Les McKeown, Lead Singer of the Bay City Rollers, Dies at 65

Les McKeown, Lead Singer of the Bay City Rollers, Dies at 65


Les McKeown, the lead singer in the classic lineup of the Bay City Rollers, the Scottish pop group that enjoyed phenomenal worldwide success in the 1970s, died on Tuesday. He was 65.

His family announced the death in a statement on social media. The statement said he died at his home, but did not say where that was or specify the cause.

The Rollers — who were said to have gotten their name when they threw a dart at a map and it landed on Bay City, Mich. — were formed in the late 1960s but began attracting a fanatical teenage following only after Mr. McKeown joined in 1973, replacing the original lead singer, Nobby Clark.

Known for their catchy, upbeat songs (many of them American oldies) and their distinctive tartan outfits, the Rollers sold more than 100 million records and were promoted as the biggest thing since the Beatles. Sid Bernstein, the American promoter who presented the Beatles at Shea Stadium in 1965, brought the Rollers to the United States in 1976.

But they were never critical favorites, and they proved far less versatile and more musically limited than the Beatles. Their string of hits ended in 1978, the year Mr. McKeown left the band.

The Bay City Rollers began their assault on the British charts in 1974 with “Remember (Sha-La-La-La).” Other hits, like “Shang-a-Lang,” “Bye Bye Baby” and “Give a Little Love,” soon followed.

They had success far beyond Britain. It took them a little longer to crack the American market, but their first American hit, “Saturday Night,” reached No. 1 in late 1975. They went on to have five more Top 40 hits in the U.S. and appeared frequently on American television; they even briefly had their own Saturday-morning TV show.

After Mr. McKeown’s departure to pursue a solo career, the Bay City Rollers shortened their name to the Rollers and continued performing and recording, but with little success. Various versions of the band, with and without Mr. McKeown, have done occasional reunion tours since then; three members of the classic lineup, Mr. McKeown, Stuart Wood and Alan Longmuir, reunited briefly in 2015. Mr. Longmuir died in 2018.

A band billed as “Les McKeown’s Legendary Bay City Rollers” had announced a post-pandemic British tour beginning in July.

Leslie Richard McKeown was born in Edinburgh on Nov. 12, 1955, to Irish parents, Francis and Florence (Close) McKeown. He is survived by his wife, Keiko, and their son, Jubei.