds - I Scare Myself

Joe Cocker – Sheffield Steel  – 1982

Joe Cocker - Sheffield Steel

Grace Jones – Living My Life – 1982

Grace Jones - Living My Life

Black Uhuru – The Dub Factor – 1983

Black Uhuru - The Dub Factor

Black Uhuru – What Is Life – 1983

Black Uhuru - What Is Life

Bob Dylan – Infidels – 1983

Bob Dylan - Infidels

Ijahman – Are We A Warrior – 1985

Ijahman - Are We A Warrior

Gwen Guthrie – Padlock – 1985

Gwen Guthrie - Padlock

Sly & Robbie – Language Barrier – 1985

Sly & Robbie - Language Barrier

Mick Jagger – She’s The Boss – 1985

Mick Jagger - Shes The Boss

Half Pint – Greetings – 1986

Half Pint - Greetings

Taxi Gang – Peter Gunn – 1986

Taxi Gang - Peter Gunn - 1987

Chakk – 10 Days In An Elevator – 1986

Chakk - 10 Days In An Elevator

Sly & Robbie – Rhythm Killers – 1987

Sly & Robbie - Rhythm Killers

Gwen Guthrie – Ticket To Ride – 1987

Gwen Guthrie - Ticket To Ride

Al Campbell – Monkey Sample – 1987

Al Campbell - Monkey Sample

Material – Reality – 1993

Material - Reality

Anthony B  – Real Revolutionary – 1996

Anthony B - Real Revolutionary

Marianne Faithfull – Sex With Strangers – 2002

Marianne Faithfull - Sex With Strangers

Adrian Sherwood – Never Trust A Hippy – 2003

Never Trust A Hippy

Grace Jones – Hurricane Dub – 2011

Hurricane Dub

A selection of tracks from the above can be heard on tribute shows, broadcast on FM Karuizawa`s The Remedy, and Music For Dreams Radio, later this week. 

 

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