Roger Charlery, aka Ranking Roger, the singer and toaster from the English Beat, General Public and Special Beat, died today after a battle with cancer, a rep for the band confirmed to Variety. He was 56.
The group, which has existed in several different forms over the years, issued a statement on its social media accounts saying, “Sadly Roger past away a few hours ago peacefully at his home surrounded by family.”
The Beat — whose members were called the English Beat in many territories due to an already existing band — arose out of the British Midlands in the late 1970s as part of the “2 Tone” ska revival based around the label of the same name. While the the Specials (the movement’s leaders) Madness, the Selecter, the Bodysnatchers and others hewed to a more punk-meets-ska template, from the beginning the Beat set their own tempo, incorporating more reggae into their sound along with lead singer Dave Wakeling’s original and politically tinged lyrics. Roger was a combination toaster and hypeman, dancing energetically across the stage, playing percussion and pumping up the crowd along with his widely imitated toast/raps during the songs.
The group left 2 Tone after releasing their debut single (a cover of Smokey Robinson’s “Tears of a Clown” for their own Go-Feet imprint through Arista. They released three albums — including their stellar 1980 debut, “I Just Can’t Stop It” — and were a leading light of British alternative music until their split in 1983 (the opening act on their final U.S. tour was R.E.M.).
Wakeling and Roger quickly formed a new group called General Public, whose debut album was produced by Clash guitarist Mick Jones. While their three albums produced several alternative-radio singles and were successful, they didn’t quite have the same magic as the Beat.
Roger released a solo album in 1988 called “Radical Departure,” and in the years since he performed with several different incarnations of a reformed Beat, incorporating various members of the 2 Tone extended family. The Beat’s most recent album, 2016’s “Bounce,” was their first in 30 years.
“I’m devastated to lose Roger, my Special Beat partner!,” wrote Neville Staples on Instagram, referencing his nickname for Roger, Turbo. “@SugaryStaple& I have been privately visiting him & his family, at every opportunity over the last 2 of wks, willing him the strength to recover again. Sadly the fight of the lion’s fire has gone out. My whole band and I are so saddened and I will miss Turbo so badly.”
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@originalrudeboy1 @NevilleStaple on Instagram says: Me with my super friend @rankingroger & Murphy at Roger's last ever show. I'm devastated to lose Roger, my Special Beat partner! @SugaryStaple & I have been privately visiting him & his family, at every opportunity over the last 2 of wks, willing him the strength to recover again. Sadly the fight of the lion's fire has gone out. My whole band and I are so saddened and I will miss Turbo so badly. Rest up Turbo (personal name we had for each other, or Double Turbo when we performed together) Neville Staple