Remembering Roby

By pastorbillwalden

Some thoughts about Roby Duke, who died last December 26…19-roby3

I don’t remember the first time I met Roby Duke, but it was sometime during my tenure at Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, which was from 1989-1991. Richard Cimino was the High School pastor at the time, and he had met Roby, and started inviting him to play at High School events. My first distinct memory of Roby was a Halloween concert we did with him at CCCM around 1990. I was singing with Richard, Mike Minardi, Scott Stewart, and Terry McNabb in the Mirrors, and Roby played before us (or after us?).

As a band, we didn’t stink, but in retrospect, why on Earth did I ever try to share the stage with him? I guess I was a legend in my own mind. Blessed naivety.

While at CCCM, I pastored the College & Career group, and invited Roby to share with us up at the Twin Peaks conference center at a retreat near Lake Arrowhead. It was then that I really discovered how delightfully crazy he was. My first experience was when he sang “Come Let Us Reason”. The opening lines are, “come on everybody, get up on your seat”, so he asked the college kids do just that.  He explained, “We’re up here on the mountain, nobody knows or cares that we are here, so we can be as crazy as we want to be.” I knew that things were going to be fun.

By 1991, I had moved to Napa and we had started Cornerstone. Richard had moved to Grass Valley the year before, and had kept up his friendship with Roby. Roby would play every New Year’s Eve at CC Grass Valley, and then drive the 100 miles west and join us in Napa for New Year’s day evening concert. We carried on that way for a number of years until Roby stepped away from church gigs for a season.

My first season with Roby (before he quit churches for a time) was when he was very hurt and discouraged. Roby was one of the many Contemporary Christian Artists that got kicked to the curb whenever something went wrong in their lives. Roby had been invited into a lot of ministry with some well known pastors, but some things went south in his life, and he became an “untouchable” to many. I think that there were few church settings and few pastors that he trusted and felt comfortable with. I was blessed to be one of those guys, but eventually, we didn’t see him at all.

We stayed in touch, and almost got him to produce an album for us (which fell through). For a time, I “pastored” him a bit over the phone and emails. He wasn’t part of any church, and was so alone in his struggles. I encouraged him to find a church full of nice white haired old people, a place where there were some grace filled saints, and just melt into them. I know that Roby had his “go to” people over the years, and I am thankful for their ministry in his life.

Some years passed, and I heard through the grapevine that Roby was out gigging again. I saw him on a ministry web page, making himself available to play, and decided to contact him through the “proper” channels, instead of calling him directly. I didn’t want to rush in, and I wanted to give him room for a gracious “out” in case he was being particular about where he was playing. I didn’t want to presume that he would say “yes” to me just because we had some history together.

In his own distinct way, he called me up and scolded me, telling me that I could always call him direct, and that I was “one of the good guys”. He referred to me as “my buddy Bill”. I write that with joy and a sense of thankful pride. I was one among others who was “safe” for Roby. I’ll always treasure that. In fact, we always made a point of having me pick him up at the airport so we could have extra time together. I had become part of his inner circle. Perhaps the outer ring of that circle, but part of it none the less.

It was a blessing to have a symbiotic relationship with Roby. That’s what he wanted with people: relationship, love, friendship, realness. Give and receive. He wanted to be able to be himself without fear of judgment, just like all of us do. I think that that must be more difficult for such a talented man, a genius, really. Fans are a blessing of sorts, but they don’t know you, they only think they do. Ministers of all sorts can get caught in the trap of having to be something for people, instead of just being themselves. “Just being himself” was incredibly important to Roby.

Eventually, Roby started playing churches again, and we had many great times together as friends and as a church with a friend. Roby found a safe place with us, and could increasingly be himself.

I would pick Roby up at the airport, and he would lumber over to me, hug me, and ask me how I was, and stand with his face only about six inched from my face. I always thought that that was weird. You know how we have “our space”. With friends, I guess he felt comfortable enough to “get in your space”. I don’t know if that was intentional, or if, just like a child, he didn’t recognize that great Western social code of behavior which mandates that undetermined but very well understood distance between two talking people. I am sure that sometimes he tried to nudge me out from behind the walls that I had built up over the years. He had a way of leaning on those walls, reminding me that they were there, and then chip away at them with love, humor, and disarming honesty.

