Rodney William Roach, a champion banjo player known as “the gentle giant,” died on Feb. 23 of brain cancer. He was 63.
Roach was just a boy when he took up the ukulele and the guitar. He continued to experiment with string instruments, teaching himself to play the mandolin, fiddle and dobro. After hearing bluegrass legends Flatt and Scruggs play the five-string banjo, however, Roach made the instrument his own.
The 6-foot-7 musician attended Middlebury College in Vermont and played with numerous bluegrass bands, including the Otter Creek Ramblers, Apple Country, Tasty Licks, Stoney Lonesome and Eel River Bog Trotters. He was named the New England 5-String Banjo Champion in 1971 and 1972.
Roach made a living as a senior insurance claims adjuster for Encompass Insurance in Quincy, Mass., but his passion for music never waned. In recent years, he taught banjo workshops and performed with The Back Eddy Bluegrass Band. A prolific songwriter, Roach was best known for writing a song to commemorate Massachusetts’ observance of the U.S. bicentennial in 1976.