Sly Dunbar is my favorite drummer. I love his style. I should say styleS, because there is very little in common between what Sly used to play in 1966, in 1974, 1980, 1984, 1991, 1996 and today. I could write pages about how he changed the musical landscape singlehandedly, but everyone knows that.
Sure, today, if you ask him, he can still play what he played in 1966 or 1979, but he is clearly not interested to rehash what he did, however brilliant and however successful it may have been back in the days. Plus he’s done it maybe 10,000 times, why do it again?
Sly is interested in evolution, revolution, I should say. It’s probably a reason why he named one of his bands the Revolutionaries. He keeps looking for new ways to groove with his instrument. He is never afraid to record new things. He was the pioneer in using syndrums, drum machines and has stayed relevant thanks to a permanent “industry watch” : he spends his days reading about new equipment, checking out specialized websites, teaching himself by logging onto tutorial sites. Amazing.
The man is probably the hardest working individual I’ve met. He wakes up very very very early in the morning and immediately starts punching beats on his MPC.
Most of the time the stuff he records is so far ahead of its time that it still sounds fresh decades later. When we were recording Brinsley Forde’s album, Sly played a hip-hop/dancehall loop by mistake and Brinsley was immediately entranced (literally!) and instantly found a song for that beat. Turns out this beat had been punched in 1992, 16 years before the session…
From a purely human standpoint, Sly is adorable. I’ve never seen him get mad at someone. He has strong ideas and will defend those stubbornly, but he always remains polite, quiet and nice. Isn’t it the sure sign of a real badman?