Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Bee Gees

Barry Gibb: The Last Brother
(By Josh Eells, Rolling Stone, 04 July 2014)
A couple of Decembers ago, back before he had any idea he'd be launching his first tour in 15 years, Barry Gibb sat at home in Miami, watching Fox News on his couch. Rep. John Boehner was talking about the fiscal cliff. Gibb was flat on his back in white gym socks, his dog Ploppy at his side.  "Taxes," the former Bee Gee muttered. "I've set aside 40 percent in a tax account since we started. All the money I see is mine." On the floor next to him, an oscillating fan blew back and forth, gently disturbing what was left of his snowy mane. Gibb sighed and changed the channel.  Gibb's wife, Linda, was in the next room, wrapping a mountain of Christmas presents for their five children and seven grandchildren. But Gibb wasn't feeling very festive. In fact, he was depressed. Seven months earlier, his younger brother Robin had died after a long bout with cancer. He was preceded in death by his twin brother, Maurice, as well as their brother Andy and their father, Hugh. "All the men in my family are gone," Gibb said. "The last few months have been pretty intense." Recently, a German TV crew had come to film an interview with him, and the encounter left Gibb shaken. "They were just nasty," he said. "They were holding up pictures of Robin and me, trying to get a reaction. There was no sensitivity about the fact that I'd lost my brothers."
Thirty-five years ago, Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb – better known as the Bee Gees – were the most popular band in the world. Their Saturday Night Fever soundtrack – the ne plus ultra of mainstream disco – knocked Fleetwood Mac's Rumours off the top of the charts and stayed there for six months straight. They've sold more than 200 million records; as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame put it, at the time of their induction in 1997, only Elvis, the Beatles, Garth Brooks, Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney had sold more. They're the only group in history to have written, recorded and produced six consecutive Number One hits. "We weren't on the charts," Maurice once boasted, "we were the charts."  And then, just like that, they weren't. America decided that disco sucked, and the Gibb brothers went from icons to punch lines overnight. Andy passed away, then Maurice. Now that Robin was gone, Barry was the only one left.
Robin and Maurice's birthday was in three days, and Gibb was going through photos from their childhood, picking out some of his favorites. "Our group has always gotten criticism without anybody really knowing us," he said. "I'll respond to every question you ask."  We made plans to meet again in two days. But that night, I got back to my hotel and had a message from Gibb.  I called him and asked if everything was OK. "I'm fine," he said. "But I don't want to continue. I'm just really uncomfortable with having my life opened up right now. I'm still grieving. I'm still dealing with the fact that I've lost all my brothers. It's just horrible for me. It's horrible for me inside.  I like you," Gibb went on, "and I think that you like me. And at some point we can do this. But right now, I'm just too fragile, it's one day at a time." He hesitated, searching for the right words. "I'm just not whole enough," he said. "I pray that you understand." And then he hung up.
What do you think of when you think of the Bee Gees? Saturday Night Fever and "Stayin' Alive" for sure. Bell-bottom suits and falsetto hooks. "Big hair, big teeth, medallions," as Barry once said. Maybe you've seen Jimmy Fallon's Saturday Night Live send-up, "The Barry Gibb Talk Show," or Homer Simpson and Disco Stu dancing by "table five, table five." (The Gibbs to Rolling Stone in 1988 about "Stayin' Alive": "We'd like to dress it up in a white suit and gold chains and set it on fire.") It's possible you have some vague awareness of their vastly underrated early work, like "To Love Somebody," which they wrote for Otis Redding, who died before he could record it, or "Lonely Days," which could be an outtake from Side Two of Abbey Road. Otherwise, they're frozen in 1978, forever pointing to the sky at 120 beats per minute.
Which is a shame, because in reality, the Bee Gees are one of the strangest, most complicated, most brilliant groups ever to achieve pop stardom. They rose from nothing in the backwater of Australia to conquer the music world as teenagers, then lost everything and did it all over again. As songwriters, they're unparalleled: Michael Jackson once called Saturday Night Fever the inspiration for Thriller, and Bono has said their catalog makes him "ill with envy," ranking them "up there with the Beatles."
Ever since their days harmonizing in grade school, the Gibbs wrote almost telepathically, Robin throwing out a lyric, Barry ready with the melody. They once wrote three Number One singles in an afternoon. "We work better as a team," Robin said.  The Gibbs were like legs on a tripod: Take away one, and the others would collapse. This led to a lifetime of love-hate relationships. Often they couldn't stand one another, but they couldn't bear to be apart. Robin and Barry lived in Miami two houses from each other, and Maurice lived just three blocks away. Their success afforded them a fabulous life – mansions, cars, boats, planes – and then, slowly but surely, drove them apart. As Robin once put it, not long before his death, "I sometimes wonder if the tragedies my family has suffered are a karmic price for all the fame and fortune the Bee Gees have had."
To get to Barry Gibb's house, you cross the Julia Tuttle Causeway, a three-and-a-quarter-mile concrete span connecting the Florida mainland to the glitz of Miami Beach. The bridge is lined with girders of reinforced steel, which, when traversed at 55 miles per hour, fill a car's interior with a loping backbeat: chuckity-chuck, ch-chuckity-chuck. Drive a little faster than 55, and the backbeat grows into a funky little groove.  One day in January 1975, Gibb was driving over the bridge heading home from the studio. Things were not going great. The Bee Gees had recently had an album rejected by their label, and they'd been reduced to playing England's dinner-theater circuit. In Atlantic City, they were second-billed to a horse. Their friend Eric Clapton suggested they try Miami, where they could rent his old house at 461 Ocean Boulevard and get a tan while they plotted their comeback. Then one night they heard that groove, wrote a song based on it the next day, and by the end of the summer, "Jive Talkin'" was Number One – the first in an epic run of hits that spanned four years and eight top singles, one of the most successful stretches in pop-music history.
Gibb, 67, lives in an exclusive enclave in North Miami Beach called Millionaire's Row, and his neighbors include Alex Rodriguez, Lil Wayne and some Miami Heat players whose names he can never remember. The place is extravagant, even by Miami standards: Two life-size stone lions guard the front steps, and a full-size basketball court sits out back. In the driveway, there's a big fountain, and parked next to it there's an Escalade.  Inside, Gibb is watching Fox News again, where talk has turned to the missing Malaysian plane. He's as handsome as he ever was – blindingly white teeth, rectilinear jaw, flowing locks, movie-star chin. He looks like an older version of the Burger King king. Gibb's beard is thinning a bit, but it's too late for him to get rid of it now. "The beard pulls all your muscles down," he says, "so it's not so pretty if you shave. Every time I see Brad Pitt with that beard, I think, 'Better cut it before it's too late.'"
Gibb says he didn't know it at the time, but when we first met, he was despondent. "I went on as normal," he says. "But that's not how I felt. I was groping around. I didn't know what to do with myself. When suddenly you're on your own after all those years, you start to question life itself. What's the point in any of it?"  That lasted about a year and a half, until two people snapped him out of it. The first was Linda. "She kicked me off the couch," Gibb says. "She said, 'You can't just sit here and die with everybody else. Get on with your life.'" The second was Paul McCartney. They were talking backstage at SNL, "and I said I wasn't sure how much longer I could keep doing this. And Paul said, 'Well, what else are you going to do?' And I just thought, 'Well, OK, then.'"  So this spring, Gibb is hitting the road across North America for six solo shows, his first tour ever without his brothers. The show costs him half a million dollars a night, so he'll be lucky to break even. But that's not the point. "I have to keep this music alive," Gibb says. "Before my brothers died, I wouldn't have thought of it that way. But that's my job now. It's important that people remember these songs."
When Barry Gibb first came into the world, he was the little brother. His sister Lesley was nearly two when Barry was born, on the Isle of Man, off the west coast of England, where his father was a bandleader and his mother took care of the kids. He almost didn't make it out of childhood: At 18 months, he spilled a teapot and scalded himself so badly the doctors gave him 20 minutes to live. He spent three months in the hospital. Over the next few years, he also fell through a roof, shot himself in the eye with a BB gun and was hit by a car on two occasions. "I was," he says, "just one of those kids that was always getting hit by a car."  The Bee Gees were rounded out a few years later when the twins came along. Three-year-old Barry was unimpressed: Their cat had just given birth to six kittens – what was the big deal with two? Once, when Robin started crying, Barry begged his mother to take him back.
When Barry was eight, the family moved to Manchester, which was still rebuilding from the war. They lived across from bombed-out ruins and ate ketchup sandwiches and stolen candy. For Christmas when Barry was nine, his dad bought him a guitar, and Barry and his brothers started writing songs. Soon thereafter the family moved to Australia, where the boys sang at matinees and RSL clubs (short for Returned Services League – like a VFW hall with drunk Aussies). They dropped out of school when Barry was 15 and the twins were 13, and after a few years of local success decided to make a go of it in the U.K.  The Gibbs arrived in 1967, at the peak of Swinging London: Union Jacks waving in Kensington, Minis and miniskirts everywhere. ("And the miniskirts were really mini," Gibb says. "Not like today – you could see everything.") They signed with Brian Epstein's management company and soon had a couple of hits ("New York Mining Disaster 1941" and "To Love Somebody"). Gibb became a regular on Carnaby Street, dropping £1,500 on shirts like it was Tube fare. He bought a Rolls-Royce, a Bentley and a Lamborghini; one time he walked out his door and realized every car on the street was his. (In his defense, said Linda, "It was a small street.")
And yet for all its success, the group always had trouble earning respect. There's one night Gibb remembers vividly. He was at a nightclub called Speakeasy, surrounded by a who's who of Sixties London: Pete Townshend. Jimi Hendrix. The Beatles and Stones huddled together, John Lennon still wearing his outfit from the Sgt. Pepper photo shoot earlier in the day. After a couple of Scotch-and-Cokes, Townshend turned to Gibb and said, "Do you want to meet John?" He led him across the room to where Lennon was holding court "John, this is Barry Gibb, from the group the Bee Gees" said Townshend.  "Howyadoin'," said Lennon, not bothering to turn around. He reached back over his shoulder and offered Gibb a halfhearted shake.  "So I met John Lennon's back," Gibb says with a laugh. "I didn't meet his front."
At the time, the group's biggest songs were the ones where Robin sang lead, his crystalline vibrato powering moody dirges like "Massachusetts" and "Holiday." But his overbite and goofy smile were no match for Barry's matinee-idol looks. " 'Resentment' may be a strong word," says Gibb, "but not inappropriate." As Barry got more of the attention, their squabbles grew more intense. Finally, in 1969, with the bitterness at a high point, Robin quit the band.  The next few months were a dark time for the Gibbs. Robin put out a solo album that didn't do as well as he'd hoped. Maurice started boozing it up with Richard Burton and Ringo Starr. Barry became a near-recluse, retreating to his flat in London, where he shot BB guns at his chandelier and read TV Guide alone in the dark. Finally, after a year and a half, the brothers declared a detente and decided to reunite. As Robin put it, somewhat presciently, "It's no fun if you're on your own."
By then the Bee Gees had fallen out of the spotlight, where they remained for the next half-decade. "Those five years were hell," Barry once said. "There is nothing worse on Earth than being in the pop wilderness." Then came the chuckity-chuck, and their comeback with "Jive Talkin'." Playing around at a recording session that same year, Barry discovered his million-dollar falsetto, and soon the group was embracing the growing movement called disco. "I think it was probably the Vietnam War that triggered the whole thing," says Barry. "People wanted to dance." 
In the spring of 1977, the Bee Gees spent a cold, miserable month in France's Château d'Hérouville – a.k.a. Elton John's Honky Château – working on their next album, when they got a call from their manager. He was producing a disco movie, and he needed some songs for the soundtrack. The brothers gave him what they had, and the result changed pop-music history.  The Saturday Night Fever soundtrack went on to sell 15 million copies and win a Grammy for Album of the Year. The songs were inescapable: Five of them went to Number One. When their manager needed a song for another movie he was producing, also starring John Travolta, Barry wrote "Grease," which went to Number One as well. Of the 10 biggest songs of 1978, the Gibbs were responsible for fully half.  "Looking back, it was an incredible experience," Barry says. "But it made us all a bit crazy. It got to a point where we couldn't breathe. I remember death threats. Crazy fans driving past the house, playing 'Stayin' Alive' at 120 decibels. I really like privacy. I'm just not that good with whatever fame is."
For their next album, the Bee Gees mounted a 41-date tour. "We did three nights at Madison Square Garden, and one of those nights we never went to bed," Gibb says. "To this day, I can't figure out how we did it. Youth, I guess." (And possibly drugs. The Gibbs had always been fond of substances: Barry smoked grass, Robin liked pills and Maurice drank. For the most part, they stayed away from harder stuff. "I did a week of cocaine in 1980-something," says Gibb. "But the trouble with cocaine . . ." – he laughs – "is cocaine! You've got to do it every half hour. It's too much work. Amphetamines last four to six hours. And in those days," he says with a grin, "there were some great amphetamines.") 
At that point Barry was the undisputed star of the group. He'd always been the leader: As Beatles producer George Martin once put it, "Everybody knows that Barry is the idea man of the three, and when he is too overt about that, they tend to rebel." Now, thanks to Barry's falsetto, he was singing everything too, and old jealousies started to rear up. Barry didn't want a repeat of 1969, so he decided to step back and sing fewer leads. His falsetto fell by the wayside. The thing that made them massive, the thing everyone wanted to hear, he gave up for the sake of the family.  "The best time in our lives was the time right before fame," says Gibb. "We could not have been tighter. We were glued together. The following year is where excesses started coming in. Drink, pills. The scene, egos." That's when the competition began – and with it came the separation.  "It was 45 years, so there were times we had the times of our lives," he says. "But it was never as sweet and innocent as it was in 1966."
Gibb needs to stand up for a bit. "Oh, my joints," he says, stretching his back. "Everything hurts today." He twists one way, then the other: "Movement is important." Then he takes a step. "Ah, fuck."  These days Gibb wakes up late, usually because he was up late watching Netflix. He rolls out of bed around 11, sings for a while to make sure his voice is still there. (Yesterday it was "Blame It on the Bossa Nova.") He takes breakfast and reads for a bit – currently The Sixth Extinction, by environmental journalist Elizabeth Kolbert – and then heads to the living room to read a little more. He likes end-of-the-world stuff and quasi-science – the Bermuda Triangle, Ancient Aliens, anything about the apocalypse. "All the things that people laugh about, I believe in," he says. "It's much more fun than being skeptical."  After lunch, Gibb goes back to the living room, where he'll fiddle with one of his four dozen guitars, or else to the library, to peruse his collection of first editions. He got an iPad for Christmas, but has hardly used it: "To me, it's just a big clock." He doesn't have e-mail or a cellphone, but occasionally he'll send his lawyer a fax.
A few years ago, Gibb might have passed the afternoon at a shooting range, but he stopped going when it affected his hearing. He still has 25 or 30 guns in a cupboard upstairs. He doesn't take them out much – he learned that lesson the hard way when he was arrested in London in 1968 after chasing a stalker from his front door with an unlicensed .38. (He was fined £25 and released: "Besides possessing two pistols," declared the judge, "about the only thing I can see Mr. Gibb has done wrong is wear a white suit to court.")  All in all, it's a pretty quiet retirement. Every once in a while, a fan might turn up at his gate, and if Gibb's not too busy, he'll go out and say hello. He enjoys talking to fans. "It does your heart good," he says. "Makes you realize not everybody hated it."
After the disco backlash of 1979, the Bee Gees' career imploded. The Gibbs turned their attention to songwriting, penning albums for Diana Ross and Barbra Streisand. The brothers also wrote and produced "Islands in the Stream," the seminal duet between Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. "In the long run it gave us credibility," Gibb says of songwriting. "That's what we loved doing: writing a song that people liked and that would be remembered."  Gibb was always driven by an almost childlike pursuit of approval. "It became trendy to laugh at us," he says. "When you're the center of attention, and suddenly people don't want you to be anymore . . ." He trails off. "But it hasn't left a deep scar. Hills and valleys."
Now in his twilight years, Gibb is surrounded by ghosts. Not literally, although he did have some encounters in England a few years back. More figuratively, in the dozens of photos that cover his walls. Most of them are of family. But others are of departed friends, like Michael Jackson, who was godfather to one of Gibb's sons.  "He would come to Miami and stay in our house," says Gibb. "He'd sit in the kitchen and watch the fans outside his hotel on TV, just giggling – 'Hee hee!'" He lived upstairs for a while, right before his child-molestation trial. "We never discussed the case," says Gibb. "We would just sit around and write and get drunk. Michael liked wine – there were a few nights when he just went to sleep on the floor." Gibb nods to a spot on the rug a few feet away. "I look at that floor, I remember that."
But the biggest ghost Gibb lives with is the one of his own past. "I still think of myself as a teenager," he says. "I keep my bathroom mirror dark, so I can imagine myself as a kid and not see myself as I am now. It helps."  One night, Linda makes dinner at home: pork roast, mashed potatoes and traditional Scottish crackling. "Thank you, love," Gibb coos as she brings him a mug of warm sake. (It's the only thing he drinks: "As strong as scotch, and no hangovers.") Linda, a bewitching brunette, has the deep tan and physique you'd expect from a former beauty queen who's lived in Miami for 37 years. A Bee Gees children's book from 1983 portrayed Gibb as a cartoon lion and her as a sexy panther, which seems about right.  They met on Top of the Pops in 1967. Linda was 17, the reigning Miss Edinburgh, and Barry, 21, had the Number One song in the country. "Our eyes met across the studio, and that was it," he says. He asked her to coffee in the BBC canteen, and they had their first intimate encounter that afternoon in the Dr. Who phone booth. (Gibb: "Time was of the essence!") They got married on September 1st – Barry's birthday, so he wouldn't forget. "I'd had my fun," he says. "I wanted to have a family." They've been married 44 years, and they still flirt like teenagers. "We've both been tempted," Gibb says. "She was – she is – a beautiful girl, and because of the Seventies for me there was always someone trying it on. We've both enjoyed the attention, but we've never taken it seriously."
