Robbie, the ace of bass

Associate Editor —
Auto & Entertainment

ROLLING Stone Magazine paid homage to Jamaican Robbie Shakespeare last year when they named him among their 50 Greatest Bassists of All Time.

The reserved Shakespeare was listed at 17, ahead of his mentor Aston “Family Man” Barrett of The Wailers, whose bass lines laid the foundation for reggae legend Bob Marley.

American James Jamerson of Motown fame occupied pole position on the esteemed list.

Shakespeare, half of rhythm duo Sly (Dunbar) and Robbie, was unfazed by the acknowledgement.

“Mi jus’ humble miself an’ feel proud. Wi nuh do nuthin fi get pat pon di back, wi jus’ cut an’ guh through. When wi si something like dis wi feel good dat di work yuh do people respect it,” he told the Jamaica Observer at the time.

Shakespeare died of kidney-related issues in a Florida hospital yesterday morning. He was 68.

Bass guitarist Jackie Jackson hails the late Shakespeare among the best to have come out of Jamaica.

“He is a very respected bass player and serious musician. If it’s not right, it’s not right. And if it took the entire day to get it right, that’s what he’ll do. That is what I admired about him,” said Jackson, whose bass lines includes Desmond Dekker (Israelites), Paul Simon (Mother & Child Reunion), and Toots & the Maytals (Sweet & Dandy and Pressure Drop).

“I will always remember him for the bass line on Baltimore by The Tamlins. He was at his best. When I first heard the song, I had to call him and say: ‘Robbie, dah bass line deh wicked!’… He will be missed,” Jackson added.

Keyboard player Bernard “Touter” Harvey of Grammy-winning band Inner Circle remembers Shakespeare “like a brother”.

“I remember when Family Man used to teach Robbie to play bass on a three-string guitar… In fact, ah me put Sly and Robbie together. Robbie and I were playing at a club on Red Hills Road called Evil People Club. I knew Sly before that and he was playing drums at a club also on Red Hills Road called Tit for Tat. I said, ‘Robbie, you need fi go over Tit for Tat and listen to that drummer deh.’ We went and that’s how they met,” said Harvey, who played keyboard on John Holt’s Stick By Me while attending Excelsior High School in Kingston at 16 years old.

Harvey hails his east Kingston “brother” as one of the most creative bass players out of Jamaica.

“Bob Marley’s Concrete Jungle, ah Robbie bass line, not the teacher [Family Man], but the student. It is one of the classic tunes that defined reggae music. We lost a giant,” Harvey added.

Former members of Peter Tosh’s Word, Sound and Power band, Sly and Robbie relaunched the Taxi label in the late 1970s. The duo produced a flow of hits for Gregory Isaacs, Dennis Brown, The Tamlins, Black Uhuru, Jimmy Riley, Junior Delgado, Sugar Minott, Beenie Man, and Grace Jones.

The ‘Riddim Twins’ sound has been used by diverse artistes such as Bob Dylan, Gwen Guthrie, Manu Dibango, Mick Hucknall of Simply Red, and No Doubt.

Robbie Shakespeare was conferred with the Order of Distinction by the Jamaican Government for his contribution to the development of reggae. He and Dunbar are recipients of the Musgrave Gold Medal.

Featured Image – Robbie Shakespeare

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