Thanks for the Memories, Bunny Rugs!
With great sadness, I learned of the passing over the weekend of William "Bunny Rugs" Clarke, lead vocalist of the legendary Jamaican reggae band, Third World, and one of my all-time favorites. He shared a birthday with Bob Marley (February 6) and died on February 2, 2014 at his home in Orlando, Florida, following a bout with leukemia, just a few days shy of his 66th birthday. He is survived by his wife and 8 children.
Born in Mandeville and raised in East Kingston, Clarke often credited his father, an Anglican preacher, for his vocal talent and his inspiration for choosing music as a career. His grandmother was responsible for the "Bunny" part of his nickname because he jumped around the house like a rabbit when he was little, and "Rugs" came from a Third World road crew member because of his affinity for sleeping on the floor.
Clarke's musical career started at about age 15 when he joined a band called Charlie Hackett and the Souvenirs in the mid-1960s. While living in New York City, he was a part of several other bands. In 1970, he became the lead singer of the band, Inner Circle, joining guitarist and cellist Stephen "Cat" Coore, keyboard player Michael "Ibo" Cooper, percussionist Irvin "Carrot" Jarrett, and drummer William John Lee "Root" Stewart. They would all be together again when, in 1976, Clarke and Stewart joined the Third World band just three years after Coore and Cooper had formed it with Inner Circle singer Milton "Prilly" Hamilton. Clarke performed on all but Third World's debut album.
Covering The Abyssinians' "Satta Massagana", Third World had gained attention in Jamaica. After replacing the band's drummer, Carl Barovier, with Stewart, and Hamilton with Bunny Rugs, they released their second album, 96° in the Shade (1977), which produced more hits. But their cover version of The O'Jays' "Now That We Found Love" from their third album, Journey to Addis, is probably what propelled Third World to international attention. With a few changes of band members (Cooper, Stewart and Jarrett eventually moved on), Third World has continued to record and perform to enthusiastic crowds around the world for over 40 years.
Few bands in any music genre can sustain the high-quality sound and musical arrangements that Third World has accomplished for so many decades. They were often criticized by reggae purists for their fusion of reggae, soul, R&B and pop music, but Third World is the band so many of us in the U.S. and U.K., who became reggae fans in the '70s and 80's, grew up on (aside from Bob Marley). With a bunch of extremely talented musicians along with the soulful voice of Bunny Rugs, Third World became Jamaica's beloved "Reggae Ambassadors", helping to put the island on the musical map.
While the Jamaican music industry struggles today to find its bearings on an international level, the genre is alive and well off the island. I attribute part of that excitement to bands like Third World. They sing about everything from love to heartbreak to social and political issues, but I can listen every day AND share their music with my kids. I can't say the same for much of the dancehall coming off "the rock" these days.
Bunny Rugs was loaded with charisma. He had a wonderful smile that always left me wanting more. It's difficult to find a suitable replacement for such a larger-than-life singer, but AJ Brown has been filling in as lead singer while Rugs' health has kept him away from the band's current 40th anniversary tour.
Clarke also openly radiated his love for Jamaica, which made fans around the world want to know more about the island and it's music. Say what you want about Third World "selling out"; they have been great for Jamaica and I hope they continue making wonderful music for 40 more years!
Thank you, Bunny, for your sweet voice and for my fond memories of your live performances. Peace on your journey. Rest well. One love!
Enjoy this 2013 interview from Calibe Thompson of Caribcast and Jamaicans.com followed by a couple of great Bunny Rugs and Third World performances:
Click here for more information about Third World.