Apr 20, 2021: Bay City Rollers Singer Les McKeown Dies at 65

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The Bay City Rollers (L-R): Derek Longmuir, Eric Faulkner, Alan Longmuir, Les McKeown and Stuart Wood

Les McKeown, the longtime frontman for the Scottish pop group the Bay City Rollers, died April 20, 2021. The news of his sudden passing at his home at age 65 was shared by his family on his Twitter account on April 22.

The ’70s pop group were formed by bassist Alan Longmuir and his drummer brother Derek, along with Gordon “Nobby” Clark, who formed the group as the Saxons in 1966. The name change came when one of the band members threw a dart at a map of the United States and it landed in Bay City, Mich.

Les McKeown, via the Bay City Rollers Facebook page

Signed to Bell Records, they first hit the U.K. singles chart in 1971 with “Keep on Dancing,” which was followed by other hits including “Remember (Sha La La),” “Shang-a-Lang” and a cover of the Four Seasons “Bye Bye Baby,” which reached #1 in the U.K. in 1975. By that time, they’d become one of the most popular groups in the U.K., sparking a rabid following among young girls that took on the name Rollermania. The group’s distinctive style of fashion, highlighted by tartan trousers and scarves, was assumed by their teenaged fans, who became known as the “Tartan Horde.” McKeown, born in Edinburgh, Scotland on Nov. 12, 1955, joined the group in 1973.

The Bay City Rollers’ popularity extended to the United States in 1975 as well, where, signed to the new Arista label, they reached #1 with “Saturday Night.” The group ultimately scored two more top 10 singles in the U.S., “Money Honey” (1976) and “You Made Me Believe in magic” (1977). A cover of the Dusty Springfield hit “I Only Want to Be With You” made the charts in both the U.S. and the U.K.

Watch the Bay City Rollers perform “Saturday Night” on The Midnight Special in 1976

Related: The #1 singles of 1975

McKeown left the group in 1978 but returned for a series of comeback performances in 2015.

McKeown’s cause of death was revealed later to be from a combination of natural causes, though he had cardiovascular disease and hypertension. The band’s co-founder Alan Longmuir died in 2018.

Related: Musicians we lost in 2021

Best Classic Bands Staff

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  1. TyStick
    #1 TyStick 21 April, 2022, 09:46

    What a tragic loss. First we lost Alan Longmuir, then Ian Mitchell and now Les. BCR were my favorite band growing up. I still love them. I was hoping for one final tour.

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