Blue-Eyed Soul

Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield were a perfect match—vocally, artistically, attitudinally. So it was only natural they would form an act that was a sure winner. That act was The Righteous Brothers, and beginning in the early ’60s, they ruled a good chunk of the top of the charts.
The combination of Medley’s deep baritone and Hatfield’s pure countertenor gave a rich sound to their chosen genre of music, which leaned heavily on R&B. They first caught the ear of the R&B crowd in 1963, with “Little Latin Lupe Lu” and were getting bookings before people actually knew who they were.
At times, the solid truth of their sound often had clubs thinking they were booking a black R&B duo only to see these two Southern California white guys show up at the door. This soon lead to their sound becoming known as “blue-eyed soul.”
When they came out with “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” in 1964, everybody knew who Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield and The Righteous Brothers were. The hits soon piled up, including, “Just Once in My Life,” “Ebb Tide,” “Soul & Inspiration,” “Unchained Melody,” “Rock and Roll Heaven,” and more.
As testament to the staying power of their sound, many of their songs became popular all over again as part of movie soundtracks—”Lovin’ Feelin’,” featured in Top Gun (it’s how Tom Cruise won the girl); “Unchained Melody” was the haunting love song featured in Ghost with Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore; and Medley earned a Grammy along with Jennifer Warnes for “I Had the Time of My Life” from Dirty Dancing.
The Righteous Brothers were a popular act in Laughlin and became regulars at the Riverside Resort.
Fatefully, their concert here in 2003, was one of the last they ever did. Hatfield died but a week or so after that show, ending the reign of The Righteous Brothers.
After a few years off, Bill Medley put together a show based around his family—his daughter, McKenna and son, Darrin. They performed Righteous Brothers songs as part of the show, but fans wanted more than a sampling. There was always the undercurrent of a want for Medley to bring back the magic of the singing duo.
Well, Bill Medley happened to catch a show by Bucky Heard in Branson, Missouri. He knew it was time for “That Lovin’ Feelin'” to be found and not lost any more.
Medley and Heard got together with Tim Lee, Medley’s musical director of many years, and put together a show called “The Righteous Brothers featuring Bill Medley and Bucky Heard.”
That show made its debut, fittingly, at the Riverside Resort a couple of years ago as an experiment, one that proved to be a success. Medley and Heard were able to capture the magic in the music, discovered the chemistry could take shape once again and the fans were happy. However, it was no accident Medley chose the Riverside to introduce his new show.
“I wanted to go to Laughlin, the Riverside, because I’m comfortable there, and I just felt it was a good place to break it in,” Medley told the Laughlin entertainer. “I love the audiences there. They’re real friendly — and I think they’ll love what we’re gonna do. It’s a real good fit.
“I decided, I came in as a Righteous Brother and I want to leave as a Righteous Brother,” he added. “I’m excited that we’re coming back there. There’s something very special to me about Laughlin and the Riverside. It feels like home to me and that’s real important.”
Recreating what Medley built with Hatfield was bittersweet. Not only were they singing partners, they were lifelong friends. Heard had some serious boots to fill.
“It was a hard thing because Bobby and I were like two old married people. And he was one of the greatest singers in the world,” Medley said.
“I was just very fortunate that we hooked up when we were 22 years old. You just can’t replace Bobby Hatfield. But Bucky hits all the notes, he’s a great singer — and most important he’s a great guy, a really, really great guy.
“I’m just trying to make sure the music is the best so that when we show up on stage to sing those songs we sing those songs great. Also, it’s important that we have fun on stage and have fun with the audience. I think that’s the magic of a good show. I think everybody wins.
So how did Medley meet Heard and make the connection?
“I’ve been asked by fans and friends, in cards and letters, ‘keep the Righteous Brothers alive, keep the music going.’
“Just by accident, I went to see one of Bucky’s shows. I met him in Branson, Missouri, and have known him for years as a good friend, great father and hard worker. But I just didn’t realize how great he was as a singer.
“He’s somebody I can laugh with, love with, and sing with — and that’s what Bobby and I were. If I didn’t find Bucky, I wouldn’t have done it.
“But it’s just that he sings great, he’s younger than me, he’s like 52 or so, so he’s going to push me, just like Bobby used to push me, and I used to push him — and that’s exciting.”
While the show focuses on Righteous Brothers material, Medley still includes the family elements.
“This is a real Righteous Brothers show even though my daughter (McKenna) is going to be one of the singers. She’ll sing “I Had the Time of My life,” with me. I love having her on the road with me.
“But this is a real Righteous Brothers show. I’m bringing three girl singers, four horns and four or five rhythm section players. Tim and McKenna are the only two originals from my other show.”
In addition to taking their show on the road, The Righteous Brothers have been enjoying an extended residency at Harrah’s Las Vegas, hoping to bring attention to the R&B style once again.
“We’ve had a long stretch,” Medley said. “In the ’80s we had those huge movie songs, and our songs became hits all over again. I had the big hit with ‘I’ve Had the Time of My Life,’ for Dirty Dancing, so there’s that crowd. There’s the crowd from the ’60s, and ’70s. So it’ll be interesting to see.
“I know the people who were raised on our music, they’re gonna get it and they’re gonna love it. I have a feeling young kids are gonna go, ‘Boy, this is like Bruno Mars, who’s nothing more than an old R&B singer. He’s not old, but that’s what he’s doing, so I know that there’s room for it.
“I’m not looking to knock the world over. I’m looking forward to two things. I’m looking forward to coming to Laughlin and the residency job in Vegas — and not travel anymore. I love the work, you could put me on stage every night, it’s the traveling you pay me for. The airports — between going through all the detectors and all that to planes that aren’t leaving and you can’t get your connection — I just can’t stand it any more.”
Medley is all about keeping the music going for future generations.
“I can remember years ago working in Lake Tahoe and somebody was making a joke about Lawrence Welk playing in the main room. They were saying, ‘What’s that corny guy doing in their main room?’
“I just came out of my skin and I said, ‘Thank God, this guy has still got the energy and the love to go out and do it because my mom and dad are huge, huge Lawrence Welk fans and they would kill to go see him.’
“So I hope we kind of do that — get out there so the fans can do it one more time and figure out that just because we’re 50 to 80 in years, we’re not dead,” he added. “We’re still alive. If the Righteous Brothers don’t go out there for them, then they don’t have us to go see, or have Frankie Valli, or all those acts still working. So I think it’s a good thing all across the board. I’m just real anxious to get at it.
“The Righteous Brothers always did our show like it’s the last show we were ever gonna do. So we just gave it everything we had. I plan to go to Laughlin like this might be the last time we ever do it.
“You know, there’s a song, ‘Live Like You Were Dying.’ Well, there’s also the feeling of ‘live like you’re gonna live’ — and that’s where my head’s at.”


THE RIGHTEOUS BROTHERS

Don’s Celebrity Theatre within the Riverside

Thursday-Sunday, Jan. 11-14 (7 p.m.)

See “Showtimes” for tickets