By Bobbie Katz
Righteous Brothers: Seen and Heard
When one-half of the famed Righteous Brothers duo, Bobby Hatfield, died in November 2003, the other half of that magical musical equation, Bill Medley, lost that loving feeling for working with a partner, believing that the friendship and chemistry that he and Hatfield had together could never be replaced. But after performing solo for the past 14 years, Medley has recently found new soul and inspiration in some old math – one plus one equals two once again, just via a different formula.
The Righteous Brothers, Medley with new partner Bucky Heard, are currently performing every Wednesday through Saturday at 6 p.m. at Harrah’s Las Vegas. And the new equation has already turned into some serious advanced addition, the duo’s initial three-month engagement having been renewed for 20 more weeks, taking them through the end of the year.
“In the 60s when the Righteous Brothers were on fire, everyone was excited about seeing Bobby and Bill,” Medley explains. “Now, at a certain age, they are still into the Righteous Brothers but they are more into the music. The music was the soundtrack to their lives and during the last few years with Bobby, I felt like we were doing the Righteous Brothers play. We were reenacting 1965 for these people. We knew that people were reliving the first time they heard “Loving Feeling’ and the memoires that were created. And that’s what Bucky and I are doing now.”
Interestingly, it took Medley a long time to consider putting the Righteous Brothers back together. He relates that a friend of his, Jerry Perenchio, who used to be the duo’s agent, was after him for at least eight or nine years to reprise the group but he just wasn’t into it for two reasons, the first being how do you replace Bobby Hatfield? The second was that he was doing pretty well performing solo as Bill Medley. But Perenchio didn’t let up so Medley had a couple of singers sit in with him at his solo shows so that he could see how the audience reacted and how he felt standing next to a guy on stage.
“There just wasn’t any chemistry,” Medley admits. “Guys would call me and ask me to keep them in mind but it just didn’t feel right. It felt anti-climactic; it didn’t feel real but rather like a bad tribute. Then, when I was in Branson five or six years ago, I called Jerry and told him that I was sorry but it just didn’t feel right. I hated to let him down.
“While in Branson, I went to a friend’s wedding and saw Bucky there,” he adds. “He had been performing in Legends in Concert as different stars, including John Belushi in the Blues Brothers. I didn’t know Bucky as a great singer – he was more visual. At the wedding, he told me that he had left Legends and was performing as Steve Perry in Journey at the Journey Theater and I wished him luck. One night, I was out to dinner with some friends and someone jokingly said, ‘Let’s go see Bucky and watch him die.’ So we went. And Bucky killed it – I had no idea he could hit those notes. I knew then that IF there was a Righteous Brother, it was Bucky. I had never watched an act for more than 15 minutes but I went back again to see him the next night.”
Medley knew that it would be relatively easy to find someone who could sound like Bobby but that was not necessarily what he was looking for. Rather, he was looking for someone he could have a rapport with, someone whom he really liked. Medley and Hatfield had always been known for their comical ad-lib bantering on stage (which occurred offstage as well) along with their musical camaraderie. The desire for that same kind of rapport was the deciding factor for Medley.
“I called Bucky and discussed with him whether he’d be up for it,” Medley remembers. “I told him that I didn’t want him to sound like Bobby, I wanted him to sing like Bobby – just hit the high notes and do what Bobby did with passion and feeling. The most important thing was the chemistry. I knew that it wouldn’t be the same as Bobby and I had had – there was only one Bobby – but I wanted someone who was funny, a good friend, and a great singer.”
“I didn’t hesitate,” Heard chimes in. “Bill said that he had other guys interested so I talked to my wife about it I grew up with this music and I idolized Bill and Bobby – it was a great opportunity for me. It’s overwhelming for me to think of the magnitude of this. Lionel Richie said to me, ‘You get this, right?’ I do understand it but I’m having a great time singing with my friend Bill – that’s the way I have to treat it. The first time I ever sang on stage with Bill, I went to Oklahoma for his birthday. I sang ‘Ebb Tide’ and got a standing ovation. Then we sang ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.’”
Their first actual gig together in Laughlin answered Medley’s questions about whether anyone would care about coming to see the Righteous Brothers and whether Bucky would be accepted by audiences. The five-night engagement immediately sold out and Bucky got a standing ovation when he sang the Roy Orbison song, “Crying,” which he sings in the Harrah’s show.
“After 14 years, I finally found someone that I can be comfortable with,” Medley sums up. “We just approach it like we’re taking no prisoners. Every night behind the curtain, we say, ‘All we’ve got is tonight.’ We approach each show like it’s out last. That’s what Bobby and I did. We’re not just up there sandbagging. We’re giving it our all.”
Along with four horn players, four musicians in the rhythm section, and three female backup singers (including Medley’s daughter McKenna), the Righteous Brothers are going back to the future.
Turns out that there’s a rock n’ roll heaven right here on earth after all.
This article appears courtesy of Vegas Insider Daily.com.