The Bay City Rollers were a Scottish pop/rock band who began to take shape when they were known as The Saxons. Playing local gigs in and around the Edinburgh area, they had a large turnover of members before drummer Derek Longmuir and his bass-playing brother Alan teamed up with singer Nobby Clarke and guitarist John Devine.
Wanting to change their name to something that sounded more "American", they decided to stick a pin in a map of the United States to help them choose a new handle. The first attempt landed in Arkansas, but wanting something sexier, the next nearest place that appealed to them was Bay City, Michigan. The suffix "Rollers" was added and the new name was complete.
A local musician wannabe, Tam Paton, who was able to get them gigs in the Edinburgh area through his contacts, fell into the position of their manager. The band was getting a lot of good exposure in their native Scotland and further into northern England.
As word spread, their reputation grew, and Dick Leahy, boss of Bell Records, was invited by Paton to see the band in action. Leahy later admitted, it was the reaction of the fans that impressed him, as the sheer hysteria meant he couldn’t hear a thing the band was playing. He signed them to his Bell label without hearing them play a note.
Jonathon King was brought in to produce the group’s first single, a cover of The Gentrys' "Keep On Dancin'", which climbed to no. 9 on the UK chart in late 1971. Despite the success of their first attempt, the next three releases were all duds. "Manana", "We Can Make Music" and "Saturday Night" all failed to put the Rollers back on the chart.
By now, the members were becoming discouraged and in June 1972, guitarist Eric Faulkner was added to the line-up. In January 1973, singer Leslie McKeown and guitarist Stuart Wood replaced Clarke and Devine, stabilizing the quintet's line-up.
Paton sent out photos of the band to fan clubs and pop magazines in a bid for publicity, and a striking change of image occurred when the band adopted the tartan patterns of their country, added to shirts and half-mast trousers and scarves. The Rollers had one last shot at the big time as Bell allowed them one more single before their contract expired.
In February 1974, a song called "Remember" was released and climbed to #6 on the U.K. charts and stayed there for a 3 month run. The next time out, the follow-up was the powerful "Shang-A-Lang", an early Rollers anthem, and it made it to #2 in the U.K. With more radio play, The Bay City Rollers were introduced to the rest of the country. They were now hot, photogenic, accessible, and well marketed. Success this time had come with the all-important follow-up hit.
Striking while the iron was hot, "Summerlove Sensation" was issued and peaked at #3 in July '74. October saw the release of "All Of Me Loves All Of You", which climbed to #4 in the U.K. It was the band's 4th top ten hit in a little over 7 months.
By now the group had struck a chord with young teenagers and pre-pubescent fans in search of pin-up pop stars. Merchandise was flying off of the shelves, and their faces were featured on teenaged magazine covers and TV shows. Privately however, the Rollers were none too happy. Their last single was branded by the band itself as "rubbish teeny fodder", and they had wanted the B side, "The Bump" as the A side. The Bump was a dance craze doing the rounds at that time.
It also came to light around this time that it wasn't just the Rollers that sang and played on their records. This was true, but mainly because of the time involved hiring studios and the expense, it was cheaper and more efficient to hire session men, with a bit of the Rollers dubbed in here and there. In light of this, the band ditched their producers, Martin & Coulter and hooked up with Phil Wainman. This was a huge gamble as Martin & Coulter had, as some perceived "made the Rollers" and wrote all four of their 1974 hits. Also at this time, the debut album "Rollin’" was released, which included the first 3 hits of '74 along with some other Martin/Coulter songs. Though rushed and not entirely to the satisfaction of the band, Rollin’ went to number one and stayed on the album chart over a year.
By Spring of 1975, the Rollers were the hottest act in Britain, and announced their next single, a cover of the Four Season’s "Bye Bye Baby". Eliminating studio sessions ensured that from now on, every bit of music would be the Rollers and not outside session men. The single climbed to #1 in March '75 and stayed an incredible 6 weeks at the top, selling an astonishing one million copies.
Amid frenzied scenes, sell-out tours, and fan mania not seen since the Beatles heyday, the press dubbed it "Rollermania". England was awash with tartan, and the press couldn’t get enough of them. Sadly, the downside of all this fervour caused mayhem and a trail of destruction. Concerts were often stopped or cancelled altogether because of fan hysteria. A security man was killed as he suffered a heart attack while trying to control crowds.
