Bob Birch

Robert Wayne “Bob” Birch (July 14, 1956 – August 15, 2012) was an American musician. He was primarily a session musician and sideman to a variety of notable artists.

Early life

At an early age, Birch was inspired to pursue music by his father Chet, an upright bassist. Birch began playing the alto saxophone, mirroring the styles of Paul Desmond and Cannonball Adderley. He learned quickly and was soon recognized by the Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association through his 1st-place finishes at music festival competitions. Around 7th grade, Birch tried out the electric bass, from his fascination for the Motown sound, as well as groups like Chicago, Blood, Sweat, and Tears, and the overall mesmerizing sound of the Fender bass coming across the radio waves. One day he picked up his junior high band director Art Dries’s Mosrite bass during school lunch and something about it felt totally right. Because he also had a strong passion for the classical side of music, Birch focused his school studies on the bassoon. In high school, Birch played with many bands playing sax, bass, as well as bassoon. As a senior in high school, he won the Louis Armstrong Jazz Award. He received a competitive scholarship from the state of Michigan to enroll in Wayne State University in Detroit and study Pre-Medicine. After he began college Birch played six nights a week amidst the Detroit club scene while attending classes during the day. His love for music swayed him quickly from the Pre-Medicine major. Birch went on to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Music Education and Performance from Wayne State.[citation needed]

Soon after graduating college, Birch joined a band with his brother Dan and sister-in-law Martha, becoming one of the top bands on the Detroit circuit.[citation needed] While performing at lounges in local hotels, Birch met many musicians from some of the top touring bands of the time including the Doobie Brothers, George Benson, Chicago and Barry Manilow. The conversations he had with these artists influenced him to decide to move to Los Angeles and take a stab at the big time music scene.

He arrived in Los Angeles in 1981, and struggled to make the contacts he needed, but meeting saxophonist Michael Paulo at the musician’s union started things off for Birch. Michael invited Birch to his house to jam, and while there he met Akio Katsuyama, a jazz pianist from Osaka, Japan. Akio needed a bassist for his trio and hired Birch on the spot. The gig was an opportunity and learning experience for Birch. While they played together, Akio turned Birch onto the Watanabe method of jazz, and Birch helped Akio with his English. With his musical drive, Birch continued to look for other avenues of performance. He auditioned for and joined every band he could. His momentum continued to build as he was able to get hired for multiple recording dates. He started to get a small toe in the door of the L.A. music scene while doing every demo he could as well as playing with his long-time friend and established musician, drummer Gregg Bissonette, on a Jazzercise multi-platinum record. Finally, in 1985 he was involved in a record deal with a band named Fortune. Birch’s good friend and mentor from Detroit, drummer Jimmy Hunter, recommended him to the band and soon after they signed a record deal with Camel/MCA. Their debut record with producer Kevin Beamish included the single, “Stacey”, on which Birch played bass and saxophone. “Stacey” made it on the Billboard Hot 100 singles list for six straight weeks. The record was stalled after three singles and Birch recognized that he needed to continue looking for other opportunities. He remained in the music scene by playing gigs every night and joining as many bands as possible. During this time, he was able to meet and play with L.A.’s finest musicians. A notable band he had joined at that time was with legendary L.A. vocalist Rainey. Birch valued the friendship and camaraderie of every musician he met during this time.

