Robbie Shakespeare, Family Man named among ‘Rolling Stone’ top 50 bassists
Two of Jamaica’s top bass players, Robbie Shakespeare – one half of the prolific ‘riddim twins’ Sly and Robbie – and Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett, have been named among a Top 50 list of best bassists from across the globe. The 50 Greatest Bassists of All Time list, compiled by the prestigious Rolling Stone magazine, sees the Jamaicans appearing at number 17 and number 28, respectively.
When The Gleaner reached out to the Grammy award-winning Robbie Shakespeare, he said he was humbled by the recognition, “Bwoy, I appreciate the fact that others looking in can see what we are doing for the music. This makes me feel like a baby.” The A-lister, whose fingers have lovingly stroked the chords on many hit songs for artistes, including Gwen Guthrie, Grace Jones, Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs, Bob Dylan and Peter Tosh, spoke passionately of the value of hard work, while subtly throwing shade at the ‘entitlement’ culture.
“No matter how much people hail Sly and Robbie as the legends, and despite two Grammy wins and 11 nominations, we never ever feel like anything we get in life we must get it. There have been a lot of sleepless nights, and ‘eatless’ nights, too. Nuff time we go to bed hungry, so we remember these things and take stock. There are so many other great bassists out there who they could have chosen, and yet they chose me and I am grateful,” Robbie Shakespeare told The Gleaner.
Not the first accolade
This is not his first bite of the cherry as regards Top 50 listing. Right after leaving Peter Tosh to play bass for Black Uhuru back in the day, he captured the number three position on a Top 50 compiled by a set of music critics based in England. Robbie said that for the Rolling Stone article, he was given a heads-up when he received an email from a contact in France asking him to do the interview. “I made sure to tell them about the other great bass players in Jamaica, like Lloyd Parks, Val Douglas and Jackie Jackson. They said ‘who are these guys?’ And I replied, ‘Google them’.”
When asked to name some of his favourite pieces that he has played on over the years, Robbie instead, true to his nature, played ‘Mr Nice Guy’. He was quite ecstatic that fellow bassist, Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett, who he often describes as his mentor, also made the Top 50. He sums up his respect for Family Man in a 2009 Fog City Journal interview in this way: “Well … what can I say? He is the man (laughter). Just the way the man plays the bass, you know. There are gunfighters and there are gunfighters, seen? I can’t tell you nothing more. He is a master for me. I have had help and influences from other people, but I have to give it mostly to Family Man.”
Robbie is hoping that this accolade will help to inspire young generation of bass players who look up to him. “It’s all about giving your all to something that you love. Being consistent in seeking always to excel and taking risks creatively. At the end of the day, we all need to realise that God put us here on Earth to do a work, and we will do it for as long as God wants us to do it,” he concluded.