The follow-up single, "Give A Little Love" in July '75 reached #1 for 3 weeks, as did the second album "Once Upon A Star". It seemed like the band couldn’t do any wrong as they brought Britain to a standstill. But by this time, the Rollers were trying to grow up, personally, spiritually and artistically. They ended 1975 with the much harder "Money Honey" and saw it climb to #3 in November. Their next objective was to have a hit record in The United States.
The Rollers were introduced to America on "Saturday Night Live", singing their failed '73 single "Saturday Night". The tune climbed the U.S. chart in late '75 and hit the #1 spot in January '76. The Rollers were on top of the world. The scenes previously witnessed by UK fans were now repeated in the States and Canada, thanks to an even more exhausting schedule of promotions, recording, TV, and magazines. They repeated their success in Australia, as they continued their quest for world domination.
April saw the single "Love Me Like I Love You" reach #4 as did their cover of Dusty Springfield's "I Only Wanna Be With You" in October '76. It would be their last ever UK top 10 hit. The albums "Wouldn’t You Like It?" and "Dedication" still made the top 10, but sales started to decline. Meanwhile, the rest of the world was just discovering The Bay City Rollers. Scenes witnessed in Japan were more hysterical than both the UK and USA put together.
While they were off touring, things were changing back home, leading to the end of "Rollermania". A combination of young fans growing up, and lack of exposure were taking their toll. 1977 was the year of "Punk" and "New Wave" music and the Rollers light sound were old hat. "It’s A Game" in May '77 became the first Rollers hit to miss the top 10, reaching #16. Then followed their swansong, "You Made Me Believe In Magic", which only reached #34 in August of '77. It was their last ever UK hit. One final album, also called "It’s A Game", also missed the top 10 and it was all over chartwise. The magic was gone.
The Rollers, eventually produced and wrote more of their own songs. Some of their material from late '77 onwards was much more mature and adult-orientated, but Britain was no longer interested. Later albums, "Voxx", "Strangers on the Wind", "Elevator" and "Ricochet" sold well elsewhere in the world. Success lasted a little longer in the U.S. and Japan, but the constant life together caused irritations within the group, which in turn led to fighting and accusations. The band began to fragment.
In hindsight, Tam Paton was out of his depth, and Bell/Arista should have managed the group better, or at least arranged a business approach to management. The band earned tens of millions and reports say that at least 100 million albums were sold, but The Rollers were not rich men. Each accused the other of stealing, and the in-fighting exploded with an on stage brawl during a Japanese concert. The members even went to court over the rights to the name of the group, when two splinter groups, led by Les and Eric were trying to use it.
The classic line-up, minus drummer Derek Longmuir who was battling health problems, performed a New Year's Eve concert on December 31st, 1999 in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle in Scotland. In March, 2000, the London Times reported that Longmuir admitted in an Edinburgh, Scotland court to possessing 6,000 images of child pornography that he downloaded from the internet. He was sentenced to 300 hours of community service.
In 2001, 30 years after their initial success, the band members were still trying to resolve their differences in order to get back the millions they felt they were owed in royalties. They claimed that the money lies with Arista Records and various holding companies. In March, 2007, they filed suit against Arista.
On April 26th, 2008, fans in the greater Los Angeles area held the first Bay City Rollers Day, celebrating all things BCR. The tradition continued and grew in popularity with each passing year.
In March 2011, a New York court ruled that the Bay City Rollers can move forward with their four-year old lawsuit against Arista Records. Arista had denied responsibility for the royalties, claiming that the New York statute of limitations bars the Rollers' claims for royalties incurred prior to 2001. However, since the Rollers were able to show that Arista had continued to promise them their royalties in writing, the judge ruled that the statute did not apply.
As of 2012, Mitchell, Faulkner and McKeown each toured separately, re-hashing Rollers hits. Due to legal issues over the use of the band name, McKeown called his ensemble: Les McKeown's Legendary Bay City Rollers. In September, 2015, Les McKeown, Stuart Wood and Alan Longmuir, announced that they were reforming the band. The door was left open for the return of Eric Faulkner, however drummer Derek Longmuir was not invited back.
Even though they were ridiculed and mocked by more serious musicians, the Bay City Rollers had an amazing career and are fondly remembered by their fans.
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