Thinking about Rockin Robin, the holidaze, and lost ones

It’s 9 days until Christmas, and I’m behind in my usual annual holiday celebrations. I’ve barely purchased any gifts for family and friends, and I still haven’t mailed out any cards to anybody to celebrate the holidays. It usually takes me a bit longer than most folks to get into the spirit of things, and this year is no exception.

Christmas is a stressful time of the year for many people. There’s a lot of depression and frustration around the holiday season. Those without any close family members or friends find themselves alone during what should be a joyous period. I have friends in the retail industry that absolutely hate the emotional turmoil that this period brings them. Driving the roads, I see a lot of really bad drivers doing very stupid things. I often wonder how Charles Dickens would depict Ebeneezer Scrooge dodging the traffic at crowded shopping malls, being stuck on freeways transformed into virtual parking lots, or avoiding senile drivers that use the fast lane to drive slower than the posted speed limit. Sometimes the holidays actually bring out the worst in people.

Christmas is especially painful for those that lost loved ones around the holiday season. Violent tragedies are the worst, as they leave survivors with a sense of futility over circumstances beyond their control.

Rockin Robin Roberts of the Wailers

I never met Rockin’ Robin Roberts, but in the course of my journeys, I’ve met a lot of people that knew and loved this talented man. In a sense, Rockin’ Robin was the unknown star of the LOUIE LOUIE legend that died before ever receiving his proper accolades. It was Robin that took Richard Berry‘s original melody, and transformed it into the garage rock prototype embraced by the Kingsmen, Paul Revere & the Raiders, the Sonics, and countless other rock and roll bands.

Rockin’ Robin Roberts, whose legal name was Lawrence Roberts, was a man with many talents. Not only was he a dynamic singer with a great stage presence but he was also a highly intelligent scholar with a passion for science. With a degree in geology, I’m sure he understood the irony of being labeled as a “rocker.”

I would have liked to have known what Robin thought about the Kingsmen achieving the great success with the song that he recorded with the Wailers. How did he feel about others basking in the glory of a song that he recorded two years before? Did he have any thoughts on the dirty lyrics controversy that dogged the Kingsmen, and opened up a big F.B.I. investigation? He recorded the song in 1961 at the age of 21, and two years later, it became a big hit for a little band out of Portland, Oregon, swiping his original arrangements. Did he feel any jealousy towards the Kingsmen?

Why did he move from Tacoma to San Francisco? Was he interested in resurrecting his career in one of the hottest places for new music in America, or was he merely advancing his career in geology?

On December 22, 1967, three days before Christmas, Rockin Robin Roberts died in a terrible auto accident in San Mateo, California. According to a newspaper report, Roberts was in car that somehow wound up in wrong lane, taking the northbound entrance to the Bayshore Freeway from Kehoe Avenue to go south before crashing head-on into a second car at the 19th Avenue overpass. Both Robin and the driver, Sunny Cabell McCulley, aged 22, died before arriving at the hospital. Immediately after the accident, another collision took place as a third car crashed into a tow truck and firetruck dispatched to the scene.

Rockin’ Robin Roberts died at the age of 27 years, leaving behind his mother, who died not long afterwards of a broken heart after losing her only child.

The location where Robin met his demise is an area I drive by regularly. It’s certainly changed in in the 39 years since this tragedy. The Bayshore Freeway is now Highway 101, and the 19th Avenue overpass has been replaced by Highway 92, which connects Half Moon Bay with Hayward via the San Mateo Bridge. As I drive by this area, I often think of this spot as the ironic epicenter between Los Angeles, where LOUIE LOUIE was written, and the Pacific Northwest, where the song was embraced as a regional anthem. Approximately 20 miles away is Foothill College, where author Richard Berry first met an original member of the Kingsmen for the infamous KFJC marathon of 1983.

Rockin’ Robin Roberts wasn’t the only member of the Wailers that died during tragic circumstances during the holiday season. Ron Gardner, who took over lead vocals and saxophone duties for the Wailers after the departure of Mark Marush, died in a freak accident in 1992. Ron had a seasonal job selling Christmas trees in Tacoma. His trailer caught fire and he died of third degree burns.

Losing a loved one is never easy, and losing a loved one during the holiday is especially painful. For those of you that have lost someone during this moment when others tend to be joyous, my heart goes out to you. Please remember that you are not alone in your sadness, and there’s no reason you have to stay alone during this period. To paraphrase a famous rock star, “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.” You have the power to make yourself happy, or at least less miserable. I’ve always believed in the healing power of good music, and I hope that you can find a good groove that puts you in your spiritual center.

My best wishes to all of you that stumbled on this webpage today.

me gotta go now,

3 comments to Thinking about Rockin Robin, the holidaze, and lost ones

  • I knew Robin Robers briefly in the early 60’s as we served together in the Marine Corps Reserve. Robin was as great a Marine as he was a singer and entertainer. I recall one time several other Marines, Robin and myself haveing a very deep conversation about Religion. When one Marine mocked the idea of personal relationship with Christ, Robin said, something to the effect of “I would be careful if I were you.” Robin was a thinker, and tho his intelect showed through, he was still just one of the guys. One time we had gone to Nevada for a Marine Summer camp, and on leave, Robin and some of the guys went to a club, (I wasn’t there, but heard about it) Someone on stage was murdering a song Robin had writen or made popular, and Robin jumped up on the stage and said he would show how it was suppose to be done. I quess he almost got thrown out of the club until his Marine buddies convinced them he really was Rockin Robin Roberts.
    That same Summer Camp Robin lay on a beach, fell asleep and got severe sunburn and had to be taken to a hospital.

  • Thanks alot : ). This is truly a decent read.


    Was MARK MARUSH ever with the band named ICE?

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