Linda is about to bring out dessert when she brings up Andy, the Gibbs' baby brother. "Poor Andy," she says.  "Oh," says Barry, looking pained. "Let's not talk about that."  Andy was the first brother that Gibb lost, and it's still the one that hurts the most. "We were like twins," Gibb says. "The same voice, the same interests, the same birthmark." Barry gave Andy his first guitar, for his 12th birthday. When Andy grew up, he wanted to be just like Barry.  Andy had a handful of hits in the late Seventies, almost all written by Barry. But he developed an addiction to cocaine and Quaaludes. He eventually cleaned up, but the damage was done. He died in 1988, from inflammation of the heart compounded by years of drug abuse, five days after his 30th birthday. Barry was devastated. "It was the saddest moment of my life," he said at the time. Even now, he feels guilty for pushing Andy toward showbiz. "He would have been better off finding something else," Gibb says. "He was a sweet person. We lost him too young."
Maurice was the next to pass, in 2003. He'd had problems with alcohol – in the late Seventies, he used to have to run his hand along the wall just to make it to the stage. He got clean in the Nineties, but he died of a heart attack at age 53, no doubt exacerbated by a lifetime of drinking.  "With Andy, we could see it coming," says Gibb. "But Maurice was a shock." At first Barry and Robin said they would continue as the Bee Gees, but soon reversed course: "It wasn't the same. We didn't want to be the Bee Gees without Mo."  The only two left were the two who'd never gotten along. Robin and Barry tried to organize a tribute concert for Maurice, but they couldn't even agree on that. "The distance between us became more and more dramatic," Gibb says. "There were times when we didn't talk for a year."
In February 2012, Gibb played his first-ever solo show. "God bless you," he told the fans. "And say a little prayer for Rob." At the time Robin was undergoing chemotherapy. Barry went to visit him in London, where Robin told him he loved him. Six weeks after that, he was gone.  Gibb says that, when it comes to his brothers, "my only regret is that we weren't great pals at the end. There was always an argument in some form. Andy left to go to L.A. because he wanted to make it on his own. Maurice was gone in two days, and we weren't getting on very well. Robin and I functioned musically, but we never functioned in any other way. We were brothers, but we weren't really friends.  "There were too many bad times and not enough good times," he says finally. "A few more good times would have been wonderful."
The first time he lost his brothers – back in 1969 – Gibb didn't perform in public for a year and a half. Now that he's getting back on the road, he's taking his family with him. His son Stephen plays guitar in his band, and Maurice's daughter, Samantha, is a featured singer. Gibb still plays Bee Gees songs, although he won't sing any that Robin sang, out of respect. And he wants to record a new album soon. He keeps a tape recorder on his night stand in case an idea comes to him in the middle of the night. "I've got bits of paper with songs all over the house," Gibb says. "They just sit and wink at me every time I go by." 
Gibb thinks about death a lot. "But I don't have any fear of it," he says, "like I might've if I'd never lost a brother." He knows his performing days are numbered: "I will not end up in a casino somewhere – I can't do that."  When his time comes, all he asks is that it's "fucking quick. A heart attack onstage would be ideal," he says, laughing. "Right in the middle of 'Stayin' Alive.'" He can tell the time is getting closer. "I have a bucket list now," he says. "I didn't used to have a bucket list." He'd like to have one more hit – "Who wouldn't?" And he'd like to see the inside of a nuclear submarine. "I'm not sure why," he says. "You can still have little dreams."  Gibb isn't sure what he thinks about an afterlife. "When people say, 'Your brothers are looking down on you and smiling,'" he says, "I don't know if that's true. But maybe, if there's any truth to that stuff, one day I'll bump into my brothers again. And they'll say, 'What kept you?'"
10 Questions With Barry Gibb
(By Belinda Luscombe, Time, May 8, 2014)
Why did you decide to tour again at 67?
Once I’d lost all my brothers, I just sat around for a long time. You never get past that, that’s what you learn. My wife just said, “Do something. Get out of the house. Get on the stage again.” She drove me to it.
The Mythology Tour features Maurice’s daughter and your son Stephen. Are you trying to re-create a touring family?
It’s instinctive. We all want to play together. It’s a treat to have Steve standing next to me and Sammy singing.
Do you miss your brothers more onstage or in daily life?
Both. I can be onstage and still imagine that they’re standing there, especially when we used to be around one microphone. I still feel that intensely, but I also feel it in real life. Robin and I became estranged about 10 years ago, and about five years ago he and I started to move toward each other again. Neither of us could really come to terms with Mo’s sudden death, or losing Andy when he was only 30. We were very close the three months before he passed.
Is it easier to be in a family band or for four strangers to get on?
When you’re blood, the rivalry is pretty intense. Everybody wants to be the favorite child.
Brian Wilson said that when songwriters run out of things to say, they won’t have any more songs. Have you still got things to say?
I still feel the urge to prove that I write songs. It doesn’t go away. I think there’s something about a song which will literally make you cry. Bluegrass music does that to me. I can’t watch Carousel without crying. I can’t watch South Pacific without crying.
You’re kind of sappy, as it turns out.
I’m really sappy. The Notebook–I sat with a towel on my knee.
Do you miss your former Justin Bieber level of fame?
No, no. Not having any privacy controls the way you think, and I don’t ever want to be like that again. What he’s experiencing now, it’s really like being lost. When Andy was around that age, he had a pet tiger. Well, there’s Justin with a pet monkey. I see the signs of someone who doesn’t know how to deal with it all. I hope he grows into the role, because this is not a good idea for young girls–it really isn’t–to [see him] behave like that. He’s probably very strong. But he may be surrounded by people who are not very strong.
How would you advise him?
Get a grip. Give it everything you’ve got, but be grownup about it.
Who would you go out to see on tour?
Bruce Springsteen. Paul McCartney. I would have liked to have seen the Beatles live. Justin [Timberlake] I think is fantastic. And Michael [Jackson], of course. Michael is eternal.
What happened to the song you recorded with Michael Jackson in 2002?
I wasn’t able to release it. I was only allowed to put it on my website. I suppose it never really was perfected. Michael was a little dazed from the [child molestation] court case. I don’t think he really recovered from any of that. He hung out a lot at my house, and I think he hung out at a lot of other people’s houses–anything to get away from his own environment. I feel bad for his kids. I think he was a great father–I did notice that.
I saw that you were on SNL‘s The Barry Gibb Talk Show.
Jimmy Fallon’s probably the most gifted man I’ve ever seen on TV. It’s like talking to yourself. But I promise you, I never shout that loud. I can’t do it. I want Jimmy to send me the wig.
Do you get jokers who come up to you and say, “Hey Barry, how deep is your love?”
I get people who come up to me and say, “Get out of the way.”
Barry Gibb, Sole Remaining Bee Gee, Rocks Wells Fargo With Brotherly Love
(By Wesley Stace, The Inquirer, 22 May 2014)
'The City of Brotherly Love!" Barry Gibb announced Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center: "I know all about that!"  The "Mythology Tour" is his first since the 2012 death of brother Robin.  Barry, the oldest, is now the sole surviving Bee Gee.  It's apparently easy to make fun of the Notorious BG - many people do. But jokes at the expense of his once-elegant coiffure, satin tour jacket, and flaring temper obscure a point so obvious it is rarely made: Gibb is the greatest songwriter of the modern pop era, adept in almost any genre, among its ablest chroniclers of the extremes of romance.
Freed of the constraints placed on him by a new album (the promotion of which so often capsizes a show by a living legend), pop's finest countertenor, his staccato falsetto in tip-top shape, guided the audience on a generous 2 1/4-hour trip through a catalog so vast and varied that the perfectly pitched 31-song set list could satisfy not only those who attended just to hear songs from "the Fever period," as Gibb tellingly referred to the mid-'70s, but purists, too.
The eight-piece band - three electric guitars, two keyboards (all those string and horn parts to cover, let alone Maurice's synths!) - offered taut, sinewy arrangements. The potential problem was that the Bee Gees were all about harmonies. Would Barry's now be a lost, lonely voice in the wilderness? The solution, elegance itself, was to keep it in the family: Maurice's daughter, Sami, and Barry's son, Steve (who also played lead guitar). Remaining harmonies were shared among three backing singers, one of whom, Beth Cohen, stepped in for both Barbra Streisand (on "Guilty" with "Woman in Love") and Dolly Parton (on "Islands in the Stream"). In one instance, Robin Gibb himself popped up on a video screen and assumed the vocals on "I Started a Joke," a rare example of this kind of haunting done well.
The tour's subtitle is "In Honor of His Brothers and a Lifetime in Music," and Gibb didn't spare us the hits he wrote for others, including Parton, Diana Ross, Celine Dion, and his own brother Andy, who died in 1988. He even played Bruce Springsteen's "I'm on Fire," repaying the Boss (whom he mentioned he had never met) for recent live versions of "Staying Alive."  The stage banter was charming, occasionally very moving, and included the brilliantly casual "Here's one!" before the 1989 hit "One," itself a stupendous rewrite of "Jive Talkin'." The audience stood for the Saturday Night Fever songs and sat for the rest. Your 48-year-old reviewer was delighted to lower the average age considerably.
It's safe to say that someone who calls his tour the "Mythology Tour," who finishes the main set with "Immortality," and then triumphantly sends the audience home with "Tragedy," is comfortable with his status as a legend. This is as it should be, and the show reminded me of Leonard Cohen's: These are men with nothing to prove. The only thing that has eluded Barry Gibb is the serious critical acclaim so rarely granted pop acts of the Bee Gees' magnitude. That should change.
Barry Gibb: A Broken Heart Mended At The Hollywood Bowl
(Mikael Wood, L.A. Times, 2014)
Does anyone wear his legend status as lightly as Barry Gibb?  On Wednesday night, the Bee Gees frontman hit the Hollywood Bowl for the final stop of his Mythology Tour, a brief run of solo concerts designed to showcase the breadth (and depth) of the music he made with his late brothers, Robin and Maurice.  But if the succession of undeniable songs demonstrated Gibb’s huge effect on pop -- we’re talking “To Love Somebody,” “How Deep Is Your Love” and, of course, the immortal “Stayin’ Alive” here -- he wasn’t making a big deal about it.  “The last of six,” he said by way of introduction, referring with an easy chuckle to the number of his U.S. tour dates. “Then I go watch television.”  The lightness of Gibb’s manner was especially remarkable given the heavy toll evidently taken by his brothers’ deaths. (Maurice died in 2003, Robin in 2012; a third brother, Andy, died in 1988.)  “When suddenly you’re on your own after all those years,” he said in a recent Rolling Stone profile, “you start to question life itself. What’s the point in any of it?”
Memories of his siblings coursed through the 2½-hour show in the form of photographs and videos; Robin appeared on a large screen above the stage to sing “I Started a Joke.” Other Gibb family members took part, as well, including Maurice’s daughter Samantha, who harmonized with Barry in “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” and Barry’s son Stephen, who played guitar in the 11-piece band.  Gibb even admitted that his daughter Ali was on the road operating his teleprompter.  Rather than weigh him down, though, these reminders seemed to buoy Gibb, an infrequent performer these days. They added to the sense that Wednesday’s show was more or less an extended jam session that might’ve broken out anywhere.  Nor was he slowed by the freight the Bee Gees’ music has taken on since the trio’s disco-era heyday -- the caricaturization of their hairstyles and clothing and the knee-jerk associations with show-business excess.  At the Bowl, “Jive Talkin’ ” and “Night Fever” sounded as lithe and as effervescent as ever with Gibb’s aerated falsetto skipping over grooves that still suggest a kind of perpetual motion. Even “Stayin’ Alive,” with four guitarists urging the music ever forward, felt unburdened by history.
Perhaps that’s because so much current pop looks back to what the Bee Gees were doing in the late 1970s. Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” Pharrell’s “Happy,” “Take Back the Night” by Justin Timberlake (who has portrayed Robin Gibb in a recurring sketch on “Saturday Night Live”) -- even now these songs run a serious Saturday night fever.  Here again, though, Barry Gibb wasn’t seizing an opportunity in the manner of a more calculating veteran. He hardly seemed driven by the desire to reach new listeners, which is probably why he spent a sizable portion of his set on lesser-known songs such as the gently psychedelic “Spicks and Specks,” one of the Bee Gees’ earliest singles. (He also did hits from the group’s pre-disco period including “I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You” and “To Love Somebody.”)
The show had its saggy moments. An overblown rendition of “Guilty,” Gibb’s supple 1980 duet with Barbra Streisand, sacrificed the record’s pillow-talk delicacy. And though it clearly meant a great deal to Gibb, Robin’s video appearance actually felt slightly ghoulish.  But right when you’d expect him to bog down -- in a cover of “I’m on Fire” by Bruce Springsteen, who Gibb said had done “Stayin’ Alive” at a recent tour stop in Australia -- he maintained the sense of weightlessness that distinguished Wednesday’s performance.  Restraining his voice to a breathy flicker as his band murmured behind him, Gibb sang more quietly than he had sung anything else all night, barely touching the melody, as though he were frightened of its intensity or what it might evoke.  It was beautiful and spooky and just the slightest bit sad -- amazing, really. And it was over before you knew it.
Barry Gibb Brings Solo Tour To Bay Area
(By Jim Harrington, San Jose Mercury News, 26 May 2014)
Barry Gibb was riding in his car with his daughter Ali when a familiar tune came on the radio.  It was "Night Fever," the disco classic that Gibb's Bee Gees recorded for 1977's "Saturday Night Fever" soundtrack. So Ali decided to share the groove with people on the street.  "She turned it up and opened up the window," Barry Gibb recalls during a recent phone interview. "And people started dancing."  It was not the first time he had witnessed such a reaction to one of his classic cuts. Indeed, it happens all the time. "Every time one of those ('Saturday Night Fever') songs gets played in a restaurant, the whole atmosphere changes," he says. "Somehow, everyone seems to be able to go back 37 years.  "And it is a shock. But those are instances that show you it's OK -- this music will stay, people will listen to it, no matter what."
People will also get a chance to hear the music performed live, as Gibb makes a long-awaited solo tour of North America. The British-born, Australian-reared musician, who has lived in the U.S. for the past 30 years, performs Saturday at the Concord Pavilion.  Although Gibb played some dates in Australia and England last year, he's not well known as a solo artist; he's known for his work with his brothers. Yet, the other two Bee Gees are now gone -- Maurice died in 2003 and Robin in 2012. Barry Gibb's other famous sibling -- successful solo artist Andy Gibb -- was just 30 when he died in 1988.  "It's really the next page, I suppose," Gibb says of his solo career. "We were glued together all of our lives, the three of us -- the four of us, rather. Not having any of my brothers, I just have to pull myself together. And I did that in Australia. And I did that in England. And I enjoyed it.  "Instant gratification is something that drives me now -- not spending months in the studio so much as being in front of an audience and having that friendship."
Even so, the touring life is still a family affair for Gibb. His band includes his eldest son, vocalist-guitarist Stephen, as well as vocalist Samantha Gibb, who is the daughter of Maurice Gibb. He says that music is definitely still in the Gibb family's blood. He also says that his voice feels great.  "At this point in life, I never thought it would feel this good, but it does," says the 67-year-old singer. "Time hasn't really taken any of the power away. My lungs are great. My throat is great. I don't really see any differences right now.  "I mean, in-ear monitors, at this point in life, are more important to me than speakers. But that's the nature of what happens to your ears, what happens to everything, as you get a little older. But I'm cooking." 
The road show goes by the somewhat weighty title Mythology: The Tour Live. What kind of mythology surrounds Barry Gibb?  "That's a good question," says Gibb. "I think there are a lot of truths and untruths about us as brothers and as a group. Somewhere along the way ... I'll be able to clear a little bit of the dust. We were doing it 45 years -- so there is a lot for me to look at. But, you know what? I don't want to waffle too much. I want to play."  Yet, Gibb's not willing to provide details on what he plans to play in concert. He's not a big fan of set lists posted on the Internet.  "Everyone knows what I do," he says. "I don't want to tell everybody what I am going to perform -- it's sort of the curiosity factor. If I go to a concert, I don't want to know what is going to happen. I'm pretty much changing my set list every leg of this tour. You have to take a lesson from Mr. Springsteen ... where every show doesn't have to be the same, and you vary as much as you can each time you go onstage."
Gibb definitely has options, from a robust career. The Bee Gees formed in 1958, rose to fame in the '60s and became one of the world's biggest acts in the '70s, performing everything from pop and R&B to country and rock, selling more than 200 million records and earning a spot in the Rock and Rock Hall of Fame.  Gibb also had an amazing career outside of the Bee Gees. His songs have been recorded by Elvis Presley, Barry Manilow, Tina Turner, Al Green and Janis Joplin. The peak of success came in the late '70s, when the Bee Gees pulled off the amazing feat of releasing six straight No. 1 hits: "How Deep Is Your Love," "Stayin' Alive," "Night Fever," "Too Much Heaven," "Tragedy" and "Love You Inside Out." "We never imagined we would have that kind of success," Gibb reflects. "It was beyond our imagination to have six No. 1's in a row. It was just ridiculous. Yeah, we enjoyed it. It was like being on a magic carpet, being on a cloud."
Barry Gibb: 'I Want To Keep The Music Alive'
(By Alexis Petridis, The Guardian, 18 July 2013)
Barry Gibb is the last surviving Bee Gee – and he's given up retirement to go back on tour. He talks about the backlash to Saturday Night Fever, his troubled relationships with his brothers and how drugs helped shape their distinctive sound.