Later in 1985, he met keyboardist, Guy Babylon. They recorded together on the Luis Cardenas debut album “Animal Instinct” which went on to get a Grammy nomination. They made a great team together while playing with and recording for many artists. In 1988, Guy recommended Bob for Mark Ashton’s band. Bob joined the band which included famed drummer Zak Starkey, and after a few showcases for record companies Ashton was signed by RCA. The debut album was recorded at A&M studios with the producer Paul Rothchild, who is most known for his brilliant work with The Doors. The album was initially highly acclaimed, but unfortunately it did not enjoy the needed commercial success. At that time, Guy Babylon was asked to join Elton John’s band. Because Guy was involved with the Ashton band, he came to Bob asking what he should do. Bob responded with a convincing “What are you waiting for???”, and Guy proceeded to leave Ashton and join John. Bob continued his search for more gigs and was incredibly fortunate to be hired by percussionist Bob Conti for a spot in Jose Feliciano’s band. Bob was extremely happy to join Feliciano, being a huge fan of his music and reminiscing on the fact that ‘”Light My Fire” was the first album he ever bought. He set off on a world tour with Feliciano which lasted four years. Bob had a blast and described Feliciano as a ‘monster player’ and the band as a ‘great hang’. In between touring dates, Bob would return to Los Angeles and dig up more contacts which brought more gigs. Fate would soon shine down once again.

When Elton John ended his tour in 1989, Guy Babylon introduced Bob to the pinball wizard’s longtime guitar slinger, Davey Johnstone. At that time, Davey, Guy, and longtime John drummer Nigel Olsson were about to make a record together and asked Bob to join them. They named their band Warpipes, and their album debuted in 1990. Everyone who heard the album loved it, but it was met with the usual management and record company obstacles. The project stalled, and Guy and Davey were called to begin John’s The One album in Paris. A bit discouraged but never losing his drive, Bob proceeded to once again hit the streets to find more playing opportunities. As ‘The One’ tour was about to begin, Elton asked legendary bassist Pino Palladino to join him. Pino was forced to decline because his wife was scheduled to give birth. Elton asked Davey Johnstone if he knew any bassists who could fill the spot and Davey replied by saying, “We’ve been playing with this cat Bob Birch in LA. How about we give him a try?” On February 14, 1992, Elton agreed and asked Davey to call Bob, which began what the Detroit born bassist calls ‘sideman heaven’. When asked about his new spot in Elton’s group he always responded that he ‘couldn’t ask for a better gig’. Birch continued to respond after being asked about his feelings on joining Elton’s band by stating, “Not only is the music fantastic, but the bass lines are classic and Elton is a gem. He is like family; I love him dearly and truly value our personal and musical relationship with all of my heart”. Being Elton’s touring and primary recording bassist obviously opened up more avenues for Birch in his musical career. Once again, in between gigs with Elton, Bob was back in L.A. looking for even more playing opportunities.

In 1993, he met super-musician and composer Marc Bonilla and was asked to join his band, ‘The Dragonchoir’ for the time he had between tours with Elton. Bob accepted, and with Marc he performed live and recorded with Keith Emerson, Steve Porcaro, Glenn Hughes, and Ronnie Montrose. He later played on Emerson’s solo album, featuring Marc Bonilla, alongside Gregg Bissonette on drums. Birch teamed up with Bonilla on a few other works. Together they worked on a unique comedy album, Fuzzatonic Scream by Bobby Gaylor, which Bonilla produced. Also with Marc, along with studio pro Mike Mason, Bob played on the soundtracks of the movies The Replacements and The Scorpion King for Los Angeles film composer John Debney. Bonilla also gave Birch the chance to play with one of his favorite vocalists, David Coverdale, at Mark & Brian’s Christmas show. Touring with Elton opened up continuous opportunities for Bob to expand his musical creativity.

Since Elton teamed up with Billy Joel for multiple tours which Birch was a part of, it give him the chance to hook up with Billy’s saxophone player Mark Rivera. Mark and Bob quickly became good friends, and Bob was grateful for Mark asking him to be the primary bassist at one of the first Rock & Roll Fantasy Camps. The Camp allowed Birch the opportunity to perform with Leslie West, Rick Derringer, Nils Lofgren, Mike Love, Lou Gramm, and as the third member of the ‘Detroit Royalty’ Grand Funk Railroad with Mark Farner and Don Brewer. Another memorable moment for Bob was when Rick Latham, drummer and friend of Bob’s, gave him the chance to play with Edgar Winter and the White Trash featuring Rick Derringer reunion at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1999.