We once got to the airport very early before his return trip to Seattle. We talked openly and honestly for a long time. When I returned home, I told my wife Debbie that I felt like I had just committed “emotional adultery” with Roby. He had a way of opening you up for good purposes, and going deep in conversation. It’s not that I can’t talk to my wife about anything, I can…but with Roby, there was a different dynamic that simply existed because of the uniqueness of who he was.

Having Roby play a concert at your church could put a pastor in a nervous mood. Especially in the earlier “darker” years, but even after that, you never knew what to expect from Roby. A lot of pastors like having controlled settings. There would be none of that with Roby. Sometimes he was dangerously close to sharing way too much of his life, but he needed that outlet, and he found it among certain churches. His transparency was frightening and liberating. If one could sit through some of his ramblings, and hear his heart, you would find yourself completely disarmed, and feeling much more human than you did when you came in. Roby’s childlike ramblings and need for realness was fresh and freeing. It was scary and exciting at the same time. Roby was always “worth the risk”.  So what if he got a little “out” on stage?  He showed his humanity, both the shiny and the tarnished side, but he always loved Jesus.

At the end of a concert, Roby would always remind us of the grace of God. God used him to undo us, time after time. You couldn’t sit through a concert with Roby and keep your walls up. The genius of his music, humor, and quick wit; the frightening transparency of his childlike desire for love and relationship; and the deep and uncomplicated love he had for God combined to be such a powerful tool in God’s hands.

There was a lot that wasn’t easy for Roby. Last year I received a video of him in concert at CCCM that dates back to 1988. He was a musical genius, and a child on the inside. His self deprecating humor was a coping mechanism that helped endear an audience. He flew through the music at that concert, and struggled with the words and with himself, but in back of it all was this great passion that people know Jesus and the grace of God. He was a genius that struggled with himself. I have to believe that that was a blessing for him and us. A proud man with that much genius would have been unbearable to be around.

My fear in writing this article is that I will wrongly represent Roby in some way.  These are but a few of my thoughts and recollections. If I have somehow misrepresented him, I apologize to family and friends who knew him so much better than I.

My hope is that others will consider the man who “has stepped through the door, there where time is no more”. Musically, he had few peers, in my opinion. Spiritually, he was simple and deep. His lyrics are still unfolding to me. Emotionally, he got to me as few do. He was a friend, and I miss my friend, as do many others.

I am so thankful to have known him, and to have been allowed into his life. If you haven’t heard his music, I encourage you to give it a listen.

To all my fellow “friends of Roby”, you know that of which I speak. He will stay in our memories and in our hearts, and we are better off for having been blessed with his friendship.

To Roby’s family and closest friends, condolences and comfort as we share the remembrance of his life this week, the anniversary of his death. I rejoice that we shall see him again, “when the roll is called up yonder”.

Thanks you Jesus for giving Roby to us for a time. We love you more because of what You did in and through him.

25 Responses so far

HoLa PaStOr BiLL…….

No sE pArA QuE Es EsTO….pErO nO iMpOrTa sOlO Le desEo Lo MejOr En eSTaS FecHas A UsTeD y tOdA Su fAmIlIa….!!!!


GrAcIAs PoR tOdO….!!!

Yep! Without knowing all the details, one could tell he was the real deal, and real is perfectly beautiful in a world full of lies. Real! A person can work with that, and shouldn’t at all be nervous around it.

I was going to say that Roby was a real blessing, but he is still a blessing, and I think he will be forevermore. God used him in a glorious way, touching all eternity. Roby was usable. Roby was real.

I’m grateful for your knowing him that I could catch a glimpse of him myself.


That is a beautiful and fitting tribute to a beautiful man. Brought back so many memories. This Sunday I am preaching on Being Alone, from Mark 14, and this nailed the heart of the matter for me. Thanks for sharing!


Thank you so much for the wonderful tribute and memory. I knew Roby going back to the 80’s being the FOH engineer at CC West Covina (back in the day) and along with the infamous Pete Claproth. Your words read more like picture memories then anything else for me – Thank you.

Roby and I kept in contact via e-mail and would have at least one “face-to-face” each year. I used to see him at the winter NAMM show in Anaheim each year and ‘thankfully’ would take a picture with him for posterity purposes. Those images have now become priceless to me. This link is to my last pic with him from NAMM 2006 since we didn’t hook-up at NAMM 2007.