In 1979, the Bees Gees authorised an illustrated biography. It was called The Greatest, which was both slightly immodest and a pretty accurate representation of their commercial standing. In the preceding four years, they had had eight US No 1 singles; helmed the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack – at the time, the biggest-selling soundtrack album in history – and written a succession of global hits for other artists: Samantha Sang's Emotion, Tavares's More Than a Woman, Yvonne Elliman's If I Can't Have You, Frankie Valli's Grease, not to mention three No 1s for younger brother Andy Gibb. Perhaps unexpectedly, and in evidence of a self-mocking sense of humour they would later be accused of lacking when they came into contact with irreverent interviewers, the illustrations in the biography depicted the Gibb brothers as cartoon animals. Robin was a red setter, while Maurice was a badger. Barry, the eldest and most hirsute of the three, was a lion.
As he walks into the lobby of a London hotel 34 years later, Barry Gibb still looks suitably leonine. His hair is grey and thinning at the front, but, at 67, he would still definitely be described as a man in possession of a mane: he's also in possession of a pair of sunglasses that no one except an enormously rich and successful rock star would wear indoors. Everything else, however, has changed. The Bee Gees no longer exist, because all his brothers have died: Andy – who Barry had suggested join the band after his solo career began to fade – died in 1988, aged 30, after years of drink and drug addiction; Maurice in 2003 of a heart attack; and Robin last year from colorectal cancer, an illness Barry claims Robin tried to hide from him. "Nobody was telling me anything, so I showed a picture of Robin in the papers to my doctor, because he didn't look well. My doctor said: 'Go and see him, he's got maybe six months.' I thought, Jesus. That's all my brothers."

