Thursday, August 2, 2012

Legends: Bee Gees

One of the most under-rated acts for their time, the Bee Gees are a staple of American music history. Their soulful and easy listening sounds echoes through the airways even to this day. In my book, perhaps one of the top five songwriters that ever lived. Their career spanned four decades and the biggest trick to pull off in the entertainment industry is longevity. Not only did they write their own songs and hits, they also wrote songs and hits for other artists including, Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton with “Islands In The Stream” and Yvonne Elliman and her big hit, “If I can’t Have you” and one hit wonder, Samantha Sang, who charted with the song, “Emotion”.

The Bee Gees were a musical group founded in 1958. The group's line-up consisted of brothers Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb. The trio were successful for most of their decades of recording music, but they had two distinct periods of exceptional success: as a pop act in the late 1960s/early 1970s, and as prominent performers of the disco music era in the late 1970s.

The group sang three-part tight-harmonies that were instantly recognizable; Robin's clear vibrato lead was a hallmark of their earlier hits, while Barry's R & B falsetto became their signature sound during the late 1970s and 1980s. The brothers wrote all of their own hits, as well as writing and producing several major hits for other artists.

Born in the Isle of Man to English parents, the Gibb brothers lived their first few years in Chorlton, Manchester, England, then moved in the late 1950s to Redcliffe, Queensland, Australia, where they began their music careers. After achieving their first chart success in Australia with “Spicks And Specks” (their 12th single), they returned to the United Kingdom in January 1967 where producer Robert Stigwood began promoting them to a worldwide audience.

It has been estimated that the Bee Gees' career record sales total more than 220 million, ranking them among the Best-selling music artists of all time. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of Fame in 1997; the presenter of the award to "Britain's first family of harmony" was Brian Wilson, historical leader of the Beach Boys, a “family act” also featuring three harmonizing brothers. The Bee Gees' Hall of Fame citation says “Only Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Garth Brooks and Paul McCartney have outsold the Bee Gees”.

Following Maurice's unexpected death in January 2003, Barry and Robin retired the group's name after 45 years of activity. In 2009, however, Robin announced that he and Barry had agreed that the Bee Gees would re-form and perform again. Robin died in May 2012 after a prolonged bout of cancer.

Barry Gibb (born 1946) and fraternal twin brothers Robin (1949 - 2012) and Maurice Gibb (1949 - 2003) were born on the Isle of Man, but the family returned to father Hugh Gibb's home town of Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester, England where they went to Oswald Road Primary School, in the early 1950s where the boys began to sing in harmony. The story is told that they were going to lip sync to a record in the local Gaumont cinema (as other children had done on previous weeks) and as they were running to the theatre, the heavy 78-RPM record broke. The brothers had to sing live and received such a positive response from the audience that they decided to pursue a singing career.

In 1958 the Gibb family, including infant brother, Andy (1958 - 1988), emigrated to Redcliffe in Queensland, Australia. The young brothers began performing where they could to raise pocket money. First called The Rattlesnakes, later Wee Johnny Hayes & The Bluecats, they were introduced to radio DJ Bill Gates by racetrack promoter Bill Goode (who saw them perform at Brisbane's Speedway Circuit). Gates renamed them the "Bee Gees" after his and Goode's initials – thus the name was not specifically a reference to "Brothers Gibb", despite popular belief.

By 1960 the Bee Gees were featured on television shows. In the next few years they began working regularly at resorts on the Queensland coast. For his songwriting, Barry sparked the interest of Australian star Col Joye, who helped them get a record deal with Festival Records subsidiary, Leedon Records, in 1963 under the name “Bee Gees.” The three released two or three singles a year, while Barry supplied additional songs to other Australian artists. From 1963 to 1966 the Gibb family lived at 171 Bunnerong Road, Maroubra in Sydney.

A minor hit in 1965, “Wine and Women“, led to the group's first LP The Bee Gees Sing and Play 14 Barry Gibb Songs. By 1966 Festival was, however, on the verge of dropping them from the Leedon roster because of their perceived lack of commercial success. It was at this time that they met American-born songwriter, producer and entrepreneur, Nat Kipner, who had just been appointed A&R manager of a new independent label, Spin Records. Kipner briefly took over as the group's manager and successfully negotiated their transfer to Spin in exchange for Festival being granted the Australian distribution rights to the group's recordings.