I was just reflecting about Roby when I pulled up my e-mail this morning to find that my pastor & friend, Sam Scotti, had forwarded this link to Pete & I. Thanks again for the memories. NAMM felt a little bit weird this year (2008) without him. I’m sure 2009 in 3 weeks will be the same. God bless.

– Gil


You couldn’t have described Roby better than you did. If there was anything more to him, it was just dressing.

You described the core of the man; a true believer in Christ, transparent about his sinful nature, brilliant musically and lyrically, a controlled wild man, always having that knowing glint in his eyes, deep and philosophical, always leaving a lasting ripple which would go on and on.

All those who knew truly him miss him.

I know that I do

Hey folks,

Thanks for your words about Roby. I am sad today, missing my friend.

Gil, great pic of you and Roby. I love it. Thanks for that link.

Oden….yeah, what you said.

Blessings all.


I didn’t know Roby… I never had the privilege of meeting him. But I like him, because of the way you describe him.

Now, in heaven, he’s an even better version of himself.

You are a safe person, Bill. You’ve been the same for me.

Thank you again.

I love it. “He is even a better version of himself.”

Now he is complete, and all the good stuff that was there on Earth has been eclipsed by the the limitlessness of Heaven.

Can’t wait to experience that myself.

Thanks Bill, and thanks for the kind words…

Dear Pastor Bill,

It is neat knowing that as a body, we can communicate the loss we feel and not have to excuse nor explain ourselves. It’s just known. It’s an understanding.

Earlier this month, rB was on my mind all day. I couldn’t understand why. I was on youtube looking for videos to post on the Facebook group site.

As I was watching the video tribute done by his nephew, the date of his departure was shown as “Dec 6th.” That was the date I was watching that video!! I didn’t know it was his birthday and it was strange how he was heavily on my mind and how all this week, I had been thinking of him.

Roby had eternal eyes. . . every song reflected that. That is my prayer for myself.

As I am writing this, our family is awaiting the news of my husband’s uncle who is to pass on at any moment. God is good, Pastor B. His daughter, who has only come to a few of our church services over the years, if I or our children have performed, has been reading the Word to her dad as he lay dying. He has never believed in God, nor has she ever ask Jesus to be her Savior.

I pray that my husband’s uncle would not take his last breath without surrendering his heart to Jesus.

Knowing this is also the anniversary of Roby taking up and leaving is surreal. I miss him also.

I know I was never the type of friend that you and some of the others had been. But he called me his fan/friend. 🙂
I am content to know that I was the kind of friend the Lord allowed me to be and that when we are all in Heaven, we are all (and I mean THE BODY) going to have the most unbelieveable time in worship and praises with Roby and all the greats leading!!

Blessings to you, Pastor Bill.


Pastor Bill;
Thanks for sharing your memories of how God touched your life through Roby.

God has taken you through some deep waters and used all you’ve suffered to deepen your compassion for others as Jesus has. . .

i know you’ve probably already seen this clip, but thought you’d enjoy seeing it again and singing together with Roby – remembering that one day you’ll sing together around God’s throne in perfect holiness and harmony.

roby duke – we still hear you

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death, or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I Am making everything new!’ Then He said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ He said to me: ‘It is done. I Am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be My son.’” Revelation 21:1-7

it’s a joy to share the blessings we have in Jesus, even when it hurts . . .

here’s a clip of Roby from the mid ’80’s sharing his songs “Seasons of Change” and “Closer to You”

Words & Music by Roby Duke – 1984

“There’s a time and a season –
For everyone you know –
They must reach their decision
On which way their life will go –
There’s a light up ahead –
And it’s shining for me, shining for you –
There’s a new heart waiting there just for you –

Won’t you come let us reason –
Friend there’s a life at stake –
Oh, won’t you listen –
You see there’s a soul to wake –
Come, let us reason –

When you’re slippin’ ‘n’ slidin’ –
The world is a lonely place –
And you stare in your mirror –
All you see is an empty face –
There’s a life up ahead –
And it’s callin’ for me, callin’ for you –
There’s a real love waitin’ there just for you –

Won’t you come let us reason –
Friend there’s a life at stake –
Oh, won’t you listen –
You see there’s a soul to wake –
Come, let us reason – ”

Isaiah 1:18-21 –
“‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the LORD, ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.’ For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

I met Roby one time and i guess it was probably the last performance he did in Napa. I looked through some videos and i liked this one since it had many pics from years ago to recent.

just stopped in for a sec.. What an incredible tribute.

