The Righteous Brothers never did things the obvious way. When Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield began performing together in the early -1960s, they seemed an ill fit: a tall, dark-haired bass singer and a shorter, blonde tenor who hit unreal high notes - two white guys who were singing rhythm & blues.
"When we started" Medley reflects, "it was actually going against the grain. Who wanted to hear two white guys sing black? That wasn't something that was gonna happen."
How wrong they were. They fashioned a series of pleasing pop hits like You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin', (Your're My) Soul And Inspiration, Unchained Melody, all igniting a musical revolution. Their music was branded "blue-eyed soul," a label that has since been applied to such acts as Hall & Oates, Box Scaggs and the late Robert Palmer. And The Righteous Brothers were ultimately accorded membership in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2003.
In November of 2003, Bobby Hatfield suffered a fatal heart attack in his Michigan hotel room just hours before The Righteous Brothers were to perform.
What would Bill do in the aftermath? The obvious choices would be to take a pure sole route, to find a new partner to re-create the Righteous sound, or to simply retire.
Befitting their history, Bill chose a less-than-obvious course of action. "Bobby needs to finish up the tour," Bill says.
Thus, he's assembled Bill Medley Celebrates The Music of The Righteous Brothers, a conceit format in which Medley continues the Righteous musical tradition, while still featuring Bobby Hatfield's undeniable imprint. During 2003, the Brothers recorded a live album for both CD and DVD; sound and images from those recordings are featured in the celebration concerts, as Medley displays his reverence for his departed comrade.
The shows are not intended as a funeral, or a memorial. Rather a celebration of a sound and a performance style that may be emulated but can never be duplicated.
"People can come and pay their respects, or they can come and see the Righteous Brothers show, or they can come and support me," Bill observes.
The Righteous Brothers gave the concept a new sophistication. With Bill Medley's rich, seductive bass and Bobby Hatfield's urgent, gospel-inflected tenor creating a unique harmonic blend, they sang with such depth of soul that listeners assumed they were African-American. Combined with the density of Phil Spector's "wall of sound" production, the duo defied traditional music labels, gaining play on both pop and R&B radio stations.
The Righteous Brothers built a tradition that still exists in pop music today. And no less than Elvis himself demonstrated respect for the duo by frequently singing You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' and Unchained Melody during his 1970s performances.
Bill and Bobby split briefly in the late `60s before uniting in 1974 with the prophetic Rock And Roll Heaven. Their live shows, loaded with humor and inspiring pop, continued to attract fans, and they built respect with a new generation of listeners through a series of import developments. Hall & Oates revitalized You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'; Bill Medley joined Jennifer Warnes for (I've Had) The Time Of My Life, the love theme in the Patrick Swayze movie Dirty Dancing. The song earned an Oscar, and the soundtrack album sold more than 11 million copies and Bill Medley's resonant voice was returned to the #1 spot on the pop charts.
The Righteous Brothers classic version of Unchained Melody with Bobby Hatfield singing lead, was uncorked for another Patrick Swayze movie entitled Ghost. The soundtrack likewise became a million-dollar seller and led to a new burst of Righteous recordings.
The teamwork accorded them legendary pop status, and was certified when The Righteous Brothers were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Their induction came just months before Bobby's unexpected death.
Now their impact is obvious, even if the road they chose was not.