Robbie Shakespeare and 'Butch' Stewart's guitar

Robbie Shakespeare and 'Butch' Stewart's guitar

Observer writer

Friday, July 31, 2020

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The humblest of instruments, the 'box guitar', has helped launch careers of many artistes and musicians. Acclaimed bassist Robbie Shakespeare, of the famed Sly and Robbie production team, got his start plucking the strings of an acoustic once owned by a famous hotelier.

“Butch Stewart did own a guitar an' a dat mi learn from. Wi used to pang, pang pon it an' find a one chord, yuh know dem ways? Everytime yuh si it yuh try a likkle ting,” Shakespeare recalled in an interview last week with the Jamaica Observer after Rolling Stone Magazine placed him at number 17 on its '50 Greatest Bassists of All Time' list.

The Edmond guitar was a gift from Stewart to Leroy Brown, lead singer of The Emotions, a vocal group whose other members included Shakespeare's older brother Lloyd and Audley Rollen.

Brown was also a graphic artist who did work for Stewart's appliance company during the early 1970s. He told the Observer some years ago that he was at Stewart's home one day and asked if he could borrow the instrument. Stewart told him to take it.

“Every man use to ketch dem practice offa it. Mi used to play chune like Satisfaction (by Carl Dawkins). Dem song deh weh easy fi play,” Shakespeare said.

The Emotions never made it big, but Shakespeare did. In the 1970s, he was an in-demand session musician for producer Bunny Lee, and also played on massive hit songs for The Wailers ( Concrete Jungle), Peter Tosh ( Legalize It, Equal Rights) and Bunny Wailer ( Blackheart Man).

He and drummer Sly Dunbar have been a formidable partnership since the late 1970s with their Taxi label. The Grammy-winning duo have produced countless hits for Gregory Isaacs, Jimmy Riley, Dennis Brown, Black Uhuru, and Grace Jones.

Stewart has not done badly either. He is owner of Appliance Traders Limited, Sandals Resorts, and the Jamaica Observer.

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