Barry currently finds himself in the middle of a world tour and discussing the possibility of a new solo album, his first since 2005's Guilty Too (a follow-up to his and Barbra Streisand's 12m-selling 1980 album Guilty). He is, he concedes, remarkably busy for a man who decided to retire a year ago. "I thought, That's enough now. My bones were creaking, my knees were hurting and with everything that had happened, I thought, maybe it's just time to be Grandad and not worry about it any more. But music has to be played and I wanted to keep the music alive."
He was, he says, shattered not merely by Robin's death, but the nagging thought that he wasn't on particularly close terms with any of his brothers when they died: "That's the one biggest regret, that we didn't speak, we weren't really speaking very much to each other. We weren't being intimate in those last days of each of their lives."  He and Robin, in particular, had always had a fractious relationship. After Maurice died, they made vague plans to work together – they appeared at a couple of gigs and on Strictly Come Dancing – but the plans never really came to anything. "Robin would ring me up and say: 'We've got to do this tribute to Queen show' or whatever, we've got to do this and that and I could tell by talking to him that it wasn't him that had had the idea we should do this. I knew it was someone else, because I know Robin better than anyone else does. I knew he wasn't up to it. I'd noticed that when he was doing live shows, he'd started lowering all the keys he sang in, so that was another sign for me: there's something wrong, Rob, even if you're not telling me what it is." He sighs. "I just wanted to say to him: 'Why can't we let the Bee Gees … why can't we sit down and enjoy what's happened? Why can't the dream have come true? Why do we still have to chase this dream when it's really come true?' But him and Mo, they were just too restless."

