Robbie Shakespeare Has Died, Aged 68

As part of Sly & Robbie, Shakespeare formed one of the most famed production duos in reggae music

Reggae bassist and producer Robbie Shakespeare has died, aged 68, reports The Jamaica Gleaner.

Together with drummer Sly Dunbar, Shakespeare formed one of reggae music’s most esteemed rhythm sections and production duos in Sly & Robbie. Across a career of more than four decades, the duo worked on music with such legendary figures as Jimmy Cliff, Grace Jones, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Madonna and Serge Gainsbourg, as well as working on early reggae recordings with the likes of Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer and Prince Far I.

The Jamaica Gleaner reports that Shakespeare had been living in Florida in recent years, and died there today (December 8) following complications during kidney surgery.

Born in East Kingston, Jamaica, in September 1953, Robbie Shakespeare started out as a session musician before linking up with Sly Dunbar in the mid-1970s to form what would soon become one of Jamaica’s most in-demand rhythm sections and production outfits. They first collaborated when they both played in the Channel One Studio house band, The Revolutionaries. After leaving the group, they went on to establish their own record label together, Taxi Records, in 1974.

Shakespeare, alongside Dunbar, worked on a succession of three of Grace Jones’ albums (Warm Leatherette, Nightclubbing and Living My Life), released between 1980 and 1982. Following that, their work appeared on Mick Jagger’s 1985 debut solo album, She’s The Boss, and three of Bob Dylan’s albums, all released between 1983 and 1988 (Infidels, Empire Burlesque and Down In The Groove).

In the ’90s, they produced reggae hits like ‘Tease Me’ and ‘Murder She Wrote’ for Chaka Demus & Pliers, and went on to produce two singles from No Doubt’s fourth studio album Rock Steady in ‘Hey Baby’ and ‘Underneath It All’ at the start of the 2000s. Later in the decade, they revived their partnership with Grace Jones on the artist’s tenth studio album, Hurricane.

Among those who’ve paid tribute to Shakespeare upon the news of his death is David Rodigan, who said: "The bass is everything in reggae music and Robbie Shakespeare played his bass guitar like nobody else; he made the beat drop, speaker boxes shook and we rocked. His passing is a tragic loss; his contribution to the genre is immeasurable."

Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness also shared his own tribute, writing: "When it comes to reggae bass playing, no one comes close to having the influence of Robbie Shakespeare. He will be remembered for his sterling contribution to the music industry and Jamaica’s culture. May his soul Rest In Peace."

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