While recording Made In England with John at Air Studios in London, Birch was sitting in the studio lobby reading a magazine during a break and he noticed a shadow blocking his light. As he looked up, he instantly recognized Beatles producer George Martin. George asked Bob if he “would be up for playing on a couple of tracks he was doing with chromatic harp ace Larry Adler’s album The Glory of Gershwin. After Bob “picked his jaw off of the floor”, he answered yes. Yet another highlight of his career was building a musical relationship with producer and songwriter David Harris. Harris asked Bob to play on Brian Doerksen’s Juno Award winning album, which was put together with drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and Toto singer Joseph Williams. That led to the opportunity to co-write as well as play on a song for Joseph Williams’ solo album, This Fall. Bob said that “being a huge Toto fan, it was an honor to be involved with Joseph. Seeing my name on an album alongside my all-time heroes David Paich, Steve Lukather, Steve Porcaro, and Bobby Kimball was obviously an added rush”.


In 1995, Birch was badly injured in a car accident in which he was hit by a pick-up truck while walking the streets of Montreal with his fellow band members. After being hit, he was thrown over twenty feet before landing on the asphalt, breaking both his legs as well as severely damaging his back and spine. The doctors initially told him that he would never walk again, but within six months he was back on tour with Elton John, and continued to do so for the next seventeen years. Throughout those years, Birch struggled with constant headaches, dizziness, vertigo, and severe pain throughout his body. According to friend and colleague Nigel Olsson, he saw “hundreds of physicians, but nothing could reverse the damage which was already done. His entire body was knackered.”.During his final tour before his death, Birch was forced to perform while seated on a chair because of the pain he was enduring, which had been aggravated by a fall accident at the start of the tour.


During the last two weeks leading up to his death, Birch struggled with severe gastrointestinal issues brought on by his injury and suffered from extreme insomnia, during which he lost 23 pounds. On August 15, 2012, he died from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound in his Los Angeles home, aged 56. The subsequent autopsy revealed an amount of damage and scar tissue through his back and neck which is usually only seen in those who are crippled.


Bob Birch performed live or recorded with:

