The passing on Wednesday of Robbie Shakespeare, one half of Jamaica’s internationally famous Riddim Twins, Sly and Robbie, has left the music industry in a sombre mood. The 68-year-old legendary bass player had been ailing from kidney-related complications, including a rejected organ. He died in Florida, where he had been living for a few years.
Leading the tributes to the Grammy award-winning Shakespeare was Minister of Culture, Gender Entertainment and Sport Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange.
“I am in shock and sorrow after just receiving the news that my friend and brother, the legendary bassist Robbie Shakespeare has died. Robbie and Sly Dunbar, the drummer, as Sly and Robbie, have been among Jamaica’s greatest musicians. This fantastic team took bass playing and drumming to the highest level as they made music for themselves as a group and for many other artistes locally and internationally. Robbie’s loss will be severely felt by the industry at home and abroad. He will be sorely missed. My condolences to those he leaves behind. Love you, Robbie,” Grange said in a press release.
For Jackie Jackson, an awesome bass player and one of those bassists who Shakespeare said had inspired him, Tuesday was “a very sad day”. He described Robbie Shakespeare as “the consummate bass player” and got all excited as he reminisced on the “wickedest bass line” he had ever heard him play.
“Yuh ever listen to the bassline in Baltimore by the Tamlins?” he asked, without waiting for an answer. “When I heard that for the first time, I seh ‘Rhatid, Robbie a play!’ The bass siddung. It made a statement. It lifted the song. Is like the bass alone have the song on its shoulders,” Jackson enthused.
He noted that he was happy to have been an inspiration for Shakespeare and equally glad to have known him. “Condolences to Robbie’s family and, of course, to Sly. When the Lord calls, you have to be ready. But that Baltimore bass line … ,” he added.
One of reggae music’s most famous keyboardists, Robbie Lyn, worked closely with the duo Sly and Robbie for many years, and he was among those who were aware of the extent of Shakespeare’s illness.
“For the last few years, Robbie lived in Florida and only came to Jamaica to work on a project and would leave after. The last time I spoke to him was December last year, and he was on the dialysis machine, and as expected, didn’t sound too good. I know that he has been in and out of [the] hospital and was under medical supervision. He was diabetic and treated himself with insulin for years,” Lyn told The Gleaner.
He related that just before COVID, Shakespeare had to bow out of a series of concerts dubbed Sly and Robbie featuring Mykal Rose. “They still used the name, but Robbie didn’t play. He had been going through it. He had a rejected organ earlier this year, and that just accelerated things. Sly didn’t speak about Robbie’s illness at all. When anybody ask about Robbie, Sly would answer in four words. I heard about his passing when I got the call from Dean [Fraser], who is in Florida. Sly and Robbie accomplished so much and are in demand internationally. This is a great loss,” Lyn said.
Dean Fraser, who was in the studio with reggae icon Jimmy Cliff, told The Gleaner that it was “a rough day”.
“This is the end of a real chapter in our music. We will never have another Sly and Robbie. He was one of the greatest natural musicians I have ever known. The talent and musicianship that Robbie loaned to [the] reggae music business is beyond measure. Robbie was a true legend,” the saxophonist extraordinaire declared.
Ska, rocksteady, reggae, and soul musician and multi-instrumentalist Jimmy Cliff also stopped his studio time to pay tribute to Robbie Shakespeare.
“Robbie undoubtedly made a huge impact on the music, and as a duet, Sly and Robbie made a huge contribution. His passing is a big loss, but he has done his work, and he did it to the max. We will miss him emotionally, but his soul is gone to a higher place, and we will send him on with love. Condolences to his family,” the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee said.