BUNNY RUGS 1948-2014
Bunny Rugs, the Jamaican singer, was for 35 years the superb front man with the band Third World, deploying a powerfully expressive voice to help the group become one of the world's most popular reggae acts.
He was born William Clarke in Mandeville on February 6, 1948, but his family moved to the harsh confines of downtown Kingston when he was two. Although his father was a preacher, church music never appealed to William, who was nicknamed “Bunny” because he energetically leaped around at home. Instead, towards the end of his teens, he began singing at the Kittymat Club with the local band Charlie Hackett and the Souvenirs, having observed the group rehearse near his home.
While training to be a painter at the Jamaica School of Arts and Crafts he briefly teamed up with fellow singer Vic Taylor, the following year he began leading Inner Circle, an uptown band featuring guitarist Steven “Cat” Coore, keyboardist Michael “Ibo” Cooper and percussionist Irvin “Carrot” Jarrett. Bunny, later given the additional sobriquet “Rugs” owing to his habit of sleeping on the floor, remained with Inner Circle until 1971, when he left for New York.
There he played to Jamaican immigrant communities with the expatriate act Hugh Hendricks and the Buccaneers and, later, the Bluegrass Experience (where the line up also included Glen Adams, a keyboardist formerly with Bob Marley's backing band, the Wailers).
After recording a successful cover version of Neil Diamond's Sweet Caroline, however, Bunny Rugs found himself in high demand back in Jamaica. He duly returned to the island in 1974, and after Adams introduced him to the maverick producer Lee “Scratch” Perry, Rugs spent the better part of a year at Perry's Black Ark studio working on a debut album.
He returned to New York in 1976, where he found his old band mates from Inner Circle had moved to perform under the name Third World. Their complex blend of jazz, soul and rock-influenced roots reggae had attracted the interest of Island Records and they had released their eponymous debut album that same year. Following a joyful reunion at the Bottom Line club in Greenwich Village, Rugs was drafted in to replace Third World's original singer, Prilly Hamilton.
Third World's first album to feature Rugs, 96 Degrees In The Shade, was hugely successful, forging the musicians' reputation as international reggae stars. The 1978 record Journey To Addis, recorded at Compass Point, was even bigger and, largely thanks to an appealing reggae rendition of the O'Jays' Now That We've Found Love, became a spectacular hit on several continents.
After a few more records for Island, including the soundtrack to the concert documentary Prisoners In The Street, the group signed, in 1981, to Columbia. Of the five albums they produced for the label, 1982's You've Got The Power was most noteworthy, as it contained the outstanding hit Try Jah Love (which was written and produced by Stevie Wonder, who had performed with the band in Jamaica).
Third World switched in 1989 to the Mercury label for the Serious Business album, but despite the popularity of songs such as Reggae Ambassador, they enjoyed less success. The band resorted to self-issued work from the mid-1990s, but some of the original members began to tire of the business and left.
As Third World recorded less, however, Rugs reactivated his solo career, cutting Talking To You in 1995. In the new millennium, the self-produced What A World mixed originals with cover tunes, and Carry On was an unexpected foray into gospel; his final work, the 2012 release Time, was a well-produced set that illustrated the best of his abilities as both singer and songwriter, and was easily his most impressive solo album.
Bunny Rugs is survived by his wife and eight children.
BUNNY RUGS 1948-2014