Jamaican Bass Guitarist Robbie Shakespeare makes Rolling Stone Magazine’s ‘50 Greatest Bassists of All Time’

Jamaican Bass Guitarist Robbie Shakespeare makes Rolling Stone Magazine’s ‘50 Greatest Bassists of All Time’

Robbie Shakespeare

by Howard Campbell

SOUTH FLORIDA – Jamaican music has produced a number of outstanding bass guitarists, but none has been as successful as Robbie Shakespeare, whose career spawned the roots-reggae, Rockers and dancehall eras.

This month, Rolling Stone Magazine named the celebrated musician among its ‘50 Greatest Bassists of All Time’, just reward for the 66 year-old Shakespeare, best known as a member of the durable Sly and Robbie production team.

He comes in at number 17 on an impressive list that includes Aston “Family Man” Barrett of The Wailers band; Donald “Duck” Dunn of Booker T and The MGs, Paul McCartney, Jaco Pastorious and James Jamerson, the Motown maestro who was selected number one.

“Well, mi feel good yuh nuh. Wi haffi give credit to people like Family Man ‘cause him a mi teacher an’ people like Jackie Jackson an’ Boris Gardiner…dem man dey a di boss,” said Shakespeare, who lives in South Florida.

It was Barrett who initially taught Shakespeare the rudiments of bass during the late 1960’s. They met at the home Shakespeare lived in east Kingston when Barrett was a rising musician with producer Lee “Scratch” Perry.

He also tuned into Jackson and Gardiner who were in-demand session musicians at the rival Treasure Isle and Studio One labels during the 1960s. One of Shakespeare’s first big gigs was playing on Concrete Jungle, the classic song from Catch A Fire, The Wailers’ 1973 debut album for Island Records.

Shakespeare came to prominence in the mid-1970’s as the go-to bass man for The Aggrovators, producer Bunny Lee’s house band. They played on songs like Johnny Clarke’s Move Outa Babylon and Rock With me Baby.

It was during that period that he also joined Peter Tosh’s Word, Sound and Power Band whose drummer was Sly Dunbar with whom he later formed Sly and Robbie.

Over the years, they have played on and produced numerous hit songs by Gregory Isaacs (Soon Forward), Jimmy Riley (Love and Devotion), The Tamlins (Baltimore), Black Uhuru (General Penitentiary, Shine Eye Gal), Dennis Brown (Sitting and Watching, Revolution) and Tosh (Buckingham Palace, Nothing But Love).

Shakespeare said he was introduced to Dunbar by future Inner Circle keyboardist Bernard “Touter” Harvey in the early 1970’s while they were upcoming musicians in Kingston’s clubs. He was instantly impressed.

“Mi sey to myself, ‘Da drummer ya a hold it like how mi tell mi drummer fi hold it’,” he recalled.

They have also backed a number of big-name pop acts such as Bob Dylan, Grace Jones, Mick Jagger and Joe Cocker.

 

 

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