Robbie Shakespeare

Robert "Robbie" Shakespeare (born 27 September 1953)[1] is a Jamaican bass guitarist and record producer, best known as the one half of the reggae rhythm section and production duo Sly and Robbie, with drummer Sly Dunbar. Regarded as one of the most influential reggae bassists,[2] Shakespeare is also known for his creative use of electronics and production effects units.[1] He is sometimes nicknamed "Basspeare".[3]

Robbie Shakespeare
Shakespeare performing at TFF Rudolstadt in 2015
Background information
Birth nameRobert Shakespeare
Born (1953-09-27) 27 September 1953 (age 67)
Kingston, Jamaica
  • Musician
  • record producer
  • Bass guitar
  • vocals
Associated acts

As a part of Sly and Robbie, Shakespeare worked with various reggae artist such as U-Roy, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs, Sugar Minott, Augustus Pablo, Yellowman and Black Uhuru. His production work also extended beyond the reggae genre, covering various pop and rock artists such as Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne, Cyndi Lauper, Joe Cocker, Yoko Ono, Serge Gainsbourg and Grace Jones.[1][4] Prior to his involvement in Sly and Robbie, he was a member of the session groups The Revolutionaries and The Aggrovators.[5][6]


Shakespeare grew up in East Kingston, Jamaica. He had a musical family, so that "his family home was a rehearsal and hangout spot for a variety of upcoming musicians and singers."[7] His brother Lloyd had a band called the Emotions which rehearsed in the house. Shakespeare's first instrument was an acoustic guitar that was always present in the home. Later, the bass player Aston "Family Man" Barrett came into his yard, as it was near a popular location for selling marijuana.[7] Shakespeare had been trying acoustic guitar and drums, but when he heard Family Man's bass playing, he was attracted to the deep bass sound. Shakespeare recalled saying "I wan fi learn how to play this thing [bass]. You haffi teach me".[7] and Barrett agreed to give Shakespeare bass lessons.

Shakespeare first went in a music studio when he helped carry Family Man's brother Carlton Barrett's drums into the studio and help set up the drums. This developed into sneaking into the studio and waiting outside as bands recorded.[7] Whenever Family Man recorded, Shakespeare would try to both listen to the session and watch the bass player's hands; then afterwards, the bassist would show Shakespeare the basslines that had been recorded in person at Shakespeare's family house.[7]

Shakespeare continued to study electric bass with Aston Barrett, the bass player from the Upsetters.[8] He collaborated with the drummer Sly Dunbar for the first time when they played in the Channel One Studio house band, which was called The Revolutionaries.[9] After Barrett joined the Wailers, Shakespeare took over the bass role in Barrett's former group, Hippy Boys. In 1974, Shakespeare and Dunbar started an independent music production company and record label called Taxi Records.[9]

Robbie Shakespeare in 1978




Selected discography

Sly and Robbie albums


With Grace Jones

With Jackson Browne

With Peter Tosh

With Joe Cocker

With Gary Barlow

  • Sing (Decca Records, 2012)

With Sting

With Joan Armatrading

With Sinéad O'Connor

With Garland Jeffreys

With Carly Simon

With Mick Jagger

With Bob Dylan

With Yoko Ono

Appearances in media

Shakespeare appeared in the 2011 documentary Reggae Got Soul: The Story of Toots and the Maytals which was featured on BBC and described as "The untold story of one of the most influential artists ever to come out of Jamaica" (see Toots and the Maytals).[15][16] Both Robbie and Sly were featured in the recording sessions of the album Hurricane by Grace Jones, in the documentary "Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami", by Sophie Fiennes, about the model/singer Grace Jones.


  1. Harris, Craig. "Robbie Shakespeare". AllMusic. Retrieved 14 February 2016.
  2. "The 100 Greatest Bass Players of All Time". Bassplayer. February 2017.
  3. Hansen, Adam. Shakespeare and Popular Music. Bloomsbury Publishing, Sep. 23, 2010. p. 143.
  4. Greene, Jo-Anne. "Sly & Robbie". AllMusic. Retrieved 14 February 2016.
  5. Snowden, Don. "The Revolutionaries". AllMusic. Retrieved 14 February 2016.
  6. "The Agrrovators". AllMusic. Retrieved 14 February 2016.
  7. Taylor, Angus (26 June 2012). "Interview: Robbie Shakespeare". United Reggae. Retrieved 3 January 2020.
  8. The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll. Third Edition. Edited by Holly George-Warren and Patricia Romanowski. Fireside, a Rolling Stone Press Book. London. 2001
  9. Harris, Craig. Allmusic Retrieved 3 January 2020. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  10. "Bassplayer".
  11. Taylor, Angus (26 June 2012). "Interview: Robbie Shakespeare". United Reggae: Online Reggae Magazine. Retrieved 27 March 2017.
  12. Katz, David (1 June 2016). "Reggae Superheroes Sly and Robbie made 200,000 songs – These are their 16 greatest". FACT: Music News, New Music.
  13. "Markbass SA 450". Retrieved 14 February 2016.
  14. "Markbass TA 503". Retrieved 14 February 2016.
  15. "Toots and the Maytals: Reggae Got Soul". BBC Four (documentary). Directed by George Scott. UK. 2011. 59 min. Retrieved 15 Dec. 2016. <>
  16. Tootsandthemaytals. "Toots & The Maytals - Reggae Got Soul - Documentary Trailer." YouTube. YouTube, 15 Aug. 2013. Web. 15 Dec. 2016. <>