Sunday, December 30, 2007

Farewell my Friend, Roby Duke

It is with deep sadness that I write this. A dear and close friend, Roby Duke, died of a massive heart attack on December 26th 2007. Part of me feels that it must be a mistake. Maybe Roby is hiding out somewhere having an eclectic fit or something. That would be 'so Roby'. But today, it hit me like a ton of reality-bricks that Roby has truly left the building. He just can't be contained and he would be making incredible songs in God's presence while 'touching His face'. Roby was one of those in my life that truly shaped a part of who I am. We have a long working history that turned into a strange, deep relationship. I just want to write down what I can remember of my time with Roby to the best of my memory. Sorry in advance if it isn't eloquent enough. It would never capture the experience of knowing Roby completely but hopefully it will help you understand my friend, well, our friend for those who knew him.

I first met Roby when I was on staff at Calvary Chapel West Covina. I was responsible for weekly Sunday night concerts and outreaches. In the early 80's, Roby moved from Mississippi and had recorded his first Album 'Not the Same'. I remember thinking he sounded like Kenny Logins but with a lot more R&B. I decided to book him for a concert and that is how we met and began our long friendship. Roby became a favorite at Calvary WC. Eventually Roby came on tour with us as we traversed across the US visiting various cities such as Chicago, Albuquerque, New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Hawaii and more. I eventually pitched Roby's song 'Come Let us Reason' for the new theme song of the daily bible study radio program 'Manna for Today'. It was a big hit and soon Roby, myself and the team were inseparable.

Roby was perfect for these trips because he was 'compact.' Just him and his guitar and his honest humor. But Roby was bigger than any band out there. Roby could captivate a crowd effortlessly with his open and honest style. I look back at those trips with fondness. I remember Roby teaching me chord progressions and finger styles while we sat in hotel rooms. And the time the speaker was 'high' on sudafed and we were off stage just laughing at what was coming out of his mouth - but even then people got saved!! We both knew it was God and not the messenger. They were so fun and Roby and I used to laugh so much at situations we saw in 'ministry'. It was either laugh or cry. We decided to laugh to keep sane.

We also met so many great people out there. Especially on the east coast. We both fell in love with the people because they spoke their mind (whether you liked it or not). I remember driving down 5th Ave in NYC with Roby at the wheel of our rented van. And he decided I should drive. So he got up out of the drivers seat and told me to take over! 'What?' I thought as I quickly jumped over to take control of the van. But one time in NYC, Roby's back went out severely. So much so, I had to help him to the toilet so he could pee. Even in his pain, he told me grinning: 'okay, help me aim' as we both stood at the toilet. I was laughing and he was both laughing and crying (from the pain). A doctor came and gave him a high dose of codeine for the pain. He also told Roby in his jamaican accent, 'a lil cocaine would do da trick mon'. Thankfully Roby passed on that one.

Around 1983, we did an outreach at the Shrine Auditorium featuring 3 acts: 'Glad', jazz legends, 'Koinonia' and Roby. I called the concert 'Somebody Loves You LA'. I remember on the night, Roby thought I was crazy because I wanted him to close the concert after Koinonia's set. Roby thought - How am I supposed to top Abraham Laborial? In perfect Roby style, without missing a beat, he came out and started 'slapping' his guitar mimicking Abe's bass slapping style. The crowd of 6,500+ (max capacity) loved it and Roby was a hit! Of course having Koinonia which was an instrumental jazz band playing at a Christian outreach was very out-of-the-box to begin with. But Roby was the element that brought it all together. As the years rolled by, anytime I could use Roby's music, I would. In fact, his song 'I shall See God' was used as the closing song of a documentary I directed called 'A Quiet Hope'.

I got the opportunity to design his album covers including 'Blue Eyed Soul', 'Down to Business' and the CD re-release of his 1st album 'Not the Same'. It was an honor and a blast to be part of that. If ever there is a greatest Hits album, sign me up! Roby always pushed me to do better, be more creative and today I owe him a lot for that.