Sir Elton John
Sir George Martin
Ivy Lite Rocway
Sir Tim Rice
Bernie Taupin
Bryan Adams
Bruce Hornsby
Michael Anthony Perna
Lionel Richie
George Michael
Eric Clapton
B.B. King
Brian May (of Queen)
Tina Turner
Julie Andrews
Don Henley
Izzy & Jizzy
David Coverdale
Sheryl Crow
Spice Girls
Melissa Etheridge
Tammy Wynette
Sandra Bernhard
Marianne Faithful
Nona Hendryx
Terence Trent D’arby
Little Richard
Phil Collins
Mary J. Blige
Stevie Wonder
Natalie Cole
Backstreet Boys
Clint Black
LeAnn Rimes
Gary Wright
Paul Carrack
Johnny Mathis
Shirley MacLaine
Jose Feliciano
Jim Carrey
Joss Stone
Courtney Love
Kevin Spacey
Ronan Keating
Sophie B. Hawkins
Michael McDonald
Randy Newman
Brian McKnight
Brian Wilson
Vanessa Carlton
Rufus Wainwright
Nikka Costa
Sinéad O’Connor
John Mayer
Ray Charles
Donna Summer
Dolly Parton
Barry Manilow
Leon Russell
Gregg Allman
Hugh Padgham
Michael Omartian
Joseph Williams (singer, composer)
Gary Mallaber (drummer for Steve Miller and Van Morrison)
James Newton Howard (renowned film score composer)
The Chicago Horns (Lee Loughnane, Walter Parazaider, James Pankow)
Mark Farner (guitar and vocalist for Grand Funk Railroad)
Don Brewer (drummer and vocalist for Grand Funk Railroad, Bob Seger)
Leslie West (guitar and vocalist for Mountain)
Rick Derringer (Guitar Hero, vocalist)
Lou Gramm (lead singer, songwriter for Foreigner)
Ron Wikso (drummer – Foreigner, Cher, David Lee Roth, Richie Sambora, The Storm, Randy Meisner, Denny Laine, Gregg Rolie, Player)
John Waite (lead singer for The Babys, Bad English, and Solo)
Nils Lofgren (solo artist and guitarist for E-Street Band)
Felix Cavaliere (vocalist, songwriter, and keyboardist for the Rascals)
Clarence Clemons (solo artist and saxophonist for E-Street Band)
Hans Zimmer (renowned film score composer)
Fortune (MCA Records – produced by Kevin Beamish)
Andy Summers (guitarist – Police)
Troy Lucketta-(drummer – Tesla)
Greg Hawkes-(keyboardist – The Cars)
Chris Thomas (producer – Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Pretenders, Elton John)
Greg Penny (producer – K.D. Lang, Paul Young, Elton John)
Mark Ashton (former member of Rare Bird, RCA Records)
Paul Rothchild (producer of The Doors)
Retaliation (Zoo Records)
Glenn Hughes (formerly of Deep Purple)
Gary Barlow (lead singer of Take That)
Eddie Money
Edgar Winter and the White Trash (Montreux Jazz Festival, July 7, 1999)
Hellecasters (Hell III – New Axes to Grind)
Luis Cardenas (Drummer from Renegade – Solo Album, Animal Instinct)
Marc Bonilla (Guitar God, Reprise Records, Keith Emerson Band, film and television composer)
Bobby Gaylor – Fuzzatonic Scream, Atlantic Records, 2000
Marisela (BMG Records)
Warpipes (JCI Records)
Ghosts of the Open Road (Wedge Records)
Pocket Change (Brain Child Records)
Davey Johnstone (Guitar God, Elton John Band, Alice Cooper)
Nigel Olsson (Elton John Band, Uriah Heap)
Paul Buckmaster (film composer and orchestral arranger)
Aynsley Dunbar (Zappa, Journey, Starship, Whitesnake)
Keith Emerson (keyboardist of ELP fame)
Steve Porcaro (keyboardist from Toto, film and television composer)
Danny Pelfrey (composer, saxophonist)
Tom Scott (saxophonist, film and TV composer)
Carmine Appice (Cactus, Vanilla Fudge, Rod Stewart, Jeff Beck, Blue Murder)
Gregg Bissonette (Drum God, David Lee Roth, Joe Satriani, Maynard Ferguson)
Mark Craney (Jethro Tull, Gino Vanelli)
Clive Franks (producer – Elton John-Live Sound-Peter Gabriel, Elton John)
John Jorgenson (Hellecasters, Desert Rose Band, Elton John)
Liberty DeVitto (drummer, Bill Joel Band)
Bobby Mayo (keyboards, guitar,…Peter Frampton, Hall & Oates)
Mark Rivera (saxophonist for Foreigner, Billy Joel, Ringo Starr’s All-star Band)
Jimmy Hunter (Village People, Ray Manzurek, Flo & Eddie-Producer-Cazador)
