SNWMF

Sly and Robbie

From countless sessions separately to countless sessions as Sly andRobbie, the "Rhythm Twins" have cut their trademark metronome groovedeep into the vinyl of both hypnotic Jamaican groups like Black Uhuru(and, for that matter, virtually every Jamaican artist of note) andinternational artists the world over--Bootsy Collins and James Brown,Grace Jones and The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and Carly Simon.

And to think that it started on Red Hills Road. It was inevitable that abassist in a Kingston club called Evil People on Red Hills Road and adrummer in another club called Tit For Tat, also on the same avenue,would come and check each other out on their breaks.

Sly was the house drummer for the crucial Skin, Flesh and Bones band,among others. In 1975 Sly shook up the Hemisphere with his militant,revolutionary machine-gun drumming of session players theRevolutionaries, who cut hard-hitting hits on the Channel One label, thesound of the ghetto.

Robbie was rapidly becoming a well-known session player amongst theKingston studios, both in session with Sly at Channel One as well beinga member of Bunny Lee's Agrovators and Jack Ruby's Black Disciples.

Together, they were a hard act to follow.

This crack new musical embryo was not lost on Peter Tosh, who wouldrequire the services of Sly and Robbie to match Tosh's genius andrazor-sharp intensity. They played on his Equal Rights album andaccompanied him on his tours. Soon after, Tosh dubbed them,appropriately, Word, Sound, and Power.

The pair managed to save enough money supporting Tosh to start their ownlabel as a vehicle for their productions, and it was not long before theTaxi label clattered into existence, taking the careers of Black Uhuru,Gregory Isaacs, Culture, Jimmy Riley, and a host of other Kingstoniansto their respective destinations--uptown, downtown, and all over theworld.

"We decided to do some recordings because we didn't like the wayJamaican music was being played," says Sly. "Sometimes we would come upwith ideas the producers didn't like, so we started to make recordingsof those rejected ideas." For their initial production sessions in 1978,the Riddim Twins invited Gregory Isaacs into the studio--the result wasGregory's "Soon Forward"--the Taxi label's first ride: a #1 single.

Together with fellow Revolutionaries Mikey Chung, Ansel Collins, RobbieLyn and Sticky (among others), they provided the backing for countlesslocal artists and dub albums as well as subversive French popicon/Galoises smoker Serge Gainsbourg.

The "Twins" had known of the talents of roots vocalist Michael Rosesince 1974, and when Michael teamed up with the late Puma Jones andDuckie Simpson to form Black Uhuru, Sly and Robbie, ever the recognizersof dread talent, backed and produced them. In association with theunderrated producer/engineer/mixer Paul "Groucho" Smykle, Black Uhurure-arranged peoples' heads with the Black Uhuru albums Showcase, Red,and Anthem.

The new sound they created, hard reggae riddims awash in shockingtimbres and transplated onto the streets of New York, Toronto, orLondon, was not lost on fellow futurist Grace Jones, who recruited themfor her Nightclubbing album, and the infamous "Pull Up To The Bumper."

In 1988, Sly and Robbie were recruited for Toots' tribute to Americansoul with the Toots in Memphis album, which again took them in adifferent direction--this time to the American south.

As the nineties dawned, the great Jamaican bands disbanded and dipersedthroughout the world, and the "live" sound of studio-recorded reggaegave way to drum machines and an increasingly synthetic sound. But Sly,although no longer in front of an actual drum kit, continued to come upwith riddim after riddim: the Bogle, which ruled Dancehall in Jamaica.Their updating of Toots' "Bam Bam," which took Chaka Demus and Plyersfor a ride striaght to #1 with "Murder She Wrote." The Bangra, with itsEast Indian sound, hugely popular in London. The La Trengue, operatingin Miami, in which one takes a ride in a Mambo Taxi.

The "Taxi" has become increasingly relied on as a musical hub inKingston--more and more singers and producers "check" the Twins fortheir musical offerings: Luciano, Yami Bolo, the list goes on and on.

The "Twins" talents were "offically" recognized by the Jamaicangovernment, who presented them each with the Order of Distinction, andin 1999 the duo were awarded a Grammy for the CD Friends (East/West).

Sly and Robbie, never ones to get stuck in a rut, recently crossed overinto electonica with UK producer/mixer/writer Howie B, but have alsocontinued to carry on the "tradition," returning to the studio withformer Black Uhurian Michael Rose for another futuristic CD mixed by"Groucho" Smykle.

"Boy, it come like a marriage but not even marriage work so good,"Robbie Shakespeare once commented about his nearly 25-year musicalpartnership with Sly Dunbar. "People ask how we stay together so long,but all I can say is, it just works!"

It will undoubtedly be one "ruff" case of "back to the future" when Slyand Robbie join the indefatigable Michael Rose at the 6th annual SierraNevada World Music Festival on Saturday, June 19, 1999.

-Mark Gorney


 
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