Bill Medley Still Having the Time of His Life
"I thought it was going to get easier by age 73...I guess I was wrong!"
Orange County Archives via Flickr L-R: Righteous Brothers Bobby Hatfield and Bill Medley at Knott's Berry Farm, date unknown
Bill Medley is speaking to Rocks Off from the back of a car somewhere on the streets of New York City on the way to a radio interview as part of a whirlwind press tour for two projects.
First for one-half of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-inducted duo the Righteous Brothers is his autobiography, The Time of My Life (Da Capo, 228 pp., $26.99), written with Mike Marino. And then there's a new CD, Your Heart to Mine: Dedicated to the Blues (Fuel 2000), in which one of the originators of "blue-eyed soul" tackles a bevy of blues and soul standards including "Drowned In My Own Tears," "Your Precious Love," "Hold On, I'm Comin'" and "This Magic Moment."
The book title is adapted from "(I've Had) The Time of My Life," the theme song from the film Dirty Dancing, which Medley sung with Jennifer Warnes and hit No. 1 in 1987. It would also win an Oscar, Grammy and Golden Globe Award. The soundtrack record has sold more than 32 million copies to date, but Medley almost missed the boat.
"I was more than shocked that it became such a huge success, especially since I turned down doing that song for three months!" Medley laughs. "My wife was expecting our child at that time, and I didn't want to go to New York from California to record it and miss it. But she had our daughter, and I'd always wanted to work with Jennifer. We didn't think much of the movie or the song, but we were clearly wrong!"
Photos courtesy of Da Capo Books Bill Medley today
Of course, parents of those '80s babies knew a different version of Bill Medley who, with partner Bobby Hatfield, scored many hits including "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'," "Unchained Melody," "Ebb Tide," "(You're My) Soul and Inspiration," "Little Latin Lupe Lu," and "Rock and Roll Heaven" as the Righteous Brothers.
The pair also opened for the Beatles and the Rolling Stones on their early U.S. tours.
With all apologies to the cast of Top Gun, The Brothers' version of "Lovin' Feelin'" is not only perhaps the best example of producer Phil Spector's Wall of Sound, but one of biggest hits of the entire decade.
In fact, the music publishing/royalty/licensing company BMI named it "The Most Played Record in the History of American Radio and Television" for the 20th century. And it ranks No. 34 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Songs.
"I couldn't wrap my head around it when the [BMI honor] came. It just seemed too big," Medley says today.
Things weren't always so big for the duo, though, as Medley and Hatfield -- put together by circumstance -- gigged at small clubs and U.S. military bases in and around the Los Angeles area in the early '60s as part of a larger group, the Paramours.
When the duo split off on their own in 1963, they took their name from the exhortation of black Marines, who would call out "That was righteous!" or "That was righteous, brothers!" after their performances.
The pair split in 1971, reconnected briefly in mid-decade, then came together for good in the early '80s until Hatfield's death in 2003 because of a cocaine-fueled heart attack hours before a show. Medley found the body with a road manager when they had to break into the hotel room, a story he tells in the book.
But one if it's most surprising revelations is that, for all the onstage camaraderie between the gravelly, gutbucket-voiced Medley and the sweeter, high-pitched Hatfield, it didn't spill over into real life.
"Bobby was more aloof," Medley offers. "He didn't let a lot of people close to him. He was funny and very outgoing, but we were two completely different guys thrown together and accidentally became successful.
"He was one of the best singers I ever heard and we got along fine," he adds. "But there was a lack of communication, though we never confronted each other about what was bothering us."
Ironically, Medley says that the last 13 years of their collaboration were the best in how they related to each other.
"We were 22 when we first got together, and then we were 60 year old men with a lot of life lessons. It was a different deal," he explains. "Bobby was in his comfort zone and I was in mine, and it was phenomenal."
Story continues on the next page.