The decision to reestablish The Righteous Brothers did not come easily for Bill Medley.
After Bobby Hatfield—the other half of the blue-eyed soul duo founded in 1962—died in 2003, 13 years passed before Mr. Medley took on a new singing partner and used the name again.
In a recent interview in advance of The Righteous Brothers’ concert at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on Sunday, June 10, Mr. Medley explained that he long resisted calls to bring back The Righteous Brothers. It wasn’t until he found the right partner that he was confident he was making the right decision.
Just months before Mr. Hatfield died of heart attack brought on by a cocaine overdose, Billy Joel inducted the original Righteous Brothers into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. Mr. Medley, the bass, and Mr. Hatfield, the tenor, shared the stage to accept the honor and sing one of their hit songs, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.”
“That was a hella of a roller-coaster ride of a year,” Mr. Medley recalled. “We went into the Hall of Fame in March, I think, and Bobby passed away in November. It was the high highs and the low lows. It was a tough year.”
Mr. Medley thinks back on the induction positively.
“I just thank God that Bobby was here when we got inducted,” he said. “It was a huge honor, but the other plus was Bobby was there and with all of his family.”
After Mr. Hatfield’s death, Mr. Medley would continue to perform, but not under the name “The Righteous Brothers.” Both fans and people he worked with thought he was making a mistake. “My manager and some guys—businesspeople that have been involved with me for years and years and years—thinking that I ought to do it,” he said. “I put it off, I put it off, to the point that they’re yelling at me and telling me how stupid I am for not doing it.”
Mr. Medley seriously explored the idea and finally went for it around the time he was preparing for a residency at Harrah’s Las Vegas Hotel & Casino.
Mr. Medley was in a wedding in Branson, Missouri—a town where he previously performed regularly and that many consider to be the Live Music Capital of the World—when he ran into his friend Bucky Heard. He knew Mr. Heard was a busy singer and performer in Branson, but was surprised to learn that Mr. Heard was singing like Steve Perry in a Journey tribute show.
“I went in to see him, and I didn’t know he could do this stuff,” Mr. Medley recalled. “I went in and he just killed it. And I’ve known Bucky for a long time. He was a good friend and the hardest working guy I knew. And it just dawned on me: I said, ‘Oh man, if I am going to do this, that would be the guy.’”
Mr. Heard, speaking from Harrah’s back in April after breakfast with Mr. Medley, said that Mr. Medley came out the next night to see him in a Creedence Clearwater Revival tribute show. Next came a lunch together, where Mr. Medley explained he has been getting pressure to reform The Righteous Brothers, and Mr. Heard said he was “absolutely” interested in having his name thrown in.
“He called me three days later,” Mr. Heard said. “We sat around the piano, which was just surreal for me, sitting there with a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame guy that I listened to my whole life, playing piano with his Grammy award sitting on top. And we’re singing ‘Loving Feeling.’”
“Vocally, it was just right,” Mr. Medley said.
Everything fell into place in about a week’s time. Though Harrah’s was expecting to put on only a Bill Medley show, Mr. Medley brought a Righteous Brothers show, which the venue was happy to have.
“This Righteous Brothers show is a true Righteous Brothers show. It’s pretty much what Bobby and I would be doing,” Mr. Medley said.
He said he tells crowds that Mr. Heard does a heck of a job filling in, and the audience goes crazy for him. “They are thanking him for bringing the Righteous Brothers music back.”
Since reforming The Righteous Brothers, he has not toured solo, and he plans to keep it that way.
“This is who I am and what I’m going to do,” he said. “And if and when it comes to an end, that will be the end of me. I’m 77, I’m blessed to still be doing this and I know it. I’ve had an incredibly remarkable, wonderful, blessed career. So whatever happens from this point on is a blessing.”
Fans have told him, while he signs autographs after concerts at Harrah’s, that they came all the way to Vegas from England, and even Australia, just to see The Righteous Brothers.
Retirement does not interest him.
“I’ve been doing this for over 55 years. I told my wife, ‘You know, I can’t retire. First off, I’d have to get a job,’” he laughed. “‘I just want to stay artistically busy. I don’t want to kill myself. I just want to stay artistically busy.’ And that’s what Las Vegas provides ... and doing three shows a week is kind of a piece of cake.”
The residency also offers summers off, which enables the duo to take their act on the road, including their stop this weekend in Westhampton Beach.
Mr. Heard said audiences from many generations come out to hear Righteous Brothers songs, such as “Unchained Melody,” remembered from the film “Ghost,” and Bill Medley songs, like “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” from the movie “Dirty Dancing” and originally sung by Mr. Medley and Jennifer Warnes.
“They’re going to have more fun than they think,” Mr. Medley said, “because we have a lot of fun and we sing all the hits and do all that, and Bucky does just an incredible job. We just have a lot of fun and the audience has a lot fun. The most remarks we get when we talk to people after the show … ‘We didn’t realize we were going to have such a fun time.’”
The Righteous Brothers will perform on Sunday, June 10, at 8 p.m. at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center. For tickets, call 631-288-1500 or visit whbpac.org.
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