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Bob Birch, Elton John bassist and Detroit native, dead at 56

for Journal Register Newspapers

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Bob Birch never took playing bass for Elton John for granted.

"Man, you've got to be lucky, unbelievably lucky," the Sterling heights native and Wayne State University music school graduate said during the mid-90s, before a concert with John at the Palace of Auburn Hills. "A man like Elton, he doesn't have auditions for people. He never did. It just kinda comes your way."

Birch, 56, joined John's group in 1992 and was a fixture until Wednesday, August 15, when Los Angeles police found him dead near his home in Los Angeles after apparently committing suicide. Investigators are searching for a note to explain the action.

John, who's slated to start a North American tour on Sept. 7, posted an online message Thursday, August 16, saying that "I am devastated and shocked at the loss of my friend and fellow musician, Bob Birch. My heart goes out to Bob's wife Michele, his son Jonathan and his family.

"To me Bob was family. He had been a member of my band for 20 years; we played over 1400 concerts together. He was one of the greatest musicians I have ever worked with, and in all our years on the road he never played or sang a bad note. I cannot find the words to describe this tragic death, and how much I loved him. May he rest in peace."

Guitarist Davey Johnstone, meanwhile, once called Birch "the easiest person on the planet to work with. Not only does he play great, but we all have a lot of respect for his judgment, which is very important. And Elton thinks the world of him, which is VERY important."

After graduating from Wayne State, where he majored in woodwinds, Birch taught all levels in the Warren pre-Consolidated school district and played at nights in cover bands such as Lifeline and Birch & Co. "All the guys I was teaching with were palyers, too, but they all had families and coudl only playo n the weekends," Birch said. "They would tell me, 'Man, you don't want to do this. If you want ot make a move, do it now while you're still young and single."

Birch moved to Los Angeles in 1981, getting his first break four years later with a group called Fortune. He was brought into the John band after meeting keyboardist Guy Babylon, who in turn introduced him to Johnstone and brought Birch into their War Pipes project. They suggested Birch to John when the bass spot opened in his band.

Birch played on John albums such as "Made In England," "The Big Picture," "The Captain & the Kid," "Peachtree Road" and more, and he also recorded and performed with Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, Sting, B.B. King, Tina Turner and Cher. Birch was also proud of the fact that he took John to see his first pro baseball game, the Chicago Cubs vs. the Atlanta Braves at Wrigley Field.

Funeral and memorial plans are expected to be announced soon.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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