Published on February 17th, 2016 | by Jodie Luke Copeland
Popular Southampton blues musician Bruce Roberts has passed away
One of the most familiar names of the Southampton music scene over the last four decades has passed away. Bruce Roberts, who fronted local bands including Roxoff and Fester and the Vomits had a long career as a successful musician playing with and supporting some of the biggest acts in the world including David Bowie and The Who. From playing in Ben E King’s backing band to supporting Wilson Pickett at the Royal Albert Hall and writing the b-side (With My Heart) to Shakin Stevens’ Christmas single, Merry Christmas Everyone, Bruce had done it all.
Bruce was a constant ‘name’ on the south coast blues and rock scene for decades but it was the 60’s when his career took off. The Bruce Roberts Band bandpage on SoundClick has detailed Bruce’s career in depth (but you can read it below).
RIP Bruce. Keep on rocking, Big Boss Man.
During the ’60s Bruce was a member of ‘The Primeval’, a local Guildford band who supported Alex Harvey, Unit Four Plus Two, Sonny Boy Williamson and The Who. Later Bruce joined ‘The Quick’ who were signed to Deram Records and released two singles. They went on to support The Who, Dave Dee, Dozy Beaky Mick & Titch, Cream and The Sensational Alex Harvey Band
The ’70s saw Bruce in Chris Shakespeare’s ‘The Globe Show’, a backing band to Patti La Belle, Ben E King, Joe Tex, Irma Franklin (sister of Aretha), Jimmy Ruffin and The Fantastics (previously known as ‘The Velours’). Bruce also supported Freddy King, Desmond Dekker and The Move. Signed to Page One Records, the band had two hit singles – ‘Ob-la-di Ob-la-da’ (POF 113) released December 1968 (a rare disc now changing hands at £20 a copy) and ‘Yes or No’ (POF 128) released April 1969 (also rare, seen offered on this Japanese website at ¥3,000 – equiv to £15 a copy). Bruce also supported Wilson Pickett at The Royal Albert Hall
In 1972 with a band called ‘Iguana‘ an album of the same name was released on Polydor records (also a rarity now fetching up to ¬100 – equiv to £68 a copy). Bruce now supported and toured with Planxty and also supported Marsha Hunt, Wizzard, The Sweet, David Bowie and ELO founder Jeff Lynne.
Bruce was also a member of the Jess Roden Band who produced 3 albums and 2 singles with Chris Blackwell’s Island Records as well as a live EP (IEP 3) at the original Marquee Club (now fetching £15 a copy). Bruce toured with Roxy Music, The Who (again) and supported Eric Clapton, Status Quo, John Cale, Camel, Freddy King and Barbara Dixon. “I played guitar on ‘You go to my Head’, probably Brian Ferry’s worst selling single – not my fault of course – I was brilliant!” – Bruce.
Chaka Khan & Rufus and Georgie Fame were also privileged to have Bruce’s support!.
Then there was Roxoff – “a bloody good R&B Band, and the reason Fred and I are together now” – Bruce. The Roxoff Lineup included Ronnie Taylor on Sax and Pete Hunt on Drums, although later on Pete was replaced with (the late) Roger Pope (Roger had previously worked with Hookfoot, China, Kiki Dee, Hall & Oates and Elton John). Read more on Roxoff from the BBC here.
Bruce wrote ‘With My Heart’ which was the b-side of Shakin Stevens’ ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’ (Epic catalogue # A6769) and still one of the most popular Shakin Stevens tracks.
In the ’80s Fester and The Vomits was formed and supported amongst others Motorhead and Groundhogs.
Bruce and Roger Pope teamed up again for the 4-0 Billies, a band whose name was inspired by the area of Southampton here they lived (Thornhill) and a play on the way that locals pronounced it (“Fornhill”). The Bruce Roberts Band was formed in the ’90s. They supported The Mick Taylor Band “…Oi! Mick, you owe me a bottle of Port!” – Bruce, featuring Zoot Money & Snowy White, playing many a gig across East Germany and the South of France.