Edward “Bunny” Lee — the influential producer who both expanded reggae’s sound and helped proliferate the genre’s audience worldwide — has died at the age of 79.
Trojan Records, which licensed Lee’s Jamaican productions in the U.K., confirmed the producer’s death. While Lee’s exact cause of death is unknown, he battled health issues in recent years.
“Jamaican music giant, Bunny Lee, has very sadly passed away,” Trojan Records tweeted. “Bunny was massively influential in shaping Jamaican music, starting as a record plugger in the Sixties, then, as a pioneering producer, from the rock steady era through to the dancehall years of the Eighties.”
Over the course of his decades-long career, Bunny “Striker” Lee worked alongside many of those who molded the reggae genre: He first served as a “record plugger” — someone who pushed songs on radio stations — for label heads like Duke Reid and Leslie Kong before entering the studio as an engineer and then producer.
In the Seventies, Lee worked with dub explorers like Lee “Scratch” Perry and fellow former Duke Reid record plugger King Tubby, helping to foment that emerging subgenre’s iconic sound; Lee is credited with creating the “flying cymbal sound” that punctuated dub singles at the time.
Lee served as producer on the landmark King Tubby-mixed 1974 LP Dub From the Roots and its follow-up 1975 album The Roots of Dub; on both albums, Lee recruited the session musicians that would form the Aggrovators, the legendary outfit that boasted members like Robbie Shakespeare, Aston “Family Man” Barrett, Carlton “Santa” Davis, Tony Chin, and other reggae mainstays.
While he still pushed the boundaries of dub with later collaborations with Prince Jammy, Lee also helped expand reggae’s audience with licensing deals including a partnership with Trojan Records, which promoted the genre to the U.K. audience; Max Romeo’s 1968 controversial single “Wet Dream,” produced by Lee, was one of the first reggae hits to reach the U.K. charts, ushering the genre’s arrival overseas before Bob Marley exploded onto the scene soon after.
Eric Donaldson’s 1971 song “Cherry Oh Baby,” another Lee production, was later covered by the Rolling Stones for their 1976 LP Black and Blue. Lee, who described his own discography as “the biggest reggae catalog in the world,” also produced tracks for John Holt, Delroy Wilson, Beenie Man, Johnny Clarke, Jackie Edwards, I-Roy, U-Roy, Linval Thompson, Horace Andy, and hundreds more reggae artists.
In 2008, the Jamaican government gave Lee the Order of Distinction to honor his contributions to reggae music.
UB40, which also covered “Cherry Oh Baby,” as well as the Lee-produced John Holt hit “Stick by Me,” tweeted Wednesday: “RIP Bunny Lee. Also known as ‘Striker’ and the Gorgon, one of the greatest reggae producers ever, his early work including artists like Slim Smith, Derrick Morgan, Pat Kelly, and Stranger Cole. He went on to rival the early dominance of the Studio One and Treasure Isle labels with hits such as Delroy Wilson’s ‘Better Must Come,’ Eric Donaldson’s ‘Cherry Oh Baby,’ John Holt’s ‘Stick by Me’ and Max Romeo’s ‘Wet Dream.’ He then became, with his friend King Tubby and then Prince Jammy, the leading dub producers of the early Seventies. He also worked with almost every reggae deejay in the late Seventies….all without having his own studio. One of the most prolific and successful producers, of reggae, dub, and dancehall, your music lives on.”