The musician, who joined John's touring band in the early 1990s, died Wednesday morning at age 56.Pictures: Elton John
"I am devastated and shocked at the loss of my friend and fellow musician, Bob Birch," John explained in a statement on his website. "My heart goes out to Bob's wife Michele, his son Jonathan and his family. To me Bob was family. He had been a member of my band for 20 years; we played over 1400 concerts together. He was one of the greatest musicians I have ever worked with, and in all our years on the road he never played or sang a bad note."
"I cannot find the words to describe this tragic death, and how much I loved him. May he rest in peace," John, 65, said.
Birch also performed with Billy Joel, Lionel Ritchie, Eric Clapton, BB King, Sting, Cher, Tina Turner, Stevie Wonder, Brian Wilson and Ray Charles, among others.
Joel also made a statement about Birch: "I am deeply saddened to learn of the death of Bob Birch. He was a brilliant musician, a true professional and a wonderful man to work with. After 16 years on the road together I considered him to be a good friend. I and all the people in my touring organization will miss him very much."
Los Angeles County Assistant Coroner Chief Ed Winter told Reuters the case is "being investigated as a possible suicide." Reports say Birch died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.