Kevin Rowland was born in Wednesfield, Wolverhampton, England. His first short-lived group, Lucy & The Lovers, was followed by punk rock act The Killjoys, which released the single "Johnny Won't Go To Heaven" in 1977.
Alienated by the punk scene, in 1978 Rowland - at the time using the pseudonym Carlo Rolan - together with Killjoys guitarist, Kevin "Al" Archer, decided to form a new soul-influenced group, Dexys Midnight Runners. Other original members included "Big" Jim Paterson on trombone), Geoff "JB" Blythe on saxophone, Steve "Babyface" Spooner on alto saxophone, Pete Saunders on keyboard, Pete Williams on bass and Bobby "Jnr" Ward on drums.
They took the band's name from Dexedrine, a brand of dextroamphetamine popularly used as a recreational drug among Northern Soul fans at the time. The "midnight runners" referred to the energy the Dexedrine gave, enabling one to dance all night. Many of the group's songs were inspired by Rowland's Irish ancestry and featured Rowland's unique high-pitched "cryin'" vocal style.
The band dressed in donkey jackets or leather coats and woolly hats. Image was very important to the group, with Rowland commenting "We wanted to be a group that looked like something...a formed group, a project, not just random."
Their first single was "Dance Stance" in 1979. The song was released on the independent Oddball Records, was named "single of the week" by Sounds, and reached number 40 in the British charts, but the next single, "Geno" – about American R&B singer Geno Washington, and released on EMI – was a British Number One in 1980.
The first single, "The Celtic Soul Brothers," was mildly successful but the follow-up, "Come On Eileen," became a Number One hit not only in the UK, but also in the United States, where it became the biggest-selling single of 1982. Sales in the UK alone amounted to over 1.2 million copies.
By 1987, most of the band members quit, angered over continual personality problems with Rowland, including Rowland's policy of not speaking to the music press in response to less than complimentary opinions from some music press writers.
After Dexys disbanded, Rowland recorded a solo album, The Wanderer which, together with its three singles, was a commercial failure. His next release was not until 1999 when he recorded a collection of interpretations of classic songs called My Beauty, the album cover of which depicted a heavily made-up Rowland in a dress and women's lingerie.
The follow-up "Jackie Wilson Said (I'm in Heaven When You Smile)", a cover of a Van Morrison tune, also reached the top 5 in the UK singles chart.]
In 2003, Rowland reformed Dexys Midnight Runners - featuring only one other original member, bassist Pete Williams who fulfilled the role as Rowland's co-vocalist - and embarked on a successful comeback tour backed up with a greatest hits compilation album including two newly recorded songs, "Manhood" and "My Life in England." Both of these new songs were radio tested by the record label, but neither received enough airplay for them to be considered worthwhile releasing.
In December 2006, Rowland launched his own MySpace page where he has promised another Dexys album, and posted articles and the song "It's OK Johanna."