Edward ‘Bunny’ Lee, Legendary Reggae Producer, Dies At 79

The renowned Jamaican producer’s track record includes collaborations with John Holt, Johnny Clarke, Max Romeo and many more.

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Photo: David M. Bennett/Getty Images

Legendary reggae producer Edward ‘Bunny’ Lee has died aged 79, it has been confirmed.

The producer, whose real name was Edward O’Sullivan Lee, played an integral role in the introduction of the genre to the UK in the 1970s after securing a licensing deal with Trojan Records.

Announcing Lee’s passing, Jamaican broadcaster Clinton Lindsay said that the producer had been “battling kidney problems” for several months. His exact cause of death has yet to be confirmed.

Edward ‘Bunny’ Lee was born in 1941 and grew up in Kingston, Jamaica. He began his career as a record plugger for Duke Reid’s Treasure Isle label in 1962. He subsequently moved into producing records himself, scoring his first hit with Roy Shirley’s “Music Field” that same year.

He also established his own Lee’s label, the first release being Lloyd Jackson’s “Listen To The Beat”. He produced further hits during 1967–68 by Lester Sterling and Stranger Cole, Derrick Morgan, Slim Smith and The Uniques, Pat Kelly, and The Sensations, establishing him as one of Jamaica’s top producers.

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After establishing his place in the country’s musical landscape, Lee went on to produce classic hits such as Eric Donaldson’s “Cherry Oh Baby”, Delroy Wilson’s “Better Must Come” and John Holt’s “Stick By Me”.

By the early 70s, Lee was a main player in the UK’s increasingly popular reggae scene. In 1969, he had produced Max Romeo’s “Wet Dreams”, which landed in the top ten of the UK charts and between 1970 and 1977, he was renowned for his prolific output, producing records in the thousands. His 1974 collaboration with Johnny Clarke yielded a number of classics, including “None Shall Escape The Judgement” and “Move Out of Babylon.”

He also played an instrumental role in producing early dub music, working with close friend Osbourne Ruddock, aka King Tubby, in the early 1970s. Lee and Tubby were experimenting with new production techniques which Lee described as “implements of sound.” Working with equipment that today would be considered primitive and limiting, they produced tracks that consisted of mostly the rhythm parts mixed with distorted or altered versions of a song.

Lee encouraged Tubby to mix increasingly wild dubs, sometimes including sound effects such as thunder claps and gunshots. In addition to King Tubby, dub mixers Prince Jammy and Philip Smart also worked extensively on Lee’s productions, with most of Lee’s dubs from 1976 onwards mixed by Jammy.

In 1982 an episode of the Channel 4 documentary series Deep Roots was dedicated to Lee. Filmed in the control room of King Tubby‘s studio it included a lengthy conversation with him and some of the musicians he has worked with over the years including Delroy Wilson, Johnny Clarke, Prince Jazzbo and Jackie Edwards. It then shows Lee producing a dub while Prince Jammy mixes. The program has been released on DVD in January 2008.

His continued commitment to music in the following decades saw him receiving the Order of Distinction by the Jamaican government in 2008 in recognition of his contribution to Jamaican music.

Paying tribute, journalist Nadine White wrote: “Bunny Lee has died. He was one of the most influential producers in the history of reggae music. The original Don ‘Gorgon’. This is such sad news! The world owes this man a great deal.”

Reggae re-issue label Pressure Sounds added: “Very sad new for everyone at Pressure Sounds, Bunny Lee sadly passed away yesterday. A huge character and creative force in the business. He will be missed. RIP Mr Lee.”

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