Robin McNamara, a struggling New York singer-songwriter in the late 1960s who answered a casting call for a new show called Hair and landed a starring role with the replacement cast on Broadway, died Oct. 21. He was 74.
His death was announced today on his official website, though additional details were sparse.
“On October 21, 2021, Robin McNamara gained his angel wings,” a statement on the page says. “This gentlest of gentle souls was predeceased by his loving wife, Suzie, who departed the earthly plane on May 16, 2018. Robin and Suzie are now reunited for all eternity. Robin will be greatly missed, for his talent but especially for his kind and loving spirit.”
In addition to his run as Hair‘s Claude from 1969-71 (he replaced the original James Rado, who also wrote the musical’s book and lyrics), McNamara had a big radio hit during the summer of 1970 titled “Lay a Little Lovin’ on Me,” a bouncy, ear-catching pop tune with the instantly memorable chorus “Lay a little lovin’ on me/Lay a little lovin’ on me/A-honey, doggone it, I depend upon it/So lay a little lovin’ on me!”
McNamara’s sole hit was co-written with his songwriting partner Jim Cretecos and record producer Jeff Barry, who had signed the Hair star to his Steed record label. The sprightly tune had reached No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart by the end of summer 1970 and also charted in Canada and Australia.
Born and raised in Newton, MA, McNamara later would remember being inspired by the early wave of rock ‘n’ roll pioneers he was hearing on the radio. “In 10th grade a couple of friends of mine played guitar and asked me if I wanted to sing in a band,” he said in an interview on his website. “It was 1963, and I loved Roy Orbison, so [we did] some of [his] material; we also did a lot of Buddy Holly material.
“I was one of the first to grow my hair long in those days,” he continued, “and got thrown out of high school a few times because my hair grew too long. I never cut it on my own; I would wait for them to tell me to cut it, or they would throw me out again, which they would periodically do! Each time they did, [the band] got free publicity from all the Boston TV, radio and newspapers. My parents were so cool about the whole thing just as long as I graduated, so each time, after a few days I would slightly cut my hair, [just] acceptable enough to get back in. I remember we had a protest with over 500 kids at the school one day all chanting in unison: ‘Leave it long! Let it grow!'”
His long hair would prove useful after his move to New York. Initially hired as a member of the Hair chorus, McNamara went on to briefly play the role of Woof before taking on the co-lead role of Claude.
In the same interview, McNamara recalled simultaneously working on Broadway and touring to support his hit pop song.
“It was great fun,” he said. “I got to work with some really neat people along the way. One night I shared the bill with John Denver and Albert King in El Paso, Texas — what a unique combination that was. After the show we were all invited to go over the border to Juarez. I will never forget all three of us sitting there drinking XXX beer and listening to a Spanish band doing ‘Spinning Wheel.’ What a fun time we had. Lots of hard laughter.”
McNamara continued to record and perform in later years, often with other oldies acts and at benefits.
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