Musician Bob Birch performs with Elton John at the Wells Fargo Center on March 25, 2011 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Jeff Fusco/Getty Images)
Michigan native Bob Birch, who had a long and distinguished career as a bass guitarist in several bands but most notably for Elton John, died Wednesday.
He was 56.
TMZ.com first reported the death, saying Birch died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound near his home in Los Angeles. Billboard.com confirmed that report.
Birch boasted a long list of musical credits, but he was best-known as the bassist and backup vocalist for John's band. With his signature long hair, small-rounded sunglasses and toothy smile, he wasone constant on stage with John, having toured with the piano legend since 1992.
He was John's longest-touring bassist.
"I am devastated and shocked at the loss of my friend and fellow musician, Bob Birch," John said in a statement on his website. "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."
Birch's partnership with John also led him to work with Billy Joel, as Joel and John started the first of their "Face to Face" tours in 1994. Off and on, that tour lasted well into the 2000s.
"He was a brilliant musician, a true professional and a wonderful man to work with," Joel said on his website. "After 16 years on the road together, I considered him to be a good friend. I and all the people in my touring organization will miss him very much."
Robert Wayne Birch was born in Metro Detroit in 1956, and quickly grew fond of music. His dad, Chet, was a touring musician. According to a bio for the band "Fortune," Birch's first band after heading to California, he started playing the saxophone as a 6-year-old but shifted to the bass guitar in high school because, he said, "I got tired of sitting there waiting to play a solo."
After graduating from St. Clair Shores Lakeview, Birch went on to Wayne State, where he apparently started out taking pre-med classes. It was clear music was his true passion though, and he switched majors and earned a bachelor's in music education.
He stayed in the area doing some teaching and playing local clubs before making the move to Los Angeles in 1981.
Not long after, he joined "Fortune," after a pitch to the band by his longtime friend and fellow Lakeview alum, drummer Jimmy Hunter. Later in the 1980s, he spent several years on a world tour with Jose Feliciano.
Still, during his early days in California, Birch took just about every gig he could land, live or recording, hoping for the big break. The groundwork for that was laid in the late 1980s when he joined the band the "Warpipes," which featured John's longtime drummer, Nigel Olsson.
Before John set out on his mammoth, worldwide "The One" tour in the spring of 1992, he sought a bassist. His first choice unavailable, a colleague recommended Birch.
He got the tryout, the gig, and had been with John ever since. Among his credits, Birch contributed to the recording of "Candle in the Wind 1997," the best-selling single of all-time. John rewrote his 1973 hit single, originally about Marilyn Monroe, to sing at the funeral of Princess Diana. The memorial service was the only time John performed that version in public.
While Birch spent years rocking out on stage with John, Joel and others, rock wasn't necessarily Birch's first inspiration.
Growing up, he said on the bio for "Fortune," "you heard jazz around my house. I never heard the Beatles until Sgt. Pepper."
Among dozens of others with whom Birch performed live or recorded with were B.B. King and Luciano Pavarotti.
Birch was married to Michele, and they had one son, Jonathan.