Roots | Bunny Rugs

Irie Magazine | Roots | William ‘Bunny Rugs’ Clarke

William ‘Bunny Rugs’ Clarke

Chronicle: February 6, 1948

“I’m very happy where I am right now.
It’s a great ‘TIME’ for me.”

William ‘Bunny Rugs’ Clarke, February 6, 1948 – February 2, 2014

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 long running Reggae bands of all TIME, Third World celebrates over 37 years on the musical map with 10 Grammy nominations, 23 albums, and a plethora of awards including the prestigious United Nations Peace Medal.

Rugs’ singing has been creating a positive vibe for nearly 50 years. Born on February 6, in Mandeville, Jamaica, and raised in downtown Kingston, he was given the nickname “Bunny” from his grandmother because he liked to “jump around like a rabbit” and “Rugs” from his Third World band mates “when they found out I liked to sleep on rugs and the floor.”

Bunny Rugs was about 14 years old when he realized he “had a voice”; his mother wanted him to sing at her East Queen St. Baptist Church but he wasn’t interested in that. Rugs’ family initially settled at 47 Foster Lane before moving to 36 Johns Lane between Barry and Law St, an area of Kingston.
At 15 years old the precociously talented Rugs auditioned at Kittymat Club on Maxfield Ave. The club’s manager Horace Forbes was so impressed by Rugs’ vocals he was chosen as the lead singer for the house band, Charlie Hackett & The Souvenirs. Although Rugs couldn’t (initially) tell his mother the big news because she wanted him to sing in her church, his father readily gave him his blessing, which Rugs says was “the key that opened the door to a singing career”. “I started out fairly young, during the Ska and Rocksteady era,” he reflects, “and Jamaican artists weren’t recognized internationally yet because our music was just getting started.”

Rugs attended the Jamaica School of Arts and Crafts for about two and a half years with the intention of pursuing a career as a fine artist but he found it difficult to concentrate due to his love of music. In 1968 Rugs migrated to New York City where he worked various jobs but music continually beckoned.
“I worked on Wall St, I drove a yellow cab in Manhattan, I was offered a job at UPS and at a hospital; I even did an off Broadway play ‘Lament To Rastafari’, written by Edgar ‘Nkosi’ White, but I really didn’t focus on any of it too much because in the back of my mind I knew what I wanted to do,” Rugs recalled, “so I just concentrated on my singing.” He became the lead singer with Hugh Hendricks and the Buccaneers, a popular Brooklyn based party band, a gig that lasted about a year.

Rugs formed his own group ‘The Wild Bunch’ in 1971; two years later he returned to Jamaica and signed on as the lead singer with Inner Circle, a band formed by brothers Ian and Roger Lewis, on bass and rhythm guitar, respectively, featuring Michael ‘Ibo’ Cooper on keyboards, Stephen ‘Cat’ Coore on guitar and William John Lee ‘Root’ Stewart on drums. Back then Inner Circle were a top 40 cover band and before long Cooper, Coore and Stewart broke away and started writing and performing original material in their newly formed band: Third World. And the rest is Reggae History!

Rest in Power… Bunny Rugs.