The Legendary Edward ‘Bunny’ Lee, Rest In Peace

Bunny with Chips Richards and Dave Barker, 2019

Bunny with Chips Richards and Dave Barker, 2019

Jamaican music lost one of its most influential and popular creators on Tuesday 6 October with the sad passing of Bunny ‘Striker’ Lee in Jamaica.

Christened Edward O’Sullivan Lee, Bunny was born in Kingston on 23rd August 1940 and raised by his father, a local shoemaker, and mother, Ruby May McGraw, in the city’s Greenwich Farm district. After attending Greenwich Town andDenham Town Primary schools, he studied electrical engineering at Kingston Technical High School, while also working at the Teletronics Company to gain practical experience.

By this time, he had developed a keen interest in popular music, regularly listening in to radio shows and attending local dances to hear the latest in hot R&B sounds. In the late fifties, he began dating Yvonne McCloud and through her brother, the noted singer, Derrick Morgan, was introduced to leading local sound operators-turned-producers, Duke Reid and Prince Buster. His friendship with the latter eventually led to part-time work as a record plugger for the popular JBC radio programme, ‘Teenage Dance Party’. It marked the beginning of a long and extremely fruitful career in the music business.

Bunny’s skills as a record promoter were duly recognized by a growing number of producers and by the mid-sixties he found himself working days as a filing clerk for Uni Motors, and later Kingston Industrial Garages, while nights were spent plugging discs for Reid, Buster, Coxson Dodd and Leslie Kong.

In 1966, he went into partnership with aspiring producer, Joe Gibbs, but after the breakdown of the relationship, started working for former Skatalites road manager, Blondel J. Calnek (aka Ken Lack), who had recently launched the Caltone label. Before long, Bunny had produced his first recording, ‘Listen To The Music’ by local vocal group, Lloyd & the Groovers, which saw issue on Calnek’s imprint. His next release, ‘Music Field’ by Roy Shirley was licensed to W.I.R.L. Records and proved so successful, he was offered the job as the company’s in-house producer.

By the close of 1967, Bunny had launched his own Lee label, on which he issued a number of popular singles by a variety of artists, most notably the Uniques, Glen Adams, Alva Lewis, Ken Parker and Roy Shirley. His growing reputation on the Jamaican scene quickly attracted interest from the UK and within a year, he had licensed material to a number of British based labels, including Doctor Bird, Island, Pama and Trojan.

His success reached new levels in the spring of 1969 when his production of Max Romeo’s ‘Wet Dream’ became a UK top ten hit and as the decade drew to a close he was firmly established as one of the most successful music makers in Jamaica – just a few years after embarking on his career as an independent producer.

The hits continued into the seventies, with successes including Eric Donaldson‘s Festival Song contest winner, ‘Cherry Oh Baby’ and ‘Better Must Come’ by Delroy Wilson, which was adopted by the People’s National Party for their successful general election campaign.

It was around this time that Bunny also played a pivotal role in the development of dub. On the recommendation of a friend, he paid a visit to a dance in Spanish Town, featuring Rudolph ‘Ruddy’ Redwood’s Supreme Ruler of Sound (S.R.S.) set. Redwood pioneered the use of custom discs, on which the vocal track was intermittently dropped in and out of the mix. Inspired by the idea, Bunny began releasing singles, which followed the pattern and featured either a full or semi instrumental version of the top-side, on its flip.

By 1970, the trend of releasing versions on B-sides of 45s had become widespread among the majority of Kingston’s major producers and over the next year or so the style developed very little – it was not until around the end of 1972 that dub in its truest sense first came into being.

The main protagonist in the development of the genre was Osbourne Ruddock, aka King Tubby who was instrumental in manipulating sound into exciting new directions – a skill Bunny was quick to acknowledge and make use of.

By the mid-seventies, Bunny was head and shoulders above his nearest rival in terms of sales, with his famed ‘flying cybal sound’ providing major hits for a long list of artists that included such luminaries as Johnny Clarke, Delroy Wilson, John Holt, Linval Thompson, Owen Gray, Horace Andy, Jackie Edwards, U Roy, Derrick Morgan, Cornel Campbell andBarrington Spence.

During this time and beyond, Bunny and Tubby worked together on a catalogue of recordings, issued both on single and albums and often simply credited to King Tubby’s or the Aggrovators. Regular players for the producer at this time included Earl ‘Chinna’ Smith on lead guitar, Carlton ‘Santa’ Davies or Carlton ‘Carly’ Barrett on drums, Robbie Shakespeare, George ‘Fully’ Fulwood or Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett on bass, Tony Chin, Tony Valentine or Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett on rhythm guitar, with keyboards provided by Bobby Kalphat, Bernard ‘Touter’ Harvey or Theophilus Beckford. Others who regularly sat in on sessions were saxophonists Tommy McCook and Lennox Brown, trumpeterBobby Ellis and organists, Ansel Collins and Jackie Mittoo.

Bunny continued to remain at the forefront of the reggae scene until the onset of the digital era of the mid-eighties, since which time he  focused much of his attention to other business interests, primarily leaving his son to look after his immense back catalogue.

In October 2008, Bunny received the Order of Distinction in the rank of Officer for more than 40 years of dedicated service to the music industry. During this period, his achievements had been both manifold and profound, with his incredible long run of Jamaican hits unlikely to ever be equalled.

Friendly, astute and affable, he always willing to offer assistance to others, remaining a great friend of Trojan over the years that followed its inception in 1968. He will be hugely missed to all of those who knew him personally or through his incredible catalogue of music. Our thoughts are of course with his family and loved ones at this terribly sad time, particularly his widow Annette Wong-Lee and son, ‘Little Striker’. Rest in Peace, Edward ‘Bunny’ Lee – a true Jamaican legend.

Bunny Lee, Chips Richards, Trojan's own Caeshia St Paul and Susan Cadogan at Trojan's Christmas dinner, London, November 2019

Bunny Lee, Chips Richards, Trojan’s own Caeshia St Paul and Susan Cadogan at Trojan’s Christmas dinner, London, November 2019