From what Steve Hopkins told me about this guy, I would have liked him and I think we would have gotten along well.

Just another reason why I’m so grateful for the hope of heaven.

You will like Roby a lot. He is one of you.

Thanks for the visit and the FB page for Roby. We met at his memorial, right? The brain is fading, but I think we met.

Happy Birthday, Pastor Bill;
i hope you don’t mind that i share that today is your birthday with our blog family

God has blessed us at Cornerstone through your family, pastoring and friendship these past 17 years

The love of God flows through our fellowship to reach out to any and all who need to know the love of God

It’s special that you wrote a tribute to Roby – he was your friend and a part of our fellowship in that he celebrated our 15th anniversary with us and would be with our Cornerstone family to bring in the new year – many at Cornerstone felt close to Roby

i have such fond and joyful memories of Roby blessing our Cornerstone family on New Year’s Eve for many years – leaving us worshipping the Lord and singing, “I shall see Him … touch His face”

Happy Birthday with many more blessings to come:

grandma helen

Pastor Bill;

Here’s a video of Roby leading worship with a perfect song to bring in the New Year: “Beautiful Savior” ~

Have a blessed New Year!

Love and blessings in Jesus to all ~

thanks Bill. belated Happy Birthday………

from another December baby

Pastor Bill and Debbie;
Since this message is listed under a tribute to Roby, God in His matchless, wonderful grace wants to bless you with this song sung by Kelly Willard and Roby Duke, Called ‘Our Love’ or ‘Wedding Song’ from about the time you were married.

I’m sure you will remember this song and it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if it was one of the songs played at your wedding . . . God does things like that you know . . . 😀

Happy 27th Anniversary!

May God continue to bless you both abundantly!

~ the above anniversary blessings are for tomorrow, but i figured that you’ll both be out together then, and not be on the internet so i sent it early ~ 😉 😀 🙂 ~

I love reading other people’s memories of Roby. He was my dads best friend. we loved him, we miss him so much. the hole he left in our hearts seems to grow deeper and more painful with time. I know we have hope and rejoice that he is in heaven and know that we will see him again one day soon, but I sure miss him. I had twins in 2007. He told me that he wanted to be uncle roby. He told me that he wanted me to lie to them and tell them he was their real uncle. he said it would just make it more fun when they were old enough to try and figure out who’s brother he was! We had a little girl June 5, 2008 and named her after her uncle roby, Eliah Duke Liegel

Hey Joanna,

Thanks so much for your visit here. I miss Roby a lot too. It’s a very weird thing. I haven’t missed anyone like I miss him.

I know how much of a blessing your family was to him. I introduced myself to your dad years ago at a conference, and I told him I was a friend of Roby’s. Roby talked about your dad a lot.

I just went up to your dad and thanked him for being such a great friend to Roby. I was so glad that your dad was there for Roby in a way that probably no one else was. I know that they had a very special friendship. I was very glad for that. I am sure that your dad ministered to him in a way that no one else could.

You guys were especially blessed to have the relationship with him that you did.

Thanks for the visit here. Blessings in Jesus…

What a wonderful tribute, Bill, to an incredibly gifted yet unfailingly humble genius, whose music and devoted spirit affected my life like few others have or ever will. I had only exchanged letters and emails with Roby over a period of a few years long-distance, (via his unique “lower case only” typing), so I confess I did not know him well, but he was the definition of a person who “wore his heart on his sleeve”, so I had a pretty good impression of his open and giving heart in that period of time.

Also, knowing his music intimately was to also know the kind of human being he was, so our exchanges were icing on the cake for me, and I hungrily ate up every word he ever blessed me with. I was hoping to fly out to Seattle that late February or early March 2008, for life coaching and talk of producing an album for me. He had initially given me some input on my songs, and took a liking to some of my material and my “honest” voice, so his passing came with an even deeper disappointment for me in that respect.

As well as the shock we ALL felt at losing such an essential thread in the CCM tapestry, and such an extraordinary human being. Hard to believe it’s been almost NINE years since he passed, because I still miss him every day, and I still feel a tangible hole in the fabric of the human race and music as-a-whole, and envy the angels their front-row seat to whatever glorious music he’s making now. I first heard his music back in 1984, when I was perusing a little Christian book store in Portland, Maine.

