As the bassist with Elton John’s band for the past 20 years, Bob Birch played to vast audiences all over the world, including 200,000 music fans at the Live 8 concert in London’s Hyde Park in 2005, as well as at events in Madison Square, New York, and Caesars Palace, Las Vegas. He was also heard on the bestselling single of all time – Candle in the Wind 1997, the song John rewrote as a tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales. It appears that he killed himself.
Birch began his career playing saxophone, but switched to bass guitar in his teens because he grew tired of waiting to play a solo. He was greatly influenced by the bass playing of James Jamerson, who was featured on most of the Motown hits in the 1960s and 1970s.
After gaining a degree in music education and performance at a university in Detroit – as well as learning how to play the bassoon – Birch spent some time teaching and playing in bands before moving to Los Angeles in 1971. He failed to find real success until he made his live debut with John in Wisconsin 11 years later – “sideman heaven” was how he described the job.
When the band was taking rests, he toured with Billy Joel and was delighted to be asked by George Martin to join an all-star line-up for a 1994 album, The Glory of Gershwin, a tribute to the harmonica player Larry Adler on his 80th birthday.
Birch apparently shot himself dead near his home in Los Angeles. A few hours later, Elton John issued a statement on his website. It read in part: “To me, Bob was family. We played more than 1,400 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.”
Robert Wayne Birch, who was born in Detroit on September 14, 1956, died on August 15, aged 55.
Richard Anthony Baker