Robbie Shakespeare, the influential Jamaican bassist best known as half of the rhythm duo Sly & Robbie, has died, according to Jamaica Observer and The Gleaner. Shakespeare reportedly died in a Florida hospital after undergoing kidney surgery. He was 68 years old.
Born in 1953, Shakespeare grew up in East Kingston, Jamaica surrounded by a musical family who frequently invited fellow musicians over to rehearse. After learning how to play acoustic guitar as a kid, he switched to bass after convincing Aston “Family Man” Barrett, the legendary reggae bassist from the Upsetters, to teach him how to play.
When Shakespeare got an opportunity to play in the Revolutionaries, the house band at Channel One Studio, he met drummer Sly Dunbar and the two hit it off. In the mid-1970s, they decided to form their own band, Sly & Robbie, and parted ways with Channel One to start their own production company called Taxi Records. The duo would go on to release countless records, beginning with Sly & Robbie Present Taxi in 1981 on through to Dubrising in 2014.
Sly & Robbie also worked as studio musicians throughout their career. The duo played on classic reggae records like Culture’s Two Sevens Clash and Gregory Isaacs’ Cool Ruler, and began backing up high-profile artists like Grace Jones, Joe Cocker, Peter Tosh, and Serge Gainsbourg. As their popularity grew, Sly & Robbie were quickly playing alongside Mick Jagger, Carly Simon, Sting, Yoko Ono, and Jackson Browne. Bob Dylan tapped them to perform on Infidels, Empire Burlesque, and Down in the Groove.