They had their radio tuned to a local station that had a special CCM broadcast each week, and “Come Let Us Reason” started playing. As I’m sure is a similar story to many others, I just HAD to find out who that was playing and singing that amazing music – a type of music I had personally longed for, but thought I’d never hear – Contemporary Christian Music with a Blue-Eyed Soul kind of flavor and Jazz influence. From that point on I acquired and listened to and read about all the Roby Duke music I could find, and hungrily waited for each new project he came out with.

I was living in Tampa, Florida when “Blue Eyed Soul” was released, and that blew me away as equally as I had been with “Not The Same” and “Come Let Us Reason”, especially his mastery of the Linn Drum, and the extraordinary songs he anchored with it. I was back in Boston/Maine by the time “Down To Business” came out, and the gorgeous, lyrical and harmonically-centered songs on that album once again set a new standard for the CCM industry, (as had each previous album), and “I Shall See God” gave him as close to a “hit” song as he had ever realized to that point, and I believe it was number one on the CCM charts for at least a few weeks.

That entire album spoke to me deeply about who he was and WHERE he was in his walk with God and struggles with life in general, and that was when I first wrote to him, as I was going through similar issues in my life and the failure of my marriage, (though that was snail mail, and only a couple of letters, to which he always replied). “Thief On the Hill” had an especially profound affect on me, as did “Nonetheless” and “Moon Over Me”, each of which spoke to me on a different level.

There have been countless times over the years that his music has helped me through very dark periods, and countless times when I have wondered what amazing things we’d have heard had he not left us at such a young age. Clearly his Father had more urgent need of his gifts than we did and called him home, but I must say I very selfishly wish he were still here, cuz his loss has brought its own kind of darkness, though what he left us with continues on and carries us through.

I like to think there is an element of his influence in my own music, but I’m not remotely vain enough to think it is comparable in any way, other than perhaps that similar all-too-human honesty. It’s difficult to be bitter about what I did not realize in meeting in person and working with Roby, because I know it was God’s will, and I know he has moved on to something far more heavenly and blessed than merely satisfying the needs of we who he left behind, and our silly human hearts that pine for his presence … or our ears that ache for his glorious music. Thankfully there is a certain immortality provided by the recordings he made, otherwise his absence would indeed be unbearable.

Thanks for your wonderful words, Bill, and an opportunity to throw a few of my own in Roby’s direction. He is dearly missed, and daily remembered.

Blessings and Peace,

Greg Barden (Bahku)

There are very few artists that have an impact on your life. I’m not talking about a tune that sticks with you forever, I’m talking about a mood that sticks with you forever. A friend turned me on to Roby shortly after I became a Christian and although I was into progressive rock his MOOD stuck with me. Roby died at 51, my father died at 54 so my heart breaks for him family because I know the pain; I watch my dad die of a massive heart attack when I was just 25 and now I am older than my father was when he died. My father died right after I became a Christian and for a time I held it against God for allowing my dad to be taken from me. That time is over. Now I know one thing. That God, in His ever loving mercy takes away that anger and replaces it with something more powerful than anger and pain, and replaces it with grace and love that can only come from Jesus Christ. “Not the Same,” I guess not. Thank you Jesus Christ for my dad and for Roby Duke too.

Grace to you Pastor Bill. Seems almost foolish to leave a comment after so many years since Roby went home,but like you I miss him, and gift in song, his humor. I met him many years back in NYC at a very small concert at some church I can’t even remember the name of. 🙂 I was excited to meet him, speak, and pass on some lyrics I had worked on. He graciously took them. Later we met again on myspace and shared thoughts, laughs etc. Just a real dude. Your words here are a blessing. Thanks for sharing. The Holy Spirit uses his not the same project to encourage me when I am at low times and at high. The simplicity of the messages, the music that always seems fresh to me. I am grateful to God for him and look forward to seeing him again. Thanks for revealing that season where he kinda got quiet. I wish I could have been able to speak with him in that or those seasons, I can relate to those that you hinted at. Well, just wanted to drop a little note of appreciation as I listen to Not the same and think on Roby. Blessings. agape-BJ

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