Sly & Robbie
Drummer Lowell 'Sly' Dunbar (getting his nick Sly from listening to Sly Stone) and bassplayer Robert Shakespeare meet in the mid seventies. Dunbar already had quite a reputation as a drummer. He had played on several Jamaican hit records, a.o. Double Barrel by organist Ansell Collins. His rhythmic innovations to reggae drumming were becoming a trade mark for Channel One when he got acquainted with Aston 'familyman' Barrett's youthful protege bassplayer Robbie Shakespeare. Shakespear had already done a good deal of studio work, like 'Stir it up' from Bob Marley and some stuff with the Aggrovators. Sly was playing at a club called Tit for Tat and Robbie was up the street at Evil People. They heard each other playing on their breaks, and they liked what they heard. It didn't take very long for them to decide to form a rhythmic drum-'n-bass partnership, and Sly & Robbie was a fact. In Jamaica they released several albums with the Revolutionaires, some of which were later released in Europe and the USA.
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Sly, Peter Tosh and Robbie
Their first major project was providing backing for the late singer/songwriter Peter Tosh in his backing band Word Sound and Power. In this period they scored their first major worldwide nr 1 hitsingle with Peter Tosh and Mick Jagger: (Keep on walking) Don't Look Back. They recorded five albums with Peter Tosh: Equal Rights, Legalize it, Bush Docor, Mystic Man and Wanted Dread and Alive. While on a world tour with Peter, they lived on bread and water to save money to be able to start their own record label: TAXI Productions.
When they returned from touring, they indeed raised the TAXI label. They joined the band Black Uhuru and from there things really started. Black Uhuru, consisting of singers Ducky Simpson, Puma Jones and lead singer Michael Rose (now known as Mykall Rose) and Sly & Robbie on drum and bass turned out to become the most progressive sounding reggaeband of that time. In this line up 5 (6 with the dub album included) albums were released: Showcase, Sinsemilla, Red, Chill Out, (The Dub Factor,) and Anthem, each album being a large step forward towards innovating reggae music. After Anthem, Michael Rose left the group and was replaced by Junior Reid and two more albums were produced: Brutal and Positive.
Another artist with whom they've been recording is Grace Jones. Sly & Robbie played on three albums. Everybody knows songs like 'I've seen that face before (libertango)' and 'Pull up to the Bumper'. The work with Grace Jones was the start of a heap international artists wanting Sly & Robbie to produce and/or provide the drum 'n bass backing for their songs and albums. Joe Cocker, Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan, Ian Dury, Herbie Hancock, Maxi Priest, Cindy Lauper, Barry Reynolds, Carly Simon... In reggae they backed and produced a talented new singer, Ini Kamoze, who's first album was a massive hit among the reggae audience.
Around 1990 a new turn in reggae music came up: raggamuffin or ragga. The drum computer became an important ingredient and started to replace live drumming on studio recordings. The Rhythm Twins released 'The Summit'in 1988, which is a record that contains eight instrumental tracks. Hard to define whether it's live drums or a drum computer (it is live drums), and this album can be seen as the last one on which Sly & Robbie play their instruments. From now on, Sly focuses on drum programming and production (Robbie still plays the bass), and again they produce a gigantic world wide hit: Murder she Wrote by Shaka Demus and Pliers.
Since then they have been writing and composing for Luciano, Beenie Man, more Shaka Demus and Pliers and numerous other, mainly ragga/reggae artists. Their latest achievement is Drum and Bass: strip to the bone, of which you can read a review here.
Then, don't they play their instruments anymore at all? An aquaintance of mine, rapper Rollarocka from Haarlem, Holland, was in New York with his band, and stepped into a club at night. Inside the club was a live band playing with an unresistable groove. Sticking out his neck (he is not so tall) he saw who were playing the drum and bass: Sly & Robbie, still going strong after a good 25 years.
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