Guy Graham Babylon, a Grammy Award-winning musician and former New Windsor resident, who was a keyboardist with Elton John's band for more than 20 years, died of arrhythmia Sept. 2 at Los Robles Hospital & Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, Calif. He was 52.
Mr. Babylon, who had been a member of the North Baltimore Aquatic Club when in high school and still enjoyed competitive swimming, was stricken while swimming and was pronounced dead later at the nearby hospital.
Elton John, who was unable to attend Mr. Babylon's funeral that was held Sept. 8 in Westlake Village, Calif., posted on his Web site a tribute to his longtime music colleague and friend.
"I am devastated and heartbroken at the death of Guy Babylon. Guy played over 1,000 shows with me, and we worked together on 'The Road to El Dorado,' 'Aida,' 'Billy Elliot,' 'Lestat,' and 'Gnomeo and Juliet,' as well as countless albums," wrote Mr. John.
"He was one of the most brilliant musicians I have ever knew, a true genius, a gentle angel - and I loved him so much," he wrote.
Born in Baltimore and raised in New Windsor, Mr. Babylon was a 9-year-old when he was dismissed by a piano teacher for having little or no talent. Two years later, he was busy teaching himself how to play a keyboard he had bought.
"His teacher was rather traditional and Guy liked rock 'n' roll," said his mother, Mary Babylon of New Windsor.
"She told me she had gone as far as she could, given Guy's interests, and we didn't realize he had this talent," said his mother, adding, "We're not musical but Guy inherited his father's athletic talents."
Influenced by the music of Led Zeppelin, Yes, and Gentle Giant, Mr. Babylon was in the seventh grade when he and several other fledgling New Windsor musicians formed a band.
"They'd jam at each other's homes where the parents didn't mind listening to all the noise. The bands were called the Banana Submarine and later Alley Crap," Mrs. Babylon said, laughing.
The band played at venues throughout Carroll County, gave concerts at the Babylons' backyard pool, won talent shows, and entertained visitors at the New Windsor Carnival.
Entering Francis Scott Key High School, Mr. Babylon swam, played football and ran track. He was a state champion high jumper and his high school high jumping record remained unbroken for a decade.
"Guy was a very talented swimmer and I coached him in football and track," said John B. Seaman, now Francis Scott Key's principal. "He was an outstanding high jumper, a good student, and well liked by everyone."
After graduating from high school in 1974, he attended the University of South Florida on a swimming scholarship, and earned a bachelor's degree in 1979 in music composition.
He returned to New Windsor after college and joined his father, Graham Babylon, owner of the Babylon Vault Co., that had been established by Graham Babylon's father. Within six months, he realized the burial vault business wasn't for him.
"He really didn't like it at all," his mother said.
"Once he said 'no,' it was amazing how Guy's dream of a career in music became my Dad's dream, and my parents did everything they could to support him," said his sister, Donna Babylon, a Westminster author and home decorating expert.
Packing up his pickup truck, Mr. Babylon pulled out of his parent's Wakefield Valley Road driveway during a snowstorm and headed West.
"It was Jan. 1, 1980, and he never looked back," his sister recalled.
In order to make ends meet, Mr. Babylon delivered newspapers and phone books, while hoping to land a music gig.
He composed soundtracks and jingles for radio, TV and cable shows, and played with the rock band Iron Butterfly, Tavares, and joined the band Ashton.
In 1987, he co-wrote and performed Siedah Garrett's "K.I.S.S.I.N.G" which became a No. 1 dance hit in the U.S., and performed with Davey Johnstone.
He joined Elton John's band as second keyboardist in 1988, and four years later, became lead keyboardist.
In addition to recording 12 albums with Elton John, Mr. Babylon recorded with such artists as B.B. King, Ray Charles, Billy Elliot, Eric Clapton, Fats Domino and Dwight Tilley.
Mr. Babylon's foray onto Broadway earned him a 2001 Grammy for his arrangements for the musical "Aida." In 2006, he was supervisor and orchestrator for "Lestat."
His performances with Elton John's band kept him traveling around the world 10 months of the year. When he was off the road, he spent time with his family at their Agoura Hills, Calif., home.
"We went to see him when he played National Park in Washington in July," his sister said.
Despite his celebrity, Mr. Babylon eschewed the wild lifestyle of most rock 'n' roll musicians.
"He was living in the land of rock 'n' roll, sex and drugs, but my brother didn't use drugs, smoke or drink, and had the respect and friendship of his peers," Ms. Babylon said. "He had the strength to resist all of that."
In honor of his old friend, the Babylon family has been told that a plaque honoring their son will be placed in the chapel of Mr. John's home in England.
"In the chapel of his castle is a plaque to Princess Diana, Versace, Oliver Johnstone, and now there will be one for Guy," his sister said.
A memorial service was held for Mr. Babylon in Malibu, Calif., on Sept. 9. A memorial service will be held at 2:30 p.m. Oct. 4 in the social hall of the New Windsor Fire & Hose Co. No. 1, 101 High St.
In addition to his parents and sister, also surviving are his wife of 24 years, the former Kathy Brown; two sons, Max Babylon, 17, and Ben Babylon, 11; and a stepdaughter, Jessica Hoggarth. All are of Agoura Hills.