I learned a lot from Roby. One lesson he taught me was to not hold on to anything too tightly. Roby was a very giving person. I remember being on a trip and he saw I was eyeing his cassette walkman (remember those things? They were so small and cool). Well Roby just turned and gave it to me. 'Here you go, you take it, I'll get a something better'. Ever since, I have tried to be much the same because of his example. Of course, Roby had the habit of giving away stuff that didn't belong to him too. Like the time he borrowed my Fishman pre-amp and I never got it back. In fact, this story says it all: A friend of mine, Andrew, here in Melbourne told me he met Roby when he came down to Australia with Doug Murin. He remembers checking out Roby's hot pink guitar cable/lead and thought how cool it was. Roby, told him, 'here, take it, it's yours'. Andrew thought, 'how cool of him'. Then later, Roby walked up to Doug and said 'Oh by the way, I gave your pink cable to Andrew'. He just laughed as he walked away. That is sooo Roby. I miss him.

I remember when things in ministry life became very hard for me. Roby was there just to listen and make light of the situations. He didn't try to fix it, just tried to get me to 'lighten up' some. He knew first hand how crazy some of the large churches could be. Insecure pastors that were manic and destructive. We used to have some deep talks and we used to say 'Let's get 6 feet under' and we would talk honestly about things & issues. I don't think I spoke more open to anyone else on this planet than Roby. When I was going through the darkest time in my life, Roby happened to be here in Melbourne and I found out that he was also going through similar things. Needles to say, we went '6 foot under' and spoke honestly. There was a lot of good from it. Not sure if I could call it healing but it was invaluable. Although he wouldn't think so, he was a mystery and grace followed him like a blood hound. I know God loved him so much because he was so honest. More honest than the ministries we worked with and the record companies that took advantage of him. I am loving hearing that Roby was beginning to perform for Christians again. The community needs more like Roby. The world is worse off without him, but heaven must be rockin'. Like Roby told my wife recently "Pete is one of my best co-horts in our developing years (&) given what we experienced in the church culture, it is a miracle that we would ever bow our heads again."

Ironically, I had recently re-visited some of Roby's music before the news of his death. Stuff I haven't listened to in ages. The music is so beautiful and moving and deep and most of all, timeless. Roby was a master songwriter. I remember speaking with Roby about how many in the 'industry' told him he just doesn't have the 'look' to cut it. Talent? Sure; Songwriting? you bet; Voice? Perfect; Looks? Too bad, you just wouldn't sell records, next?. He was so hurt by it but used to just joke about it. I hated the fact that people treated him that way. In fact, his transparent nature is what strikes a chord at his concerts. People felt safe and more determined to be honest with God. That was Roby and after seeing him play, you just wanted to be that honest too.

Man, I miss him . . .

Some of his songs hit so close to home, I would just lose it when listening to them. I think I will refrain from pulling them out at the moment. For those who haven't heard of him or heard his music, here are some youTube videos of a couple of recent performances. Please take the time to watch and enjoy! Also visit:


Bill said...

So glad to have received your blog post on our friend Roby.

I haven't been able to describe what he meant to me. How many of us are there that felt that Roby was "our best friend"? I have talked to many and met new friends that he had suggested I get together with.

If Roby was your friend, there was and is a network of folks that just understand and have a deep bond.

I too, never went deeper with anyone than I did with Roby. My wife is the biggest confidant in my life, but Roby somehow got to me in a way that not even she could. She isn't offended at that or anything, she understood that there was something special that God allowed me to have with him.

He played at our church at least once a year, and the best part of it was, well, everything. The drives to and from the airport....the meals....the music...having him listen to me preach and time he called a message of mine "the helicopter of grace coming down"...

We got so deep one time that after he left, I came home and told my wife like I felt that I had just cheated on her. The heart to heart stuff was so incredibly real, vulnerable, frightening, and exciting.

I know that I too was able to encourage him a bit during the dark years. Our church accepted him whether he was "up" or "down", and he felt that unconditional love.

I am so thankful that he bounced back from the the way the church at large and the music industry treated him, beside all the personal stuff.

