Robbin Thompson, Singer in Bruce Springsteen's Early Band Steel Mill, Dies at 66

Robbin Thompson
Courtesy of Robbin Thompson

Robbin Thompson performing in 2010.

Singer-songwriter Robbin Thompson -- who was the lead vocalist of Bruce Springsteen’s band Steel Mill in 1970-1971 before continuing on with a solo career -- has died of complications from cancer, according to The Richmond Times-Dispatch. Thompson was 66 years old.

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Thompson last gave an update on his 15-year battle with cancer in a Facebook post on Sept. 22. “I apologize for being out of touch for a while,” he wrote at the time. “Many of you know that I've been battling cancer for over 15 years. These days, it's causing a few problems but I'm dealing with it and will be back performing soon. Like real soon. Prayers are always welcome but you don't need to tell me about it, I'll know your [sic] thinkin' about me and it's appreciated.”

The Richmond Times-Dispatch notes that he was born in Boston in 1949 and moved to Melbourne, Fla., with his family when he was seven years old. In 1969, he relocated to Richmond, Va., to study at Virginia Commonwealth University. He started a band named Mercy Flight at school, who was often on the lineup with Steel Mill, Springsteen’s band at the time.

His relationship with Springsteen went beyond their short time together in Steel Mill. The pair have shared the stage since then, guesting at one another’s shows a handful of times.

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In 1976, he released his self-titled debut album. He went on to record several more albums, including 1980’s Two B’s Please as The Robbin Thompson Band. That album included a version of the song “Sweet Virginia Breeze,” which recently became one of two state songs in Virginia. The tune was given the title of official “popular” state song in legislation signed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

His final release was the 2013 album A Real Fine Day. Thompson was also vice president and co-founder of In Your Ear Music and Recording, a company that composes and produces music for commercials and films.

“He was a real inspiration,” country singer-songwriter Phil Vassar, one of the many artists who has collaborated with Thompson, told The Richmond Times-Dispatch. “All the guys in my band are from Virginia, and we grew up listening to him. We thought, 'If a guy from Virginia can make it, we can, too.' ”

Thompson was married to his wife, Vicki, and is also survived by daughters Rikki and Wrenn and three grandchildren.

"He had such a presence on stage, but personally, he was quiet and sensitive,” daughter Rikki Rogers said. “He was a very affectionate and warm person. His grandchildren were obsessed with him.”