The Bee Gees' total record sales are estimated at 220m. It seems odd that anybody that successful could feel that their dreams hadn't come true, but in his last years, Robin certainly gave that impression: storming out of an appearance on, of all things, Radio 4's Front Row; complaining at length in touchy interviews about the lack of respect afforded him and his brothers. The issue was, fairly obviously, the glaring disparity between the Bee Gees' commercial success and their critical standing. The music they made for themselves and others seems utterly indelible: as if to prove the point, a few days before I meet Gibb, Kenny Rogers's performance of his 1983 Bee Gees-penned hit Islands in the Stream goes down such a storm at Glastonbury that he has to sing it twice. But there's still a tendency to regard the Bee Gees with a certain knowing smirk, to view them as a joke or an embarrassing guilty pleasure. You could see how this would begin to wear on your nerves over time: 220m records sold and people are still less inclined to discuss your music than they were to snigger about the size of your teeth and how you dressed in the mid-70s.

Perhaps if you had come up with the songs the Bee Gees came up with for the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack – the dizzying perfection of Stayin' Alive, the gorgeous elision of lyrical misery and musical elation that is If I Can't Have You – sold 40m copies of the resulting soundtrack and then spent the next 20 years being called upon to defend yourself, as if you had done something terribly wrong instead of releasing an era-defining, hugely successful album packed with consummate pop songwriting, then probably you would get a bit chippy too.  "I've got to a point in life where you've got to be philosophical about everything," says Barry, who, in fairness, has given every impression of being a bit chippy about the Bee Gees' reputation in the past: it was him that led the group's infamous mid-interview departure from Clive Anderson's chatshow in 1996. "So I don't care. It doesn't matter. What matters is that you love the songs you did, you love them yourself."
Really? Because, if I were him, I think I'd be bloody furious.  "Well," he says, "there's part of me, a little part of me that goes: Jesus, man, you fucking write something like that, I'll sit back and listen. But the greater part of me is … I just don't care any more. I don't feel I've got to say: 'Dammit, this was good.' People are entitled to their opinion."   The popular view is that Saturday Night Fever's vast success did nothing for the Bee Gees' credibility: you just can't be that popular and remain cool. But the truth is the Bee Gees were never really cool as such, possibly because, from the moment in 1966 when they arrived back in Britain from Australia (where their family had emigrated in 1958 at the suggestion of a Manchester policeman, who feared that 12-year-old Barry's arrest for shoplifting and Robin's burgeoning interest in arson were merely the opening acts of a lengthy criminal career), they were simply too weird to be cool.

They had served a weird musical apprenticeship in Australia, three adolescent brothers singing in hotels and Returned Servicemen's Clubs between dog acts and jugglers: "We saw things. People sitting at tables having fights without standing up. We'd be singing and water would be pouring in through the galvanised steel roof. It was like Crocodile Dundee."  They sounded weird, particularly Robin: he sang in a bizarre, strangulated quaver that gave the disconcerting impression he was about to burst into tears. And their songwriting was weird. Despite this, while still in their teens, they were writing modern-day standards, big ballads that got covered by everyone from Elvis Presley to Al Green: “To Love Somebody” alone has been covered by such a vast and peculiar array of artists the list seems faintly comical. It's probably the only song in history to have found its way into the oeuvres of both Ronan Keating and Joe Strummer, via Tom Jones, Nina Simone, Janis Joplin, Gram Parsons, Lee "Scratch" Perry and Dusty Springfield.

On the other, however, their first three albums are packed with majestically skewed baroque pop songs that didn't really fit with the prevalent trend for psychedelia, but did sound like the products of off-kilter imaginations being allowed to run riot: Lemons Never Forget, I Have Decided to Join the Airforce, The Earnest of Being George. Listening to the latter, you might have come to the conclusion that the Bee Gees were enthusiastic consumers of acid, but Barry says not, or at least not exactly: "We never saw LSD, heroin, any of those things. Discovered grass, though.  Fantastic. I loved it. It opened up your mind. Magic mushrooms will do that too. But you go through magic mushrooms. You don't do them all the time. It opens your brain up and I know what I need to know now. So that didn't become a habit; it was experience. There were plenty of amphetamines around, Dexedrine and things like that, which all three of us loved, although I think Maurice was more inclined towards a scotch. When he married Lulu, he got to drink with Peter O'Toole and Richard Burton and all these people that she knew. His world opened up completely; he was forever the extrovert."

Despite their success, by the time of 1969's Odessa, a double album on which their unique vision of pop music reached ever-more rococo heights, the tensions between Barry and Robin had reached "critical mass" and the band broke up. "There was this deep, emotional competition between three brothers that had found themselves to be famous and didn't understand it. The Dexedrine and the various habits, we'd all met the women we were going to marry, our personal lives had become very, very different. At that point, Robin was fairly uncontrollable. I can't get into any detail, but uncontrollable. Maurice was already at the bad end of drinking. The fighting got worse and worse. Robin and I were arguing through the press. You can only look back on it right now and go, wow, we were so naive."
The brothers reformed a year later, although without much enthusiasm – their manager Robert Stigwood wanted to float his company on the stock market and thought its value would be inflated if the Gibbs were working together again – and limped through the early 70s before moving to Miami at Eric Clapton's suggestion: they rented 461 Ocean Boulevard, the house after which the guitarist had named his 1974 album. For all his apparent equanimity about the band's critical reputation, Barry clearly has a complicated relationship with the songs that made them more famous than ever: when I mention Stayin' Alive, he brings up the advertising campaign that suggested singing the song while administering CPR to keep the correct rhythm and mutters: "Something good comes out of everything."

The backlash after Saturday Night Fever was almost as dramatic as its success. "None of us really knew how to deal with it – wow, this is so unfair, all of those emotions. Having an ego was out of the window. Christ, if everyone else was calling you crap, how could you think of yourself as any good? It was devastating. But my son had just been born, I had so many things to fall back on. OK, if everyone's going to tear us apart, then I'll focus inward on my family."  That said, if the backlash temporarily stalled the Bee Gees' own career, it had no impact whatsoever on their ability to write hits, albeit for other people: Barbra Streisand, Kenny Rodgers and Dolly Parton, Dionne Warwick's Heartbreaker, Diana Ross's Chain Reaction (he says he has "never even heard" Take That's Back For Good, a song that a longstanding industry rumour insisted he was secretly responsible for). "Well, you're always throwing shit at the wall," he shrugs. "That's your mentality. You just write a bunch of songs and hope that people like them."
He says he thinks he's going to start making records again. He's enjoying being on tour: being a solo artist never really appealed to him. "I just didn't enjoy it, because of my brothers, because I loved being with them, we were a unit, we were glued together." But now he doesn't really have a choice. "I'm the happiest I've ever been in my life," he says, a little unexpectedly. "I've got seven grandchildren. I get to re-live watching Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. I spend a lot of hours being happy about what happened to us, because it may never have happened, any of those hits. We could still have been playing clubs in Queensland. So I've always managed to feel, somehow, that we ought to appreciate what's happened. The dream came true," he smiles. "And it's OK."

Bee Gee Barry Gibb Returns To His Old School For Class Act
(By Jan Disley, The Express, October 2, 2013)

The 67-year-old star sat on the steps of the semi-detached house where he spent hours perfecting harmonies with Maurice and Robin in the 1950s.  He also went back to the junior school where all three boys were pupils – and found his old desk.  Barry returned to his childhood haunts in Chorlton, Manchester, for the first time since the death 18 months ago of his last brother Robin, 62. 

