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Les McKeown, frontman of the Bay City Rollers, dies at the age of 65.


Les McKeown, the singer who led the Bay City Rollers in their most successful period, has died aged 65.

Bay City Rollers Singer Les McKeown Dead at 65 | PEOPLE.com

His family said that he “died suddenly at home”, and asked for privacy following “the shock of our profound loss”. No cause

McKeown, who was raised in an Edinburgh tenement block, sang the Scottish group’s UK No 1 Bye Bye Baby as well as Top 10 hits such as Shang-a-Lang and Summerlove Sensation, and led them into a phase of US success in the mid-70s.

The Bay City Rollers formed in 1964, originally with singer Gordon Clark, primarily playing covers of US pop and R&B songs. They broke through in 1971 with Keep on Dancing, but their popularity faltered, and Clark left in 1973 to be replaced by McKeown.

The attractive singer quickly gained a teenage following and returned the band to the Top 10 in 1974 with Remember (Sha-La-La-La), the first of a string of hit singles that cemented the group as one of the UK’s most popular – and screamed over – groups. They sold over 120 million records in total.

They had hits with more cover versions, such as Bye Bye Baby, as well as original material, such as Give a Little Love, which reached No. 1 in the UK in 1975. McKeown and the band proudly displayed their Scottish heritage by wearing tartan clothing, which quickly became a sort of uniform for fans. “We were young, working-class guys who wanted to be famous and play all over the world and make our music, Scotland, and tartan famous, and that was our main goal,” McKeown explained in 2013.

Clive Davis, who founded Arista Records in 1974 and later nurtured Whitney Houston and Bruce Springsteen, successfully launched the group in North America at the height of their British fame in 1975 – they reached No. 1 in the US with the single Saturday Night and had two further Top 10 hits there.

Fashions changed, and the band’s popularity faded toward the end of the decade. McKeown left the group in 1978, at the age of 22, as the group shifted to a more modern new-wave sound, but returned for several reunion tours, most recently in 2015.

He achieved success in Japan with his debut solo album, All Washed Up, in 1979, and went on to release eight more solo albums. The Lost Songs, released in 2016, was a collection of songs he wrote while touring with the Bay City Rollers in the 1970s.

McKeown was found guilty of reckless driving in 1975, just as his fame was growing, after he hit and killed an elderly neighbour, Euphemia Clunie. He was fined £100 and banned from driving for a year. In another case, in 2005, he was found to be driving while intoxicated, more than twice the legal limit, and fleeing the scene of an accident. He was banned for 18 months and fined £1,000 for his actions.

Beginning in the late 1970s, McKeown struggled with drug and alcohol addiction. He later stated that the deaths of his parents within a month of each other “flipped him over to the dark side,” and that he developed an alcohol problem in the early 2000s, drinking “one, two, maybe three bottles of whisky a day.” In 2008, he became sober after a four-month stay in a California rehab centre.

The band was embroiled in a long-running legal battle with ex-manager Tam Paton and their label Sony over royalties they claimed they were owed. McKeown also claimed that Paton, who died in 2009, gave him drugs while he was a member of the group: “When we got a little tired, he’d give us amphetamines.” He’d keep us awake with his speed,” he told the Guardian in 2005, calling him a “thug, a predator” elsewhere.

Les McKeown dies: Bay City Rollers frontman was 65

His wife Peko Keiko, whom he met in 1978, and their son Jubei survive him.


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