Behind the Band Name: Bay City Rollers

Despite their name featuring a city in the state of Michigan, the Bay City Rollers were actually from Edinburgh, Scotland.

Videos by American Songwriter

The Rollers

First formed as a trio called The Ambassadors in 1964 by guitarist Alan Longmuir, who was 16 at the time, his younger brother drummer Derek Longmuir, and their older cousin Neil Porteous, soon after, they started calling themselves The Saxons and would play dance halls and weddings covering R&B and pop favorites.

Gaining more popularity by the end of the 1960s, the group, which also had several lineup changes within the first few years, decided they needed a better band name and landed on The Rollers.

Mapped Out

Stuck trying to come up with the perfect city name to go in front of “The Rollers,” Derek Longmuir threw a dart at a U.S. map. At first, it landed on Arkansas, which no one connected with at the time. The second dart landed on Bay City, Michigan.

The band signed to Bell Records, and released their first single in 1971, “Keep on Dancing,” which was a cover of the Gentry’s 1965 hit. The song peaked at No. 9 in the U.K., for the Bay City Rollers and led to an appearance on Top of the Pops.

By the late ’60s, the band started gaining a following among the teen audience, which expanded even more once singer Les McKeown joined the group, replacing original singer Noby Clark, in 1973.

McKeown arrived as the band was also going through an image overhaul, donning more traditional Scottish tartans, platform shoes, and high-water pants.

Teenage Fan Club

By the 1970s, the Bay City Rollers were considered the next big thing since The Beatles and the “tartan teen sensations from Edinburgh.” 

Though they had several lineup shifts, at their peak, the Bay City Rollers consisted of McKeown, guitarists Stuart “Woody’ Wood and Eric Faulkner and Stuart Wood, bassist Alan Longmuir, and drummer Derek Longmuir.

In 1974, the Bay City Rollers reached the top 10 four times with “All of Me Loves All of You,” “Shang-a-Lang,” “Remember,” and “Summerlove Sensation.” Climbing higher up the charts, their songs “Give a Little Love” and “Bye Bye Baby” peaked at No. 2 on the U.K. chart, and the group had their first, and only, No. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, with “Saturday Night” in 1976.

Still Rolling

The band released its debut album, Rollin,’ in 1974. McKeown remained with the band through their 1978 album Strangers in the Wind, before pursuing his solo career. Continuing to release music through the 1980s with Breakout ’85 in 1985, after a long hiatus, the Bay City Rollers released A Christmas Shang-A-Lang in 2015.

McKeown also reunited with the Bay City Rollers in 2015 for a reunion tour, just several years before his death on April 20, 2021, at the age of 65.

As of 2018, the Bay City Rollers lineup includes longtime guitarist Wood, singer Ian Thomson, bassist Marcus Cordock, and drummer Jamie McGrory.

Photo by Art Zelin/Getty Images

Leave a Reply

The Story Behind James Brown’s Infamous $5 Fines