Bill Medley of Righteous Brothers coming to Newton
Singer of 'You've got that Feeling' performing Sept. 12
If you go...
WHO: Bill Medley.
WHAT: Singer of the Righteous Brothers.
WHEN: 8 p.m., Friday, Sept. 12.
WHERE: Newton Theatre, 234 Spring Street, Newton, N.J.
HOW MUCH: $72 premium, $67 orchestra and $62 balcony.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: 973-383-3700 or thenewtontheatre.com.
By Nathan Mayberg
NEWTON — The lyrics, "You never close your eyes anymore when I kiss your lips," are at the heart of rock and roll history. They were sung by Bill Medley, the baritone half of the Righteous Brothers, who will be performing at the Newton Theatre on Sept. 12.
Medley is the surviving member of the duo. The other half, Bobby Hatfield, died in 2003. The pair sang two of the most important love songs of the 1960's in "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin," the most played song in radio history, and "Unchained Melody."
When they went on tour with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones in 1964, those songs hadn't been recorded yet. Their biggest hit was "Little Latin Lupe Lu," a driving, dance song with blaring horns that Medley wrote. His recollection of those early tours was just how he and the other musicians were "bummed out" about all of the screaming fans during their sets.
By 1965, "You've Lost that Lovin' Feelin" was a number one hit and the two would become rock and roll immortals.
This year, Medley released his autobiography "The Time of My life."
"All of the good, the bad and the ugly," he said in a recent phone interview.
Now the 74-year-old is "getting ready to jump right in" to playing shows again.
"I'm going to be out there paying the rent," he said.
Medley has a 60-date tour lined up, beginning this month.
Medley and Hatfield "got along fine," he said. "Bobby and I had our disagreements. We probably had less disagreements than any married couple."
Medley believes the pressure of the music business led to their breakup.
Rocking out with legends
After their split in 1968, Medley went to Las Vegas to perform after getting approval from Frank Sinatra.
“I don’t think he was crazy about rock and roll,” Medley said.
But Sinatra “became a real good friend,” he said.
Medley made his way to the International Hotel where he sung on the same stage that Elvis Presley would be on.
They bonded over their love for motorcycles and R&B.
"He was a real good guy," Medley said.
Presley would call on Medley about 15 minutes before his shows, which started at midnight. They would also hang out together at the Graceland Mansion. He described Presley as "bashful."
Presley was an early admirer of the Righteous Brothers.
"He became a fan and would come out to see us," Medley said. "We would sneak him in and sneak him out."
Medley said he couldn't stop Presley from his descent into drugs.
"I had a front row seat watching him go downhill," Medley said. "It was real sad."
"I kind of knew what was going on. The first time he went to the hospital, I tried to go to Memphis to talk to him."
But Presley's entourage didn't allow him to see him.
It was hard to get close to Elvis because he was constantly surrounded by his friends from Memphis, Medley said. He doesn't believe they had his best interests at heart.
Medley was born and raised in California. His father was a Texas-born sheriff who was raised on a cattle ranch. His mother was a hairdresser and Lousiana native raised in a church as a piano player. Medley's father played the saxophone in a swing band before he got married.
His parents were very religious.
"They didn't drink, they didn't swear," Medley said.
"There was always a piano in the house," Medley said.
It is Medley's piano playing that is heard during the group's recording of "Unchained Melody," which he arranged.
While his older brother and sister graduated high school and never found trouble, Medley was the opposite. He dropped out of school when he was 16, raced motorcycles and wore "long greasy hair."
He eventually went to hairdressing school but didn't finish.
"Thank God," he said.
He found his way into the southern California music scene and met Bobby, who was a singer in "The Variations." Together, they formed "The Paramores." They changed their name to "The Righteous Brothers" after local black marines started calling their music "righteous," Medley said.
Phil Spector produced their hits “You’ve Lost that lovin’ Feelin” and “Just once in my life."
Spector, known at the time for producing The Beatles. The Ronettes and The Crystals, “wasn’t that weird or eccentric,” as he would become known for. Spector was later involved in a car accident that nearly killed him. In 2009, he was tried and convicted of murder.
“Everybody thinks they are gonna hear a crazy story,” Medley said.
But in those days, Spector was considered a musical genius.
“It’s great to work with a producer who knows what they want,” Medley said.
With “You’ve got that Lovin’ Feelin,” Spector “worked us pretty hard,” Medley said.
The song was supposed to be more up-tempo and in a higher key pitch at first but eventually got slowed down and lower to match Medley’s voice.
“I couldn’t hit the high note,” Medley said.
Songwriters Carole King, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil worked on the song. The team also wrote the group’s number one hit “(You’re My) Soul and Inspiration,” which Medley arranged. “Phenomenal writers,” he said.
When Hatfield wanted to do "Unchained Melody," it was Medley who arranged, produced, sang backup vocals and piano for the song.
Hatfield sang all of the lead vocal parts.
“Bobby hit some notes that people are still trying to figure out,” Medley said.
Hatfield added the words "I need your love" to the song. “He decided to take it up an octave,” Medley said.
After "You've Lost that Lovin' Feelin" topped the charts in February, 1965, “we got real big, real fast,” Medley said.
Performing was an “out of body” experience, Medley said. “We would forget there was an audience. We would have fun blowing each other away.”
Off-stage, Hatfield “was a very funny guy. He took very little seriously,” Medley said. “He was born to have a good time. He smoked, he drank until his death. His favorite thing was to smoke and drink and tell funny stories.”
It was also that lifestyle which contributed to his early death.
Medley’s favorite time in the group was the first three years and last three years when they could “just go out and have a good time with our fans,” he said.
The Righteous Brothers reunited in 1974 and had a hit with “Rock and Roll Heaven.” Two years later, Medley's ex-wife was killed in a brutal attack inside her home. The attacker was never found.
Medley took six years off from the band after her death. The case has remained a personal cause of his and was reopened by police in 2010.
In the 1980’s, the group returned to prominence after “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin” made a splashing entrance onto the big screen via Tom Cruise in “Top Gun.”
One year later, Medley scored a number one hit with Jennifer Warnes for the movie “Dirty Dancing” with the song “(I’ve Had) The Time of my life.”
The soundtrack sold millions of records but Medley didn't see much of it.
"I made a terrible deal," he said. "Who knew it was going to turn out to be anything?"
In 1990, "Unchained Melody" was played during a key scene in the hit movie "Ghost."
"We were hotter than ever," Medley said. "The last 13 years were some of the best ever," he said. "Until Bobby passed away."
Hatfield was found dead in his hotel bed in 2003 by Medley during a tour. The autopsy found that Hatfield had a heart attack.
"He was just clogged up 90 percent," Medley said.
A toxicology report also found cocaine in his system.
"He was in horrible shape," Medley said. "He was just worn out... He didn't work at living."
Hatfield was married with two children.
"He had a great family, great kids," Medley said. He also had two children from a previous marriage. "It was very tough to lose him,"
The two were inducted into the Hall of Fame earlier that year.
Medley will be joined on stage next week by a band that includes his daughter McKenna, who will sing with him.
"There is no replacing Bobby Hatfield," he said.
Medley will sing "Unchained Melody," in his baritone key while a video tribute to Hatfield is played.
— To reach Nathan Mayberg, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 845-469-9000 ext. 359.
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