He is painfully missed. I wish you could attend one of the memorial services, but you be kinda far away mon.

Pete, once again, thanks for using your gift with words and sharing your heart regarding our friend. It has helped bring some healing to this hurting heart.

Thanks for the recent communication that we have been able to share a bit.

I will certainly be praying for you. We have been blessed to have known him.

Bob said...

Hi Pete,
Thanks for sharing your heart as you and Roby journeyed together. Roby was a blessing to me during the brief time that our paths crossed in Seattle. What an amazingly creative man he is. I remember a few times he wanted to do a "hang" at his place and scarf down a couple of ranch burgers. Then, hearing some of the latest stuff he was coming up with; always cutting edge and sooo creative... and the stories...LOL! But Roby always told you how he saw it; a man of no guile; genuine; real; honest. He is missed. We have lost someone very special on this side of eternity. He himself wrote it best:

"Perfect peace, perfect love
Finally I'll face the beginning
As I go

As I go in the way of the earth
As I step through the door

There where time is no more
I shall see God"

See you soon, Roby

Isabelle said...

Hi Pete,

My condolences. I know you loved Roby like a brother (and vise versa).

I’ve been googling Roby Duke and reading through the various blogs . . . he was (IS) so loved . . . I’ve always known that but reading about it at this time brings much comfort. Now Roby is no longer seeing through a dim mirror but face to face.

I caught myself smiling thinking of Roby with Jesus.


Peter D Claproth said...

Hi Isabelle,

So true, he is seeing so clearly now. All the mystery has been worked out for him. We will all miss him but it is so good to know that we will all be together again - and who knows, Roby will probably be telling his crazy stories to the saints as only he can!


Peter D Claproth said...

Hi Bil Walden,

Thanks so much for your comments. It is so amazing to know that we have had similar experienes. That says something for Roby doesn't it? You and your church were very blessed to have had him play and thanks for letting him contribute your people.


Peter D Claproth said...

Hey Bob,

Yes I agree, Roby was the 'man with 2 brains' - too creative sometimes. We used to love that stupid movie.

Anyway, glad to know you spent time with Roby. We are all the better for knowing him.


Michael Ray Gonzales said...


It's taken me a couple of days to process this. I found out about Roby through Caleb Quaye. Caleb just did a Christmas event with Roby. Also, I was with Roby in November 2006 in Seattle and we had a great time. He just wanted me to hang with him when I was the one looking up to him. He always made me feel like I was the special one. He is missed in my heart and so are you, my friend. Email me at and we'll get caught up. Michael Gonzales

Peter D Claproth said...

Hey Mike,

Wow what an honour that you were able to spend time with Roby. So glad you did. and thanks so much for commenting and getting in touch!!

Love you dude, Pete

Peter D Claproth said...

A post from Tom Arriola:
Hey Pete,

I thank you for sharing the info on a very talented giving man... I saw the impact he had on your life firsthand through Blue-Eyed Soul, I was thankful to be part of that, Thank you for that and many other things you showed me!

For your 5-0 celebration, Happy Birthday. Looked like a whole lotta fun!!!!!

Than you for the pics you took in Africa, you are a talented man.

I pray for you often Pete, Best to you!

Tom A

From Pete:

Hey Tommy - wow I remember you working on it! Pre Mac days wasn't it? Thanks for being such a good friend and I hope you and your family are well!!

Love you - Pete

Mark Redden said...

Pete, the previous one I sent seemed to go too soon. Here's what I previously sent with a bit more info. I had to just check with my wife, Theresa, if this was the Pete that we almost stayed with in a quick trip down there in Victoria. She just wrote to me, "Yes". I never met Roby. But I've so appreciated his music. You and these others that have posted here make me wish I had known him personally. All this week I've been listening to all his music, especially "Come Let Us Reason". I noticed an image on Google of hime, a pic/painting of him hugging, being hugged by Jesus. And then for some reason I clicked another pic near it, which was a pic of one of the people who posted a comment here on your blog. I'm glad I clicked it and read all this. It will be nice to meet you next time we're down there from Sydney. God's grace on you, Mark