Soul & Inspiration: A Conversation with Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers

Soul & Inspiration: A Conversation with Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers

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It was a very unusual record. There were there or four things about it that went against the grain but those negatives ended up becoming a real plus. We weren’t sure if it was a hit. I can remember Bobby and I listening to it the first couple of times and thinking, “Man, what a shame, wouldn’t it be great if this was a hit?” (laughs)

Rock Cellar Magazine: Barry Mann, one of song’s co-writers thought it was at wrong speed.

Bill Medley: Yeah, that’s night. He thought the record was cut at the wrong speed. It was such a different record in those days. Everything that was wrong with The Righteous Brothers became amazingly right. First time we heard the song was with Barry Mann and Phil Spector singing it to us live. When they got done I said, “Boy, what a great song for The Everly Brothers” because they both had real high, thin voices and it sounded like The Everly Brothers.

The song was beautiful; there was no question about that. They did it faster but when we started to rehearse it we had to keep lowering the key because it’s such a huge range kind of song. I told them I couldn’t reach some of the notes so they were forced to keep lowering the key. Finally we hit on the right key. Phil slowed it down and it just became a different song, especially from how we originally had heard it.

Rock Cellar Magazine: The Righteous Brothers split with Phil Spector/Philles Records in 1966, was that a mistake?

Bill Medley: It broke my heart to leave Phil Spector. We had a three year career before we did Lovin’ Feelin’ with Little Latin Lupe Lu and My Babe, all this hard rock. For some reason I ended up being the producer of that stuff.  When we went with Phil we were getting these great songs from these great writers and all I had to do was go in and do my part. It was a blessing to me even though Phil came to me and asked me to produce the Righteous Brothers albums because he would have taken too long and it would have cost too much money.

So that’s how I ended up producing Unchained Melody.

Rock Cellar Magazine: The Righteous Brothers served as one of the opening acts on the Beatles first tour of America in 1964. You left the tour midway into it reportedly because of the difficulties of playing to crowds that only cared about seeing John, Paul, George and Ringo.

Bill Medley: I don’t know if it was confidence or stupidity that led us to leave that tour but the truth is we really enjoyed being on that Beatles tour, especially on the West Coast because we were fairly well known. But playing to crowds on the East Coast was tough. Literally the crowds would clap and yell during our whole set, “We want the Beatles, we want the Beatles!” The band’s manager, Brian Epstein was wonderful to us as were The Beatles.

In fact, Brian wanted to manage us. He told us, “You guys are doing great, don’t worry about it.” But it was a problem because we were performing before screaming thirteen-year old girls. The real reason we left the tour was we had an opportunity to go back to L.A. to appear on Shindig! We went to Brian and the guys and said, “God, we hate to leave the tour and we don’t want to hang you up.

We know everybody in the world would love to be on this tour but we have this chance to be on this national TV show.” Brian and The Beatles were wonderful about it and gave us their blessing to leave.

Rock Cellar Magazine: The following year you toured with The Rolling Stones and enjoyed a warm camaraderie with the band.

Bill Medley: That tour, like The Beatles tour, was moving pretty fast. I just remember that we loved The Stones; they were great guys. Don’t get me wrong, we loved The Beatles too; they were wonderful guys and wonderful to us but The Stones were a lot more where we were coming from. Bluesy.

Their roots were similar to ours;  what they really loved was R&B and that’s what we were. We really loved The Stones because they were real earthy guys. You’ve gotta remember and this is a tough thing to say, The Beatles movement and Stones movement pretty much did away with the Fabians and Frankie Avalons, the real good looking teen idol thing. Boy, the Stones were far from that.

These weren’t a bunch of pretty boys; these were real guys. The Beatles were too but you couldn’t see it as much. When we released Lovin’ Feelin’ and went to Europe to promote it they met us at the airport. The Stones were huge at that time.

They came to our press conference and helped make us an overnight success there.

Rock Cellar Magazine: You became a trusted friend of Elvis Presley. He rarely went out to clubs to see music acts but he was drawn out to see The Righteous Brothers play at the Red Velvet club in Hollywood in the early ‘60s.

Bill MedleyYeah, that’s true. He came to a few places to see us perform. Every time George Klein (Memphis Mafia member) and some of the guys would be in town he’d come see us. Elvis was a big fan of The Righteous Brothers from the get-go with Little Latin Lupe Lu and My Babe. Elvis always wanted to be a black bass singer. (laughs) He knew that’s kind of what I was so he really related to us.

Elvis was a wonderful guy and a wonderful friend.

Rock Cellar Magazine: Why did you think you connected with Elvis beyond being a fellow entertainer he admired?

Bill Medley: It went a lot deeper than that. I remember being in Memphis recording with Chips Moman. I’d record during the day and one of Elvis’s guys like Joe Esposito would come and get me from the studio and take me to Graceland and I would hang out with Elvis for about three weeks. We did a lot of hanging out and singing together.

He had a piano there and we’d horse around and do stuff. Then when he was working Vegas I worked the same hotel and I think Elvis was probably very instrumental in that. (laughs) A lot of times before his second show he would call my dressing room and go, “Bill, come on down.” And I would come on down. It would be about fifteen minutes before he would go onstage and I’d go down there and it would be just Elvis and Elvis’s hairdresser.

So Elvis and I really got to hook up on a personal level. I knew Elvis as Elvis and he knew Bill as Bill, not one of The Righteous Brothers or Elvis Presley.

Medley_p4
Early Righteous Brothers promo

Rock Cellar Magazine: Was it inevitable that Bobby would pass away early?

Bill Medley: About a year before he passed away I said, “Bobby, you need to go see a doctor.” He was thin and didn’t look good. He said, “Okay, do you have one?” He didn’t even have a doctor.

He smoked, he drank, and he didn’t take care of himself. I don’t know what words to say because his death was shocking. It was dramatic; it was ugly. It was very painful when he passed away but it was not a surprise.

Rock Cellar Magazine: While working on the book you were able to more deeply examine your relationship with Bobby, was that helpful?

Bill Medley: No question about it. Doing this book was like going to a shrink. It was just amazing. I would tell the story and than I’d have to think deeper into the story. I feel so good now about all of it. My relationship with Bobby ended up wonderful anyway.

We always got along but he had his comfort level and I had my comfort level.  I’ve always said if we were a trio it would have been a lot easier because there would have been a tie-breaker. But when you’ve got one guy going, “No, we’re gonna go right” and then you’ve got another guy saying, “No, we’re gonna go left,” where do you go? Neither one of us were good with confrontation.

We never had an argument in our life; I just left. Read the book, there’s a lot about me leaving. (laughs)

Looking back I think The Righteous Brothers had so much more to give and if you don’t talk about things you don’t grow.

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2 Responses to "Soul & Inspiration: A Conversation with Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers"

  1. Virginia Ann Floyd   July 23, 2016 at 5:47 pm

    I really miss Bobby being with you, Bill. Just saying that brings tears to my eyes. What a wonderful duo you two were. And always will be to me. I play your music and you and Bobby have beautiful voices together. I am an 86 year old grandmother who will never tire of listening to you; however, I do wish much success to you and Bucky in continuing The Righteous Brothers. God bless you. Virginia Ann Floyd, 1012 Silver Streak Drive, Saginaw, TX 76131.

    Reply

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