He visited Keppel Road – his final address before his family emigrated to Australia when he was 12. And he showed his own family around the house where it all began more than 50 years ago.  “This is exactly where it all started,” said Barry, who bought the house as a rental property in 2003.  “Our first band was formed in this room and I used to make fake guitars in the cellar. For me it was all about pretending to be a pop artist.  I said I wanted to be a pop star and Maurice and Robin said ‘we want to be pop stars too’ – but they were like six years old!”
With his wife Linda and three of his grandchildren in tow Barry visited his old school, Oswald Road Primary.  He delighted one pupil who asked if he used to have school dinners by revealing that he took a packed lunch of “sugar or tomato ketchup sandwiches”.  At a special assembly Barry was serenaded by pupils who sang and danced to Tragedy and two other Bee Gees hits.  “Our first band was formed in this room and I used to make fake guitars in the cellar. For me it was all about pretending to be a pop artist.”
The Bee Gees were one of the most successful bands in pop history [GETTY]

Caleb Bell, eight, explained how head teacher Deborah Howard told the star “we were all going to sing songs and he might recognise them. So my class started singing Massachusetts and Barry sang along too. Then my sister’s class started singing How Deep Is Your Love.”  The Bee Gees had their first hit in 1967 and went on to be one of the most successful bands in pop history.  Barry’s brother Maurice died from a heart attack in 2003 at the age of 53.  Their younger brother Andy died in 1988 aged just 30, from heart failure.  Barry’s Mythology tour, which is billed as a “salute to his brothers”, draws to a close at London’s O2 Arena tomorrow.

Bee Gees First Promoter Tells About Band's Early Days In Australia
(By Cathy Van Extel, ABC’s Radio National, 13 February 2013)

The Brisbane man who discovered and helped name the Bee Gees will today be reunited with the sole surviving band member after more than 50 years. Barry Gibb will return to where it all started for him and his twin brothers in the late 1950s as young boys trying to support their family and break into the music industry. The acclaimed singerwho's currently on tour in Australiawill visit Redcliffe, north of Brisbane, to officially unveil a statue of the Bee Gees and a commemorative walkway. Among the guests will be 82-year-old Bill Goode, who ran the Redcliffe Speedway and gave the Gibb brothers their first opportunity to perform before a crowd, in 1959. Bill Goode told RN Breakfast's Queensland reporter, Cathy Van Extel, he was so impressed with their singing, he visited the boys at their Redcliffe home the following day.
'On the night the Bee Gees, who weren’t the Bee Gees then, were first heard by a public audience, I was running the speedway at Redcliffe and one of the drivers came to me and said there were three young kids outside wanted to sing at interval for a coin drop. Being harassed as I was and overbusy and looking for something to fill up time, I said, ‘Yeah, sure.'

Interval time came and I was busy rushing around then, and whilst I was doing this I heard these harmonious voices coming over the cheap old Tannoy speaker that was in the pits. And it just stopped me in my tracks. I didn’t hear them or see them actually singing on that night, or see them performing or see them collecting coins off the track, because I was doing what I was doing, but I did get hold of the driver who had come to see me. I said, ‘Where did you find these blokes?’ And he said, ‘They live just opposite the showgrounds.’ On the next day I hopped in my car and drove down from Brisbane to Redcliffe and went visiting.
And they were home. Barry was twelve; Robin and Maurice were nine. Barry had a tea chest with a piece of wood attached and some fishing line which he used as a bass fiddle. Either Robin or Maurice had a timber fruit case built the same way and an old drum as drums for the other one. And I said, ‘Well, you know, I’ve come down to listen to you have a bit of a session so that I can work out whether I think you’re future talent or not.’ Barry, being the leader of the group, said, ‘What would you like to hear? One of the songs we’ve written?’ I said, ‘What do you mean? You write songs as well?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘Well, how many have you written?’ He said, ‘About 180.’ So I was further put into the mind-boggle stage.

How they got such music out of such crude bits of timber, I just… I couldn’t believe it. And, you know, their singing was just great and the way they could harmonise together—just absolutely beautiful. So I went back to Brisbane; I rang Bill Gates. I knew Bill Gates through 4BH, where I used to do radio advertising for my business. We talked about it and we decided that we would try to promote them.  Now, from there we had dinner at my place and Bill brought up the subject of calling them a name if we were going to promote them. And it was his suggestion that because our initials were all the same—BG for my own, Bill Gates—BG, and Barry Gibb (we weren’t aware that Barbara Gibb was another one)—that’s the name we put to them and that’s the name they were happy to accept and that’s the name we put on the contract that we later got done.
That was the one and only performance at the speedway, because we went straight into the gear to try to get them recognised and try to get them earning some money, because these kids were broke and the family was broke. The father, Hugh, was a travelling salesman, trying to sell brooms—I don’t know, I wouldn’t know what—around Queensland. And mum had just had Andy and they needed work, they needed money.  And they were doing… the kids were doing the best they could to get money for the family. So we—or Bill Gates I should say—organised the 4BH studio. A chap by the name of Keith Fowle, who was a kid at the time, probably 16, he made himself available every Sunday to come and cut the little doughnut platters that we had in those days. And Bill had found a three-piece band that wanted to give their time also to be part of this potential venture. And so we spent Sunday after Sunday after Sunday trying to get some kind of recognition for these kids, doing the records.

Bill would send their records away to overseas, anything Australian in record people, to absolutely no avail. The best we ever got back was one or two answers to say, you know, ‘They’re a bit underdone yet, bit young yet. Call us later.’ And that was the general attitude to it. And it went on from then, which was 1959, up into 1960, '61, at which time we had a massive credit squeeze which virtually put my building company out of business. I had to give away any thought of being able to try to do… run my business, save the investors money, and to promote the Bee Gees as well.  So the only thing I could do was to hand it over to the father, Hugh. For me, basically, that was the end of it, because I had to try to keep doing what I was doing.
Barry was mature beyond his years. Well-spoken, and he kept the other two pretty much under control. So, in general… generally, they were pretty good kids. They couldn’t dress impeccably because they just couldn’t afford it. But they dressed cleanly. They dressed neatly. They deserved the stardom that they reached.  Give them an opportunity to sing, they’d sing. Barry was determined, I think, to make sure that they got somewhere. The other two were there to sing. But I would say as a group you would have to make determination part of the whole thing, because even though Barry was the lead person, he was the eldest, he did a wonderful job.  They self-organised any small gigs. We weren’t in that arena yet—we were going for bigger stuff. So Hugh had come back from the bush; he’d taken over that role as a family subsistence sort of thing. He got them quite a lot of small gigs. Bill Gates pushed them over 4BH; you know, it was really, really a very, very strong promotional effort.

It was three boys who sang with their own voices, sang their own songs mainly. Their voices blended beautifully. Barry was the lead part of any singing they did. It wasn’t until they got back to overseas that the real entrepreneurs of music were able to bring out in them what was the thing, I think, that made use of that high-pitched voice situation, which wasn’t as evident—it wasn’t anywhere near as evident in the early days. It was boys’ voices, which were high pitched anyhow. But when they become adult and their voices were high pitched, that I think is what made them stars in their own right.
I think Redcliffe is entitled to claim the Bee Gees as a group that started their careers at Redcliffe. Yes, there’s no doubt about that. And I’m proud and I’m sure Bill Gates also is just as proud to have been part of it and to have recognised the talent that they had and to virtually launch them into what became a very, very marvellous career—and rather a sad one, as it has turned out.  This is the first occasion that I will probably be close enough since 1961 to say hello… oh, no, I’m sorry, I did see them at a gig at the Grand Hotel at Coolangatta probably in ’62 or thereabouts.  I’ll probably say, ‘Hi, do you remember me?’

How Can You Mend A Broken Group? The Bee Gees Did It With Disco
(By Frank Rose, Rolling Stone, 14 July 1977)

67 Brook Street, Mayfair, is sometimes referred to as the house that Cream built. It predates Cream by quite a bit, actually, but that's not what they mean. What they mean is that this is the house that Cream bought. The man they bought it for is Robert Stigwood.  But Stigwood hasn't spent much time in London lately; the pressures of running an international entertainment empire keep taking him to New York and Los Angeles and Bermuda – places like that. His staff carries on bravely, but there's an emptiness they cannot fill, an emptiness which takes the form of a large rear office on the first floor – the office with the crystal chandelier, the fake fireplace and an inch-thick slab of glass, set atop four stone lions, which serves as a desk. It is Stigwood's office, and it has been mostly empty for about five years now.

At the moment, however, Al Coury, president of RSO (Robert Stigwood Organization, naturally) Records, and Robin Gibb, one of the Bee Gees, are sitting in two of Stiggy's leather chairs having what Robin would call a "chin-wag." This particular chin-wag is focused on the Bee Gees' studio work in progress at the Honky Chateau in France and on the lifestyle that prevails there.  Al Coury, inquisitive on his first visit to London since taking over RSO Records a year ago, stands up to sniff the air in Robert's office. "All those famous albums," he sighs. "All those deals . . . You must find yourself spending a lot of time on the music," Coury observes. "Well," Robin retorts, "there's nothing else to do."
It is now early February; since the beginning of January the Bee Gees have been polishing their new album, Here at Last . . . Bee Gees . . . Live, and writing material for Saturday Night Fever, a film Stigwood is producing for Paramount. In July they will go to Toronto to record the soundtrack. In September, October and November they'll be on location for the filming of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, an RSO musical extravaganza in which they'll costar with Peter Frampton.