Bob Conti (percussionist for Donna Summer, Diana Ross and Jose Feliciano)
Rocket Ritchotte (guitarist, Steppin Wolf, David Lee Roth, Lou Gramm)
Chris Pinnick (guitarist, Chicago and solo artist)
Paul Ventimiglia (Miramar recording artist)
ABC Television—Disney Studios— Lucas Films
The Inheritance (Upside Out Records)
Iron Butterfly
The Captain and Tennille
Addison Steel…(Stormy Blue CD – Producers Guy Babylon, Davey Johnstone)
Brian Doerksen
Steve Archer
Julie Budd
Gianni Bella
David Harris (producer, composer)
Pete Doherty (singer, Libertians, Baby Shambles)
Celso Valli (producer for Eros Ramazzatti)
Rick Astley
Kiki Dee
David Sneddon (U.K. Pop Idol Award Winner-number #1 single)
Ryan Malcolm (Canadian Idol Winner-number #1 album)
The Craft (Columbia Records-Soundtrack recording)
Lauren Wood
John Debney……………(film score composer)
Mark and Brian (KLOS morning show Superstars)
1992 MTV Music Video Awards..Elton John
67th Academy Awards-1995..Elton John
1995 Brit Awards..Elton John
1995 A.P.L.A. Commitment To Life..All Artists
Top of the Pops-1995..Elton John
Conan O’Brian-1997..Elton John
Jay Leno-1997..Elton John
David Letterman-1995..Elton John
Planet Hollywood (opening—Rodeo Drive-1995)..Elton John
DreamWorks-Eldorado “The Lost City”
Pat Leonard (producer for Rod Stewart, Bryan Adams, Madonna, Jewel)
W.G. Snuffy Walden (guitarist, ABC TV music composer)
20th Century Fox-Scored series “King of the Hill”. Episode “King of the Anthill”
South Park “Chef Aid” Album, Producer, Rick Rubin (platinum)
Played on the Biggest Selling Single of All time “Candle in the Wind 97”
1998 Nobel Peace Prize Awards (from Oslo, Norway)
1998 Top Grossing Tour of the Year “Elton John, Big Picture” $46.2 million
1999 VH1 Divas Concert (Live) played for Tina Turner, Cher, LeAnn Rimes, And Sir Elton John, available on CD, DVD, and VHS
2000 Nickelodeon “Road to Eldorado”
2000 VH1 “Road to Eldorado”
2000 42nd Annual Grammy Awards
Jay Leno March 13, 2000..Elton John
The Replacements..Warner Brothers…..writer and performer..(FONT 48)
The Scorpion King..Universal Studios…Sound Track and CD Soundtrack
ABC TV’s Spin City..performance on opening theme 2000 season
Elton John’s One Night Only..CD(Universal)…TV special(CBS)..Live at MSG
2001 Top of the Pops 2..Elton John
2001 BBC Radio 2 Live Show..Elton John
2002 BBC Live at the Royal Opera House..Elton John
2002 Carousel of Hope..Elton John
Elton John’s Greatest Hits 1970-2002..Elton John
A&E Live By Request..Elton John
Regis and Kelly 2002..Elton John
Jay Leno 2002..Elton John
Jay Leno 2003..Elton John
David Letterman 2003..Elton John
Yamaha Tribute To Elton John..Namm Arrowhead Pond 2003
Pop Ideal Finals Show..Elton John-January 1, 2004
NFL Kickoff 2004 Gillette Stadium..Elton John
Royal Variety Performance 2004..Elton John
Jools Holland Later November 2004..Elton John
Jonathan Ross November 2004..Elton John
David Letterman Feb 2005..Elton John
Larry King Feb 2005..Elton John
Jay Leno March 1, 2005..Elton John
Live 8, Hyde Park, London July 2, 2005..Elton John
Philadelphia Freedom Concert July 4, 2005..Elton John
The Big Apple-Concert for Katrina, 2005..Elton John
The Red Piano (NBC) 2005..Elton John
Country Music Awards 2005..Elton John/Dolly Parton
Fashion Rocks (CBS) 2006..Elton John
ATT/Blue Room 2006..Elton John
Parkinson (ITV) 2006..Elton John
BBC 2 Concert Special 2006..Elton John
Concert For Diana Wembley 2006..Elton John
B.B.King 80 2005 48th Grammy Winner..B.B. King
Juno Awards 2007..Best Contemporary Christian Album….Brian Doerksen
David Letterman 2011..Elton John and Leon Russell
Gnomeo and Juliet 2011..Elton John..Disney..Movie Soundtrack and CD

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