Rocky Roberts (Charles Roberts) was a onetime professional boxer turned singer who, along with his group The Airedales, helped introduce soul music to Italy in the 1960s.
Roberts got his start as the frontman in South Florida dance band Doug Fowlkes & The Airdales. But, it wasn’t until Fowlkes and Roberts joined the Navy and ended up in Europe that they encountered success as Rocky Roberts and The Airedales. Discovered by popular Italian deejays Gianni Boncompagni and Renzo Arbore, Rocky and his group became over-night stars. Rocky’s fluid dance moves and groovy fashion sense was a big hit with Italian teenagers.
In 1963, The Airedales disbanded and Rocky continued to produce hits as a solo act. Along with Stevie Wonder and Wilson Pickett, Roberts was the most famous Black singer in Italy during the mid-to-late sixties.He became a popular attraction on Italian television and even starred in a couple of movies. He sang the English version of the title track of spaghetti western classic Django. His popularity spread across the Continent to include France and Britain.
Roberts returned to the USA for awhile but eventually returned to Italy where he continued to perform up until his death in 2005 in Rome.
In Britain, his song ‘Just Because Of You’ was a hit among fans of mod soul and still gets played at Northern Soul all-niters.
While dripping with sartorial coolness, Rockey’s trademark sunglasses were not just for show. They covered up scar tissue around his left eye acquired doing his old boxing days.
Rocky’s bandmate Jerry Armstrong recalls the early days…
[...] we formed the group while serving in the U.S. Navy at Boca Chica Naval Air Station, Key West Florida. We first practiced in the old base theater, beginning our trek in 1958. In 1959 we were transferred to the U.S.S. Independence, CVA-62 (Aircraft Carrier) and served aboard her until we were all discharged in 1962. We made two trips to Europe on the Indy and during the first trip entered a rock and roll contest in France and won first place. Eddie Barclay, the International Banker, saw us and liked us and signed us to a recording contract with his Barclay Records label. We later recorded for ATCO in New York City. While the band did well up and down the East Coast of the U.S. from Key West to New York City, we were most popular in Europe, with France, Greece, and Italy being countries that most favored our music. We cut several albums and EPs. In 1963, the band split and members went separate ways. Roberts took the band’s name and went back to Europe where he did very well in the music business with new members.
Here’s a little compilation of Rocky on film and video. It includes some footage with Jayne Mansfield from The Wild, Wild World of Jayne Mansfield and the theme song from Django.