The demand on the Bee Gees for recorded product has been strong. Children of the World, their last album, is very close to going double platinum, and to intensify the action RSO recently released two oldies albums – a greatest-hits package and a one-disc version of Odessa, their commercially unsuccessful concept album recorded in 1969. Bee Gees . . . Live, recorded in L.A. in December, is their only live LP, but it was required by their new five-year, eight-album contract with RSO – and besides, as Robin puts it, "These particular tapes warranted being brought out."
Clearly, these people are in business – show business. "Show business," says Robin Gibb, "is something you have to have in you when you're born." When Robin and his two brothers, Maurice and Barry, were born on the Isle of Man (their father was the bandleader on the IOM-Liverpool ferry) show business was a grand and glorious tradition. It isn't the Bee Gees' fault that in the late Fifties, when their act was just getting started in Australia, show business lay dead and pitiful like a fractured racehorse. But you can't fault them for never quite comprehending that. The Bee Gees, after all, were never conscious of what was going on around them; that was part of their appeal. Even in their heyday they were throwbacks, the last of the Sixties innocents.  Actually, it's a little unfair to call 67 Brook Street the house that Cream built. Cream and the Bee Gees together formed the foundation of the Stigwood Organization. The Bee Gees paid for these gracious Regency digs as much as anybody. The Bee Gees just weren't very – noticeable. And it's always been that way. 

Robin Gibb is sitting behind Robert Stigwood's desk, looking dwarfed, happy, but also slightly nervous. After 20 years in show business and ten years of international stardom, it is still characteristic of him to be uncomfortable about interviews.  I mention songwriting and Robin breaks in indignantly: "No one has ever talked to us about our songwriting! That's always amazed me. I don't think people even realize that we write our own songs.  "It doesn't bother, me, but – you know that Playboy poll? It has a songwriting section, and this year we're not even in it. There's people in there who haven't had any success for the last two years. We've had two platinum albums, all our own music, and three hit singles practically at one time on the Hot 100. At this moment we stand to be given the, uh, whatever that award is for songwriting. It's just that they don't know their business. They don't make it their business to know how many records the Bee Gees have written. I call it just – musical ignorance!" 

The Bee Gees' songwriting talent is quite extraordinary. They write hits the way most people write postcards. They write them on demand – any time, anyplace, on any subject. They've written a lot of them while sitting on staircases. "Jive Talkin'," one of their latest hits, was written on a causeway between Miami and Miami Beach. "I Can't See Nobody," one of their early hits, was written in the dressing room of a club. The Bee Gees were in their midteens at the time, sharing the dressing room with a stripper.

When they were all at the Honky Chateau, Stigwood rang up with instructions for the theme song he wanted written for Saturday Night Fever. According to Barry Gibb, the instructions went like this: "Give me eight minutes – eight minutes, three moods. I want frenzy at the beginning. Then I want some passion. And then I want some w-i-i-i-ld frenzy!" They wrote the song "Stayin' Alive" in two hours; it fills the bill. A disco tune, it has real jive precision, like a sleek black Mercedes with an ashtray full of coke. Saturday Night Fever is about the night life of some Italian disco dudes in Brooklyn, but the Bee Gees didn't know that when they wrote "Stayin' Alive." They say it was just an accident that the song they came, up with is as well-tailored lyrically as it is musically: Whether you're a brother or whether you're a mother/You're stayin' alive, stayin' alive. They've written four other tunes for the film – "quite staggering," says Stigwood, "particularly as they did it all in a week." Robin is nonchalant. "It's obviously easy," he says. "We did it." They did it the way they always do: sitting down together, throwing out lines, not writing anything down – none of them read or write music – storing it in their heads until they're ready to record. "We've all got the same kind of brain wave," Robin explains.
Stigwood has that kind of brain wave too, although his seems to be tuned to a slightly finer signal. After the band sent him demo tapes of "Stayin' Alive," for example, he wanted to know if they could stick a brief, slow piece in the middle of the wild frenzy. "Robert has this thing about songs that break up in the middle with a slow piece," says Robin. "He did the same thing with 'Nights on Broadway.'" Stigwood is as modest as the brothers themselves. "I can't claim any contribution to their songwriting," he smiles. "I wish I could. I'd be taking their royalties, I assure you."  Stiggy is right to be modest. The Bee Gees have been writing songs that way since Robin was seven years old. They were living in Manchester then – twin brothers Robin and Maurice, older brother Barry, older sister Lesley and baby brother Andy, all living with their mother and dad, the bandleader. They were part of a little singing troupe that came on in a Manchester cinema before the queen – before the picture of the queen they show between movies, that is.

They picked their name in 1958. Gibb père had moved his family to Brisbane earlier that year in an attempt to escape the grim lot of a working-class bandleader in postwar England. The brothers moved on to bigger Australian venues – places like army clubs, where they performed as a novelty act.  Their father, Robin says, didn't push them into show business – but once he saw they had it in their blood, he threw himself behind them. Barry and the twins quit school; their father abandoned his career; and the Bee Gees got serious about what they were doing.  Harmonies they already had. Their father taught them how to work the audience. He was good at reading people, too; he could tell if somebody was up to no good. He took care of them. "If he would've had his opportunity in his own life," says Barry, "he would have been a big star. But he didn't, so it was through us that he was going to make it."
In August 1962 the brothers signed with Festival Records, one of Australia's major labels. A few months later the family moved to Sydney, the center of the record industry. Over the next four years Festival released a dozen Bee Gees singles and one greatest-hits album. They all flopped. Finally, the label boss told them they'd have to go. But then they met a fan named Ozzie Byrne who owned a recording studio. Ozzie gave them unlimited studio time – unlike Festival, which typically whisked them in and out in 30 minutes – and the band came up with "Spicks and Specks," their first Number One single in Australia.  "It doesn't matter if you become the biggest thing in Australia," Maurice says now, "because the furthest away you're known is New Guinea and Tasmania." "Spicks and Specks" was released in November 1966; in January, the Bee Gees booked passage with Ozzie Byrne to England. Their parents went along as well. "They wanted to stay in Australia," Robin says, "but we said no."

Before they left, the Gibbs had sent some of their records to NEMS Enterprises – Brian Epstein's company, the one that managed the Beatles. The family arrived in London on a Tuesday, moved into a house on Friday, and the following Monday received a call from Robert Stigwood, managing director of NEMS. He wanted to see them immediately.  "I loved their composing," Stigwood recalls. "I also loved their harmony singing. It was unique, the sound they made; I suppose it was a sound only brothers could make." He gave them a five-year contract to sign, then took them to a studio to make some demos. When the power went off, they sat down on a staircase and wrote "New York Mining Disaster, 1941." Stigwood immediately booked time in a studio with juice.  "New York Mining Disaster" was released two months after the Bee Gees arrived in England. It became an instant hit – not only in Britain but in the States as well. In July – a month after the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band – they put out "To Love Somebody"; in September, "Holiday"; and in October, Bee Gees' First. By the end of the year, the Bee Gees, none of them yet 20, were major stars.
Stigwood calls this "round one" in the Bee Gees' career. It involved a lot of ballads, a lot of strings, a string of hits, too much speed and a long period of craziness at the end. The craziness was a predictable result of their short-order stardom, but it was also a pattern for late-Sixties rock groups. The Bee Gees simply did what everybody else was doing: they split up and started recording solo albums. Unlike everybody else, however, they were unable to get away with it. They were different. When they squabbled and put out lousy records, people simply forgot about them.

The breakup came early in 1969, just after the release of Odessa: Robin announced his plans to pull out and record a solo album, and Maurice, Barry and Stigwood announced their plans to sue him. All kinds of weird things happened after that. Their drummer left and claimed the right to their name. Barry and Maurice countered Robin's solo album with an album and a TV special. More than a year went by before Robin, at Stigwood's urging, called his brothers – and it was another six months before they all got together. "It was a pride thing," Robin says now.  With Robin, discussing the breakup can still be like poking about in an open wound. Maurice and Barry seem more objective. "It was basically immaturity," says Maurice. "We weren't cut out to be solo stars," Barry adds. "We were cut out to be the Bee Gees. Somebody in his almighty wisdom knew that, whether we did or not."
Round two of the Bee Gees' career looked fairly promising at first: there was a lot of bad press, especially in Britain, but there were also some hits – like "Lonely Days" and "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?" Then their singles started dying, and round two began to stall.  The problem, they realize now, was simple: they'd gotten into a rut. Nobody wanted their ballads anymore. Their initial reaction, naturally, was to record more of them, in an album called Mr. Natural. When that didn't work, they tried it again. But when they sent the tapes for their next album to Stigwood, he became angry. "I got the feeling they weren't really listening to what was happening in the industry anymore," he says. "So I flew down and had a confrontation with them."

