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William Alexander Anthony "Bunny Rugs" Clarke, OD

(February 6, 1948 – February 2, 2014)

Bunny Rugs was the lead singer of Jamaican Reggae band Third World, as well as recording as a solo artist. He began his career in the mid-1960s and was also at one time a member of Inner Circle and half of the duo Bunny & Ricky.

Biography

Bunny Rugs, the Jamaican singer, was the superb front man with the band Third World for almost 40years, deploying a powerfully expressive voice to help the group become one of the world's most popular and longest running Reggae Supergroup.

 

He was born William Clarke in Mandeville, Jamaica on February 6, 1948, but his family moved to John's Lane in downtown Kingston when he was two. Although his father was a preacher, church music never appealed to William, who was nicknamed “Bunny”. Clarke explained that his 'Bunny Rugs' nickname came from his grandmother calling him 'Bunny' as a child because he would "jump around the house like a rabbit" and from a member of the Third World road crew calling him 'Rugs' because of his liking for sleeping on the floor. Instead, towards the end of his teens, in the mid-1960s Bunny began singing at the Kittymat Club on Maxfield Avenue with the local band Charlie Hackett and the Souvenirs, having observed the group rehearse near his home.

 

While training to be a painter at the Jamaica School of Arts and Crafts he briefly teamed up with fellow singer Vic Taylor, the following year 1969 he began leading , Inner Circle , an uptown band featuring guitarist Stephen “Cat” Coore, keyboardist Michael “Ibo” Cooper and percussionist Irvin “Carrot” Jarrett.

He remained with Inner Circle until 1971, when he left for New York. There he played to Jamaican immigrant communities with the expatriate act Hugh Hendricks and the Buccaneers, and later the Bluegrass Experience with Glen Adams, Eric Frater and Sparrow Martin. (the line up included Glen Adams, a keyboardist formerly with Bob Marley's backing band, the Wailers).

 

After recording a successful cover version of Neil Diamond's Sweet Caroline, Bunny Rugs found himself in high demand back in Jamaica. He duly returned to the island in 1974, and after Adams introduced him to the maverick producer Lee "Scratch" Perry, Rugs spent the better part of a year at Perry's Black Ark studio working on a debut album.

Bunny recorded with Perry at the Black Ark, initially as a backing singer, then with Leslie Kong's nephew Ricky Grant as the duo Bunny & Ricky, releasing singles such as "Freedom Fighter" and "Bushweed Corntrash", and also recording the solo album To Love Somebody (1975, credited as Bunny Scott).

Bunny was also a member of The Wild Bunch.

Bunny returned to New York in 1976, where he found his old band mates from Inner Circle had moved on to perform under the name Third World.

Their complex blend of jazz, soul and rock-influenced roots reggae had attracted the interest of Island Records and they had released their eponymous debut album that same year. Following a joyful reunion at the Bottom Line club in Greenwich Village, Bunny was drafted in to replace Third World's original singer, Milton "Prilly" Hamilton.


He returned to the Black Ark in 1977, contributing backing vocals (with Earl 16) to Yabby You's "Chant Down Babylon Kingdom".
 

Third World's first album to feature BunnyRugs, 96°Degrees In The Shade, was hugely successful, forging the musicians' reputation as international reggae stars. The 1978 record Journey To Addis, recorded at Compass Point, was even bigger and, largely thanks to an appealing reggae rendition of The O'Jays' Now That We've Found Love, became a spectacular hit on several continents.

After a few more records for Island, including the soundtrack to the concert documentary Prisoner In The Street, the group signed, in 1981, to Columbia. Of the five albums they produced for the label, 1982's You've Got The Power was most noteworthy, as it contained the outstanding hit

Try Jah Love (which was written and produced by Stevie Wonder, who had performed with the band in Jamaica).

Third World switched in 1989 to the Mercury label for the Serious Business album, but despite the popularity of songs such as Reggae Ambassador, they enjoyed less success. The band resorted to self-issued work from the mid-1990s, but some of the original members began to tire of the business and left.

 

As well as performing and recording with Third World, Bunny Rugs continued to record as a solo artist, releasing the Jack Scorpio-produced

Talking to You album in 1995, with guest contributions from Papa San, Cobra and General Trees.

Rugs planned 2008 album Thinking Bout You was due to be released on 6 February, to coincide with Bob Marley Day celebrations, the date also being Clarke's birthday. He contributed to the Easy Star's Lonely Hearts Dub Band album in 2009, contributing a version of "Lovely Rita" recorded with U-Roy.

 In the new millennium, the self-produced What A World mixed originals with cover tunes, and the album Carry On was an unexpected foray into Reggae Gospel.

In 2012 Rugs released the single "Land We Love", with profits going to the charities The Jamaican Children's Heart Fund (the charity for which he was a spokesman) and Chain of Hope. The single was taken from the album Time, released in September 2012. Time was a well-produced album that illustrated the best of Rugs abilities as both singer and songwriter, and was easily his most impressive solo album.

Later that year he received a Caribbean American Heritage Award for Outstanding Contribution to Reggae.

 

Health problems forced him to miss some of the shows on Third World's fortieth anniversary tour in 2013, and he confirmed that he had been diagnosed with cancer. In early 2014 he was hospitalized in Orlando, Florida, where he was treated for leukemia, and died on 2 February at the age of 65. He is survived by his wife and seven children.

 

A memorial service later that month included tributes from Minister of Youth and Culture Lisa Hanna, opposition culture spokesperson Olivia 'Babsy' Grange, and former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson. 

In 2016 it was announced that Clarke would be posthumously awarded the Order of Distinction (Officer Class) by the Jamaican government for his contribution to the country's music.

Blessed with one of the richest, most expressive talents in contemporary music, the vocals of William “Bunny Rugs” Clarke are an essential component of global “Reggae Ambassadors” Third World band’s enduring success. Rugs’ profoundly emotive singing, as heard in the somber commentary “96° in the Shade”, the euphoric “Now That We’ve Found Love”, or the spiritually impassioned “Try Jah Love”, renders a timeless quality within Third World’s music and its messages. As one of the longest running Reggae bands of all time, Third World celebrates over 44 years on the musical map with 10 Grammy nominations, 23 albums, and a plethora of awards including the prestigious United Nations Peace Medal.