As a fan of most genres of music, the bass is one of those musical instruments that I have long appreciated in its various forms, whether it’s the bass playing from
- Jazz (Paul Chambers, Ron Carter, Butch Warren, Charles Mingus),
- R&B (James Jamerson, Freddie Washington, Carol Kaye, Leon Sylvers III, Donald Dunn, Blackbyrd McKnight, Robert Bell, Marcus Miller),
- Jazzy funk (Paul Jackson, Michael Henderson, Chuck Rainey, Stanley Clarke) and
- Reggae with the likes of Leroy Sibbles, Val Douglas, Aston Barrett, Boris Gardiner and indeed Robbie Shakespeare who sadly transitioned off in recent days.
The first time I came across the name Robbie Shakespeare was in the mid 1970s when he was part of Peter Tosh’s band on seminal albums such as “Legalize It” and “Equal Rights”. Robbie was the very first Shakespeare I had heard of: William would come along later when at high school.
Robbie’s playing on “Stepping Razor” immediately stood out for me. But then I heard Robbie’s bass work on another of Tosh’s later track “Buk-In-Hamm Palace” and that stuck out big time, not that this tune was allowed much airtime on Jamaican radio.
But my enduring respect and admiration for Robbie and his long time collaborator, drummer Sly Dunbar, came through their productions on a number of singles by the group Black Uhuru in the late 1970s/early 1980s.
Those tracks became regular fixtures on Jamaican radio and subsequently on my own turntable, cassette player, CD player etc til this very day, with especially the tracks “General Penitentiary”, “Plastic Smile” “Party Next Door” and “What is Life”.
Robbie was such a regular visitor to London. One time I was chilling on the steps at a spot in South London and leaning on the railings minutes later was Robbie on his own and we did usual Jamaican nod of the head acknowledgement.
I remember joking to Robbie that he (& Sly) and the legendary US jazz funk vibraphonist Roy Ayers should be given the freedom of the London Borough of Camden for the number of times they played at the venues in that part of North West London.
Over the years in Jamaica Robbie was a regular contributor through jingles on the popular “Cutting Edge” radio show on Irie FM hosted by Mutabaruka.
I always felt that when Sly and Robbie created the Taxi label in the early 1980s they gave Jamaican music a major injection as their productions brought a very refreshing approach to the sounds of reggae that was distinctly different from their peers and predecessors. Sly and Robbie’s Taxi instrumental chune is one of the most popular sounds to come out of Jamaica and is played virtually every weekday on Jamaican radio.
My favourite Taxi productions in those early years of the company was the work Sly and Robbie did with Ini Kamoze on the albums Ini Kamoze & Statement.
I’d be lying if I could recall how many times I had seen both Sly and Robbie play live since the mid-1980s onwards.
But 2 of my memorable moments of seeing Sly & Robbie play live were..
- Jazz Café, London. Robbie took the mike and sang a raucous duet with the late Bunny Rugs.
- Royal Festival Hall in South London has long been accepted as having one of the best arenas for sound quality and the audience was transfixed when Sly and Robbie played an extended instrumental duet of “General Penitentiary” in complete darkness. Or was it “Natural Reggae Beat”? It was that kind of night.