Stigwood's confrontation must have worked, because the next tapes they sent up were for Main Course. The Bee Gees credit producer Arif Mardin with the breakthrough. "He showed us the right track," says Maurice. "This was the track leading to R&B and hits, and that was the track leading to lush ballads and forget it, and he just shoved us off that track and right up this one."  The Bee Gees had first worked with Mardin on Mr. Natural, the stiff of '74, but it wasn't until Main Course that people noticed they were teamed with the man who'd made it work for the Average White Band. The brothers have easily accepted the sound he led them to: Maurice is delighted; to Barry it's "pleasant and energetic"; Robin sees it as a form they've helped inject with quality.  And, of course, it was a real smart marketing move. It gave them a completely new audience and it gave them a dynamic new tag for their old one.
The Bee Gees have this theory that the disco switch wasn't really a switch, just a refinement. "We were always writing the kind of music we do now," Robin says, "but we weren't putting it down right. We were writing R&B, but we weren't going in an R&B direction." Other times, however, they are more direct. "Who says you can't play different kinds of music?" Barry demands. "You just do what you want to do. We play different kinds of music because we put our hearts into different kinds of music."  The Bee Gees received a jolt last year when they returned to Miami to record the followup to Main Course. A day or two after they arrived at Criteria Studios, they got a call from Atlantic Records in New York. It was bad news: Mardin wouldn't be able to produce the record. "That really broke us up," says Maurice. Says personal manager Dick Ashby, "It struck us that Atlantic was trying to use us to get to Robert."

Some months earlier, Al Coury, newly appointed to his post as president of RSO Records, had announced a worldwide distribution/marketing pact between RSO and Polygram, Inc., the giant German-based multinational record corporation. The announcement followed several months of negotiations between Stigwood and Polygram on the one hand and Stigwood and Warner Communications, Inc., on the other. It meant that Atlantic Records, a Warner subsidiary, would lose U.S. marketing rights to RSO product – rights it had enjoyed since 1974, when RSO Records had been created as an Atlantic custom label.  After an unsuccessful tryout with Richard Perry, the Bee Gees decided to return to Miami, where they could at least use the same studio and the same engineers they'd had on Main Course. It was a good idea; in fact, one of the engineers, Karl Richardson, and Albhy Galuten ended up as coproducers. The album they produced was Children of the World.
Mardin, meanwhile, was rooting from the sidelines. Says Maurice, "Everybody at Atlantic was telling him, 'They won't do anything without you,' and Arif was saying, 'Don't worry, these guys will do it.' He told us all this on the phone. We were saying, 'Can we send you the tapes to see what you think?' He said, 'Well, I have to hear them some time, but don't tell anybody.' So we sent him the tapes and he sent a note back saying, 'They're fantastic – don't do a thing to them.'"

The Bee Gees' next studio production is not likely to be as traumatic, since the Galuten-Richardson partnership proved so felicitous. Sgt. Pepper should make up for it, however. Stigwood has already fired its first director, Australian-born TV whiz kid Chris Beard, one of the creators of The Gong Show. "Actually, I'm having a spate of that," he says. "The other night I fired the Saturday Night director" – John G. Avildsen, who later won an Oscar for Rocky. "It was a terrible coincidence, too. When I was firing him, the message came through that he'd been nominated for an Academy Award – I had to break off and congratulate him in the middle and then carry on with the foul deed."
The problem was the same with both directors: they wanted to make something different from what Stigwood had in mind. The Sgt. Pepper envisioned by Stigwood and scriptwriter Henry Edwards is a Hollywood musical in the grand tradition, only with Lennon and McCartney where Cole Porter would have been. It's about Billy Shears (Peter Frampton) and his band (the Bee Gees) and their search for the stolen magical instruments which belonged to Shears' grandfather – the legendary Sgt. Pepper, whose Lonely Hearts Club Band established the tradition of instant joy Shears' outfit strives to follow. "It's a fable," says Edwards, "about the redeeming power of music."

Sgt. Pepper is only one of four films Stigwood has slated for production this year, although its $6 million budget commands the biggest bucks. The others are Saturday Night ($3 million), starring John Travolta; Grease ($4 million), number two in Travolta's three-picture deal with Stigwood; and The Geller Effect – not yet budgeted – which will star key-bender Uri Geller in a dual role that's part autobiography, part fiction. This represents a sizable jump in film activity for Stigwood, whose previous productions consist of Jesus Christ Superstar, Tommy, Bugsy Malone and Survive! "It was a combination of good things coming up," Stigwood explains. But many good things have been coming up for RSO lately, and not just in the film division. RSO Records has been following a "controlled expansion" policy which was not so controlled as to preclude its recent $7 million bid for the Rolling Stones. Major action also seems imminent on the television front, which has been quiet since the failure of Beacon Hill, and Stigwood also holds out the possibility of a leap onto the Broadway stage.
RSO's metamorphosis from rock management concern to multimedia entertainment empire began in 1968, when Stigwood saw Hair on Broadway and decided to produce it in London. What followed was a string of West End stage productions, two of which – Oh! Calcutta! and Jesus Christ Superstar – are still running after more than five years. In the early Seventies, as the fortunes of his two leading rock acts waned, Stigwood purchased a production company, Associated London Scripts – the people who subsequently developed All in the Family and Sanford & Son. (Producer Norman Lear pays RSO episode fees.) What Stigwood sees ahead is balanced expansion with all sectors interacting – but not expansion beyond the family-company stage.

"Family company" is a term you hear frequently at RSO. At times it seems quite literal: the Bee Gees' father still handles their lights. Everywhere you look an unusual camaraderie is evident. The people who work here share an enthusiasm that is less than a cause but more than just a well-paying job. It seems to be a cult of personality attached to Robert Stigwood himself.  The sun rarely sets on Stigwood. He is a constant traveler, a bachelor with homes in Los Angeles, New York and Bermuda (alas, the one in London had to be sold for tax reasons), a peripatetic power broker with a penchant for style and a fondness for life in the grand manner. Like Brian Epstein before him, he lives in the Noel Coward tradition – but where Brian pioneered in translating the Coward style to the purposes of the businessman, Stigwood adds a crucial refinement: it is not sufficient just to be a businessman; one must also be a good businessman.  "We believe in working hard and having fun at the same time," he says. "It's a way of life for me, and I feel tremendous. I feel very lucky to have the freedom to do the things I want to do. And as I say, my clients are all my friends as well."
Maurice has this story about how he and John Lennon became friends. "Robert introduced us. He said, 'John, this is Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees, a new group I just signed up,' and I said, 'It's nice to meet you, John,' and he said, 'Naturally.' Right? So I said, 'Oh, stuff you!' Then a little bit later he came over and offered to buy me a drink. He said, 'I like you, you know.' I said, 'What do you mean?' He said, 'I like the way you answered that.' I said, 'Does that mean we're friends then?' And he said, 'You bet.'"  This transpired at the Speakeasy one night when Cream was playing, not long after the Bee Gees had arrived from Australia. As Maurice sat there, with Cream onstage and John Lennon on one side and Keith Moon on the other, he felt very much a part of things. As he tells it now, sitting in the living room of his house on the tax-haven Isle of Man, he still doesn't seem ready to relinquish the thrill.

Maurice lives with his wife, his children and his wife's parents in a large gray farmhouse on the edge of a working-class beach resort in the middle of the Irish Sea. Barry and his wife and family live nearby. They plan to move to Miami soon. (Robin will remain in Surrey.)  Although they are all family men, the Bee Gees are not without their little idiosyncracies. Maurice has this fantasy thing about cops, for example. Once he got busted by the Miami police because he tried to make a citizen's arrest in a bar. He likes to fire a pistol during his interviews. He collects police memorabilia. "The cops in America weren't safe when we were on tour," laughs one of the band members. "They were liable to lose their clothes."
"Nobody has ever matched the Beatles," Maurice announces, apropos of nothing in particular. "I don't think anybody ever will. It's very bad taste to compare anybody with the Beatles at this point – and especially the Bay City Rollers. If I were them, I'd be embarrassed.  "We were compared with the Beatles at first," he continues. "Most of the publicity we had was actually true. But the Beatles never had one publicity stunt. You could see people working behind us – but the Beatles, all they had to do was say, 'Oh, people seem to think we're bigger than God,' and all of a sudden – boom! They're burning their records in America!" There is awe in Maurice's voice, an awareness that he is talking about a level of stardom he will never experience.

If the Bee Gees spend any time brooding about the ironies of their appearance in a Hollywood-revival Beatles musical about the redeeming power of music, they don't show it. They seem much too absorbed in their work for that. They take their work very seriously, but they maintain perspective. They need perspective; they are craftsmen. Back in Australia, when they were first writing songs, they spent hours and hours listening to the radio, trying to figure out what people like. They found several kinds of music that always held up: ballads, soul, country... "You study your craft," Barry says. "You find out what moves people, where you rise and fall."
The Bee Gees maintain no illusions. "We're fully aware that our music is almost totally commercial," says Barry. "We write for the present." That's part of their secret: the Bee Gees know who they are and who they aren't. They ought to; they went through enough trouble, back when they broke up, to find out. Odd, then, that they never quite figured out the proper stance. There was always something awkward about them, even when they were fresh and tender. They were rock stars, but they weren't really a rock band; they were a showbiz family in an age when rock was king. Thirty years earlier, they might have complemented the Andrews Sisters; but it was 1967 when they came along, and they were compared to the Beatles.

You might think now, with showbiz on the rebound and disco in the air, that the Bee Gees feel more comfortable. But no; now that it's fashionable to wear white shirts and spiffy suits onstage, they no longer do so. "It's too hot up there," says Barry – and so once again the Bee Gees look slightly out of synch with the times. They also look as if they don't care. In fact, nothing about these boys looks calculated. They may be older, but they're still natural, still innocents. That could be why people like them so much.

This story is from the July 14th, 1977 issue of Rolling Stone.

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