Tribute to Bunny 'Striker" Lee
Updated: Nov 23, 2020
The mighty Jamaican producer Bunny 'Striker' Lee has passed at the age of 79. Yesterday I sorted through piles of records produced by him, records I've gathered over many decades. What an incredible legacy of music - a wildly diverse catalogue but for the most part always identifiable as Striker productions.
He wasn't necessarily a musician or a sound engineer but rather occupied something like the 'executive producer' role found in international pop music. In Jamaica, however, Bunny was part of a wave of renegade sound artists - along with Lee 'Scratch' Perry, Winston 'Niney' Holness and the genius sound engineer/dubmaster Osbourne 'King Tubby' Ruddock. Who relished being part of the studio process and were all insatiable music lovers. From the late 1960s, these young insurgents and fellow travellers upended the control of the big three music production houses - Federal, Treasure Isle, and Studio One.
Alongside plenty of MOR Jamaican pop of the time these producers also released record after innovative record featuring false starts, street slang, jokes, harsh instrumental sonorities, extra-musical sounds, patois DJ lyricism, Rasta pronouncements, and the emergent B-side soundscapes of dub - that fractured reworking of existing recordings that became its own art form, primarily as pioneered and refined by Tubby and Scratch. Of that group, Bunny Lee was the savviest about making music that was commercially appealing yet still unpredictable and fresh.
Starting as a record plugger for established labels he became an amalgam of hustler-networker, ghetto business mogul, and crucially, a 'vibes controller'. Without ever having a dedicated studio of his own, Bunny Lee brought musicians together to make the music and then brought Jamaican music (and touring musicians) to new markets, notably the U.K.
He produced hit records through a period of intense stylistic change - from soulful and restrained rocksteady to the dynamic and choppy rhythms of boss reggae, to the spaced, intricately percussive, drum 'n' bass-driven Rastafari realm of '70s roots reggae. Striker Lee was always anticipating public demand and stimulating excitement with each project. He recorded so many of reggae's finest talents it's pointless to try to list them but his work with three singers in particular - Delroy Wilson, Cornell Campbell, and Johnny Clarke - scaled the heights of popularity while always staying adventurous and hip. If Jamaican musicians of the 1960s and 70s were the creative engines for musical changes, it was guys like Bunny Lee who connected the worlds of musicians, recording sessions, engineers, hangers-on, labels, money, media, the streets, sound systems, record shops, avid fans and collectors.
In building that roots matrix, he was supremely creative. It's also likely he 'produced' with a little more financial generosity than many others in the cut-throat Kingston scene. Indeed, he's being remembered fondly by artists and industry people across the reggae world. Maybe the most critical thing to recall about Bunny Lee is that he was a fan - a dancer and inveterate sound system attendee from boyhood days, someone who was always seeking out new sounds. Just as in this clip - music took him over. Outside of Jamaica, we can be thankful he took his passion for grassroots Jamaican music beyond the island and in the process helped change the world. R.I.P. Edward 'Bunny' 'Striker' Lee.