Through Kipner the Bee Gees met engineer-producer, Ossie Byrne. He produced many of the earlier Spin recordings, most of which were cut at his own small self-built St Clair Studio in the Sydney suburb of Hurtsville. Byrne gave the Gibb brothers virtually unlimited access to St Clair Studio over a period of several months in mid-1966. The group later acknowledged that this enabled them to greatly improve their skills as recording artists. During this productive time they recorded a large batch of original material—including the song that would become their first major hit, “Spics and Specs” (on which Byrne played the trumpet coda) - as well as cover versions of current hits by overseas acts such as The Beatles. They regularly collaborated with other local musicians, including members of beat band Steve & The Board, led by Steve Kipner, Nat's teenage son.

Frustrated by their lack of success, the Gibbs decided to return to England in late 1966. Ossie Byrne traveled with them, and Colin Petersen, who eventually became the group's drummer, followed soon after. While at sea in January 1967, they learned that "Spicks and Specks" had been awarded Best Single of the Year by Go-Set, Australia's most popular and influential music newspaper.

Before their departure from Australia to England, Hugh Gibb sent demos to Brian Epstein, a promoter who managed The Beatles and directed NEMS, a British music store. Brian Epstein passed the demo tapes to Rovert Stigwood, who had recently joined NEMS. After an audition with Stigwood in February 1967, the Bee Gees signed a five-year contract whereby Polydor Records would release their records in the UK and ATCO Records would do so in the US. Work quickly began on the group's first international album, and Stigwood launched a promotional campaign to coincide with its release.

Stigwood proclaimed that the Bee Gees were "The Most Significant New Talent Of 1967", thus initiating the comparison of the Bee Gees to the Beatles. Their second British single (their first UK 45 rpm issued was "Spicks and Specks"), “New York Mining Disaster 1941“, was issued to radio stations with a blank white label listing only the song title. Some DJs immediately assumed this was a new single by the Beatles and started playing the song in heavy rotation. This helped the song climb into the Top 20 in both the UK and US. No such chicanery was needed to boost the Bee Gees' second single, “To Love Somebody“, into the US Top 20. Originally written for Otis Redding, the song is a soulful ballad sung by Barry, has since become a pop standard covered by hundreds of artists including Gram Parsons, Rod Stewart, Bonnie Tyler and more, Another single, “Holiday“, was released in the US, peaking at No. 16. The parent album, “Bee Gees 1st” (their first internationally), peaked at No. 7 in the U Sand No. 8 in the UK.

Following the success of that album, the band (which now consisted of Barry on rhythm guitar, Maurice on bass, Vince Melouney on lead guitar and Colin Peterson on drums), began work on the act's second album. Released in late 1967, “Horizontal” repeated the success of their first album, featuring the No. 1 UK single “Massachusetts” (a No. 11 US hit), and the No. 7 UK single “World“. The sound of the album had a more “rock” sound than their previous release. The album reached No. 12 in the US, and No. 16 in the UK promoting the record, the Bee Gees made their first appearances in America, playing live concerts and television shows such as The Ed Sullivan Show and Rowan & Martin’s Laugh In.

By 1969, the cracks began to show within the group. Robin began to feel that Stigwood had been favoring Barry as the front-man. Their next album, which was to have been a concept album called Masterpeace, evolved into the double-album Odessa. Most rock critics felt this was the best Bee Gees album of the '60s, with its progressive rock feel on the title track. Robin quit the group in mid-1969 and launched a solo career. Robin Gibb saw brief success in Europe with the No. 2 hit “Saved By The Bell” and the album Robin’s Reign. Barry and Maurice continued as the Bee Gees, even recruiting their sister Lesley to appear with them on stage.

The three brothers reunited in the later part of 1970 penning a series of songs about heartache and loneliness. During this period they became a four piece band joined again by Australian drummer Geoff Bridgford who after playing on the 2 Years On album and Trafalgar album became the last non-Gibb brother to be a member of the Bee Gees.

