Time of His Life

Something magical happened when the baritone voice of Bill Medley and tenor voice of Bobby Hatfield combined, creating the blue-eyed soul sound.

The pair drew attention for their rhythm and blues tone, which was rare for white singers in the 1960s, leading to exclamations of “righteous, brother!” after a performance. And so, the duo had a name — The Righteous Brothers.

Medley and Hatfield had started out in different groups, then came together as part of the Paramours, which disbanded and left the two-man team to start on their own in 1963.

They were signed to the Moonglow record label and their first single to bring some success was a jazzy little tune written by Medley about an old high school girlfriend. “Little Latin Lupe Lu” was a hit with the surf crowd in California and due to their support of the song, it gained some buzz and radio airtime. To his surprise, Medley’s little ditty had launched the Righteous Brothers’ career.

“Well yeah it was pretty surprising. A record company heard the song, they came into a club to see us and we sang the song and they loved it, so Bobby and I went in and recorded it,” Medley said. “I saw Lupe a couple of years ago and she’s doing great, she’s married and got children and all that.”

Soon after “Lupe Lu,” the Righteous Brothers were asked to open for the Beatles on their first U.S. tour in 1964. Later the same year, they also opened for The Rolling Stones.

“It was pretty amazing. Now it sounds nuts, but when they asked us to do the tour, we didn’t even know who they were,” Medley said. “They were big, but not like what happened soon after. I mean it was just pandemonium, it was unbelievable. So it was really fun to do. A few years after the tour we said, ‘Oh my god, we had a front row seat to history.’

“When we worked with the Stones, we did the western states and at first we were actually bigger than they were, but the next weekend they were the biggest thing in the world. It was real fun to look back at and think, ‘Oh my god, I was actually there.’”

About the same time they were touring, record producer Phil Spector heard The Righteous Brothers and made a deal to record their songs on his label, Philles Records. The group had their own breakout success at the end of 1964 with the release of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” produced by Spector. The song went to No. 1 on the charts by February 1965.

Another of their biggest hits, a cover of “Unchained Melody,” was released in 1965, but as a B side, without the intention of gaining radio play.

“That is a flat-out mystery,” Medley said. “The guy who was producing, Phil Spector, was a giant in the business and he produced the A side and he asked me to produce the album because he took too long and spent too much money. So I did the album, and Bobby wanted to do ‘Unchained Melody’ on it. So we did it and Phil put it on the B side. He always put the worst song he could on the B side so they would play the right record, and for some reason every disc jockey in the country just flipped it over. I don’t know why, it’s still a mystery to me. I understand why the song was a hit, Bobby did an incredible vocal, but I still don’t know why they turned it over.”

The Righteous Brothers split ties with Spector and signed with MGM Records in 1966. Under the new label, they released their second No. 1 hit, “Soul and Inspiration.” However, over the next couple of years, the duo lost its steam and they broke up in 1968.

Medley went on as a solo act and found success performing in Las Vegas, where another singing sensation and friend of his would frequent — Elvis Presley.

“When we had those West Coast hits, Elvis had a home in L.A. and he would come out and see us, he became a big fan,” Medley said. “I left the Righteous Brothers in ‘68 for about six years and I worked at the Sands Hotel and he would come in a lot of times to see me in Vegas. Then I went to work at the Hilton where Elvis was working, and I think Elvis had something to do with this, but they came and got me and made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. I was in the lounge and Elvis was in the main room. So we really became very close because every time Elvis was there they’d make sure I was there in the lounge. So we spent a lot of one-on-one time together and I spent a couple of weeks at Graceland. I actually got to know Elvis as Elvis, not the big star that he was. He was a good guy.”

After six years on his own, Medley reunited with Hatfield to record again as The Righteous Brothers, on Haven Records this time. Their recording of “Rock and Roll Heaven,” peaking at No. 3 on the charts, was their biggest hit with Haven.

They took some time off during the late ‘70s and toured intermittently through the ‘80s.

Medley found some unexpected success after he was asked to record a song for an upcoming film, which he initially turned down.

“When they called me and said, ‘We need you to sing this song for the movie. You’re the voice for this song.’ I said, ‘What’s the name of the movie?’ And they said, “Dirty Dancing.’ I said, ‘That sounds like a bad porno movie.’ Especially in those days, I mean 34 years ago,” Medley laughed. “I turned it down because Paula, my wife, was expecting our daughter, McKenna. Now, oddly enough, she’s on stage singing ‘Time of My Life’ with me. But I turned it down because they wanted me to go from California into New York to record it. I said, ‘I can’t do it. My wife is expecting and I promised her I’d be there for the birth.’”

After three months and the birth of his child, the movie producers were still after Medley to record the song, but he was skeptical.

“Finally Paula had our daughter, and they sent me the demo — I thought it was a good song, but the demo wasn’t great so it didn’t really show the song off. And they said, ‘Well, Jennifer Warnes wants to record it if she can do it with you.’ So I said, ‘OK.’ But we did it just to work together. Obviously the movie wasn’t going to do any good and the song wasn’t going to do any good,” Medley laughed. “I mean, I have done more by mistake than I have on purpose as far as my career. But it all worked out great. It was a huge movie and a huge song.”

“Time of My Life” won them the Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group in 1988.

The Righteous Brothers continued performing through the ‘90s and early 2000s, until the unfortunate death of Hatfield in 2003, which left Medley to return to his solo career.

However, Medley stumbled upon a young man with just the right vocal talent, and brought the Righteous Brothers back with his new partner, Bucky Heard, in 2016. Their first performance together was at the Riverside Resort in Laughlin.

“We love Laughlin — it was the first place that Bucky and I worked as the Righteous Brothers,” Medley said. “He’s a great singer and a great guy. Laughlin is just kind of a special place for us. I love the audiences, I love the attitude there — it’s a little looser, it’s a little slower and I just like that a lot.”

Medley and Heard are returning to the Riverside Thursday-Sunday, Sept. 23-26 (8 p.m.).

“We’re thrilled to death to be coming and it’s going to be right after my birthday so I’ll probably still be celebrating,” Medley said. “So come to the show, we’ll have a good time.”

The Righteous Brothers also have a residency at South Point Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, where they play for a weekend each month.

“My good friend owns the place and it’s just a real comfortable place to work,” Medley said. “Las Vegas is kind of a second home for me. I’ve been coming here ever since I was 25, working here. So I feel real good about having a show here, it’s great.”

Off the advice of his agent many years ago, Medley said Las Vegas has brought him great success.

“It’s real funny, when we had the hit with ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,’ our agent Jerry, who was a brilliant guy, came to us and said, ‘I know you’re getting a lot of big offers to go do concerts and you should do them, but you should take some time out to go into Vegas while you’re hot, because it will be there for you for the rest of your life.’ And this month I’m turning 81 and right now I’m in Las Vegas,” he laughed. “I’m so blessed. Still being able to come out here and people show up to hear those songs — it’s just a blessing.”