Sly & Robbie’s Robbie Shakespeare has died aged 68

Subscribe to Mixdown Magazine


Sly & Robbie’s Robbie Shakespeare has died aged 68

(Image: Frans Schellekens/Redferns/Getty Images)
Words by Eli Duxson

Rest in peace Robbie

Jamaican bassist and producer Robbie Shakespeare who was one half of the prolific duo Sly & Robbie has died aged 68 as The Gleaner reported that Shakespeare died in a Florida hospital after undergoing kidney surgery.

Shakespeare was born in Jamaica’s capital Kingston into a musical family where he started playing acoustic guitar as a child and then moved to bass after legendary reggae bassist Aston “Family Man” Barrett agreed to teach him, which proved to be wise. In July last year, he placed at number 17 on Rolling Stone magazine’s ‘The 50 Greatest Bassists of All Time’ list. 

Shakespeare eventually met drummer Sly Dunbar playing in Channel One Studio’s house band and in the mid 70s, Sly & Robbie split off from Channel One and started their own production company Taxi Records.

Later that decade when Island Records founder Chris Blackwell founded Compass Point Studios in Nassau, he made Sly & Robbie the focus of the studio’s band of session musicians, the Compass Point All-Stars. Sly & Robbie there would back up stars like Grace Jones, Mick Jagger, Joe Cocker, and Robert Palmer, as they were vital to hits like Grace Jones’ ‘Pull Up To The Bumper’. Their work quickly became so well-known that they played on Bob Dylan’s Infidels and Empire Burlesque, and the Rolling Stones’ Undercover.

1981 saw Sly & Robbie release their own record Sly & Robbie Present Taxi. Their most well-known work is 1987’s Rhythm Killers recorded with the likes of Boosty Collins, Bernie Worrell, and Bill Laswell. 

Sly & Robbie entered the burgeoning Jamaican dancehall sound as the 90s rolled around and worked with early stars like Yellowman and Shabba Ranks. They co-produced, co-wrote, and played on Chaka Demus & Pliers’ 1992 single ‘Murder She Wrote’ which is considered the greatest dancehall track ever recorded and also played on Maxi Priest’s ‘Close To You’ which hit number one in the US in 1990. 

For years afterwards, Sly & Robbie remained in high demand, producing No Doubt’s 2001 hits ‘Hey Baby’ and ‘Underneath It All’ while continuing to back up countless reggae musicians.

Rest in peace Robbie.