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R.I.P. Les McKeown, Frontman of Bay City Rollers Dead at 65

Singer of No. 1 hits "Saturday Night" and "Money Honey"

Les McKeown Bay City Rollers
Les McKeown of The Bay City Rollers, photo via Getty
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    Les McKeown, frontman of the Scottish pop rock band The Bay City Rollers, has died at the age of 65.

    “It is with profound sadness that we announce the death of our beloved husband and father Leslie Richard McKeown. Leslie died suddenly at home on Tuesday 20 April 2021,” read a message posted to McKeown’s Twitter account by his wife, Keiko, and son, Jubei. A cause of death was not disclosed, as the tweet continued, “Leslie died suddenly at home on Tuesday 20 April 2021. We are currently making arrangements for his funeral and ask for privacy after the shock of our profound loss.”

    McKeown joined the influential Bay City Rollers in 1973, almost a decade after their initial formation and three years following their debut single, “Keep on Dancing”, which hit No. 9 on the UK charts. It was with McKeown at the lead that the group released their first full-length album, 1974’s Rollin’, kicking off a streak of Top 10 singles: “Remember (Sha-La-La-La)” (No. 6), “Shang-A-Lang” (No. 2), and “Summerlove Sensation” (No. 3).

    Their next two LPs — 1975’s Once Upon a Star and Wouldn’t You Like It? — brought Bay City Rollers and McKeown their first No. 1 hits with “Bye, Bye, Baby” and “Give a Little Love”. However, it wasn’t until their official US self-titled debut, which comprised tracks from all three UK releases plus one new song, dropped that same year that they finally broke through in the US. “Saturday Night”, known for its popular chant “S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y, night!”, brought them fame in America and reached No. 1, despite failing to even chart in the UK.

    Over the course of the band’s career, they sold 120 million records worldwide and scored another No. 1 hit with 1976’s “Money Honey” in Canada. McKeown departed not long after, leaving in 1978 following the disappointing performance of that year’s Strangers in the Wind. He was replaced by Duncan Faure for 1979’s Elevator, but the Bay City Rollers never reached the heights of their mid-’70s success again.

    The band toured with various lineups throughout the years prior to McKeown reuniting with two of the other five core members from the classic incarnation — Alan bassist Alan Longmui and guitarist Stuart “Woody” Wood in 2015. They released the holiday album A Christmas Shang-a-Lang and toured over the next five years. They were set to return to the road in July of this year, with European dates scheduled throughout May of 2022.

    The Bay City Rollers had an infamously tumultuous career, highlighted by its ever-shifting lineup. Ian Mitchell, who passed last year, was only with the band for sevens months, for example, citing tensions amongst the members for the cause of his departure. Members also claimed their label deal with Arista Records kept them from receiving royalties from their biggest hits. A long legal battle with the label ended in 2016 when Sony Music agreed to an out-of-court settlement.

    In 2019, McKeown wrote about how the band’s troubles played out against the backdrop of being teenage icons in his memoir Shang-a-Lang: My Life with the Bay City Rollers.

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