By 1973, however, the Bee Gees were in a rut. The album, “Life In A Tin Can” sold poorly with the single peaking at No. 94. This was followed by an unreleased album. A second compilation album, “Best Of The Bee gees Vol. Two” was released in 1973, though it did not repeat the success of volume one.

On the advice of Ahmet Ertegun, head of their US label Atlantic Records, Stigwood arranged for the group to record with famed soul music producer Arif Mardin. The resulting LP, “Mr. Natural“, included fewer ballads and foreshadowed the R&B direction of the rest of their career. But when it too failed to attract much interest, Mardin encouraged them to work with the soul music style.

The brothers attempted to assemble a live stage band that could replicate their studio sound. Lead guitarist Alan Kendall had come on board in 1971, but did not have much to do until “Mr. Batural”. For that album, they added drummer Dennis Bryon, and they later added ex-Strawbs keyboard player Blue Weaver, completing the late 1970s "Bee Gees band". Maurice, who had previously performed on piano, guitar, organ, mellotron, and bass guitar, as well as exotica like mandolin and Moog synthesizer, now confined himself to bass onstage.

From suggestion by Eric Clapton, the brothers relocated to Miami, Florida, early in 1975 to record music. After starting off with ballads, they eventually heeded the urging of Mardin and Stigwood and crafted more rhythmic disco songs, including their second US No. 1, “Jive Talkin“, along with US No. 7 “Nights On Broadway”. The band liked the resulting new sound, and this time the public agreed, sending the LP “Main Course” up the charts. This was the first Bee Gees album to have two US top-10 singles since 1968's “Idea”. “Main Course” also became their first charting R&B album.

Then came the movie, “Saturday Night Fever”. The band's involvement in the film did not begin until post-production. As John Travolta asserted, “The Bee Gees weren't even involved in the movie in the beginning ... I was dancing to Stevie Wonder and Boz Scaggs. Producer Robert Stigwood commissioned the Bee Gees to create the songs for the film. The brothers wrote the songs “virtually in a single weekend” at a France studio. Barry Gibb remembered the reaction when Stigwood and music supervisor Bill Oakes arrived and listened to the demos. “They flipped out and said these will be great. We still had no concept of the movie, except some kind of rough script that they'd brought with them.. You've got to remember, we were fairly dead in the water at that point, 1975, somewhere in that zone, the Bee Gees' sound was basically tired. We needed something new. We hadn't had a hit record in about three years. So we felt, Oh Jeez, that's it. That's our life span, like most groups in the late 60s. So, we had to find something. We didn't know what was going to happen.”

The rest is movie soundtrack history.

Interestingly enough, the Gibbs brothers never wore silk shirts. They only wore the outfits shown on the “Saturday Night Fever” album for the album itself and the video’s. Yet, they will always be thought of as the ones who lit the fire underneath the disco trend, bringing it out into the open like Elvis brought rock and roll.

The Bee Gees have sold in excess of 200 million records worldwide. At one point in 1978, the Gibb brothers were responsible for writing and/or performing nine of the songs in the Billboard Hot 100. In all, the Gibbs placed 13 singles onto the Hot 100 in 1978, with 12 making the Top 40. At least 2,500 artists have recorded their songs. Their most popular composition is “How Deep Is Your Love“, with 400 versions by other artists in existence. The band's music has also been sampled by dozens of hip hop artists.

Source: Wikipedia -

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  1. The Bee Gees will always be one of my favorite groups! I was engaged to all of them as a teenager and they had no idea:-)
    Of course, I was going to marry Starsky and Hutch, too:-D

  2. Their CD "Still Waters" is awesome. Just amazing songwriters.

  3. I listen to the Bee Gees daily, rediscovering their older albums in the 60s and they are just so amazing. I like many of their songs

    1. I'm not surprised. They have written so many songs in their lifetime, many forget how far back the Bee Gees go. While most of the world sees them as simply a "disco" group, their range extends much greater than that. They put together a string of hits during the 60's, 70's, and 80's. They even continued their great writing well into the 90's and into the 2000's. They also wrote many hits for other performers. Yes, they are amazing.


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