Barry Gibb Has a Mission: ‘Keep the Music Alive’

Earth’s final surviving Bee Gee was calling from his residence studio in South Florida, simply steps from the waters of Biscayne Bay.

“I used to have a terrific boat,” Barry Gibb stated. “A speedboat.” He referred to as it Spirits Having Flown, after a 1979 Bee Gees album that has offered greater than 25 million copies worldwide. “I might tear across the bay and get concepts.”

Generally he didn’t even want the boat. Someday the Bee Gees’ supervisor Robert Stigwood referred to as. He was producing the movie model of the musical “Grease” and wanted a brand new title track. Barry had not seen the movie; this was a inventive problem.

“How in heaven’s title,” he requested himself, “do you write a track referred to as ‘Grease’? I keep in mind strolling round on the dock, and it immediately occurred to me that it’s a phrase, and also you’ve simply bought to write down in regards to the phrase.”

Grease is the phrase, he wrote, is the phrase that you simply heard. It’s bought a groove, it’s bought a that means.

He’d solved his downside and he’d seen the sunshine; the phrase was “grease,” and the phrase was good. “Grease,” recorded by Frankie Valli, was launched in Could 1978 and reached No. 1 on the Billboard Sizzling 100 chart by the tip of August.

It was Gibb’s seventh writing credit score on a No. 1 hit that yr, after “How Deep Is Your Love,” “Stayin’ Alive,” “Night time Fever” and “If I Can’t Have You,” all from the “Saturday Night time Fever” soundtrack; and “Shadow Dancing” and “(Love Is) Thicker Than Water,” solo singles Barry helped write for his brother Andy Gibb. On the Sizzling 100 for the week of March 3, 1978, songs by the Brothers Gibb made up three of the week’s Prime 5.

It was like this for an extended whereas — No. 1 hits, one after one other after one other — after which it wasn’t.

Within the early 1970s, the Bee Gees got here to Miami to strive making data in America. This labored out moderately properly for them, and Barry has lived there ever since.

“It’s only a massive previous home. I might by no means classify it as a mansion,” stated Gibb, who within the time he’s lived right here has counted Matt Damon, Dwyane Wade and Pablo Escobar amongst his neighbors.

He’s 74, and his legendary lion’s-mane hair was grey and wispy underneath an Australian-style leather-based bush hat. His phrases slipped previous his still-magnificent tooth in a wealthy, virtually Conneryesque brogue that his origins (born on the Isle of Man, raised in Manchester, England, after which Australia) don’t totally clarify.

Gibb’s newest album, “Greenfields: The Gibb Brothers Songbook, Vol. 1,” recorded in Nashville with the producer Dave Cobb, goes on shale in January; it’s preceded this month by the director Frank Marshall’s HBO documentary “The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Damaged Coronary heart.” Early within the movie, we see Gibb and his brothers Maurice and Robin the way in which most individuals keep in mind them — in open-necked shirts of shimmering silver, medallions blinging brightly towards their mammalian chests.

Then a highlight houses in on him, cropping out the remainder of the band. That is foreshadowing by literal shadow. Since 1979, Gibb has misplaced three brothers. Andy — the youngest, who soared as a solo artist underneath Barry’s tutelage however struggled with drug dependancy — died first, in 1988, at 30, of myocarditis. Maurice handed away in 2003, of problems brought on by a twisted gut; Robin died in 2012, of problems of most cancers and intestinal surgical procedure.

This leaves Barry Gibb because the dwelling steward of a catalog of songs which have change into modern requirements, carried out and recorded by Janis Joplin (who sang “To Love Somebody” at Woodstock) and Future’s Little one (who coated “Emotion” on its third album), in addition to the Reverend Al Inexperienced, the irreverent Texas punkers the Dicks, Bruce Springsteen and Miss Piggy. A world wherein nobody sings Bee Gees songs anymore is tough to think about for karaoke-related causes alone, however Gibb has seen sufficient to know that nothing is endlessly.

“The mission,” he stated, “is to maintain the music alive. No matter us, no matter me. Someday, like my brothers, I’ll not be round, and I need the music to final. So I’m going to play it it doesn’t matter what.”

Gibb has solely a passing acquaintance with trendy pop music, which he understands to be a world dominated by kids who go by nicknames and numbers. He hopes that somebody is giving them good recommendation.

“He doesn’t hearken to numerous new music,” stated his son Stephen Gibb. “He listens to the music of his youth.”

Barry Gibb’s earliest recollections of music are of concord — the Everly Brothers and the Ohioan jazz vocal quartet the Mills Brothers, taking part in from a single speaker in his dad and mom’ home. He can draw a direct line from that to every part else; it’s why he and Robin and Maurice began singing collectively.

However after that, what bought into Gibb’s head was nation music, significantly as soon as the Gibbs moved from England to Australia in 1958, simply earlier than Barry’s 12th birthday. “Bluegrass music,” Gibb stated. “I fell in love with that. I grew to become obsessive about that after I was a child, since you didn’t hear a lot else however bluegrass music in 1958 in Australia.”

Whereas exiled from the charts within the ’80s, Gibb and his brothers wrote nation hits for Conway Twitty, Olivia Newton-John and — most famously — “Islands in the Stream,” a worldwide smash for Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. “Kenny all the time says, ‘I nonetheless don’t perceive that track. I’m undecided what it’s about,’” Gibb stated. “I say, ‘Kenny, I perceive that track — it’s a No. 1 document.’”

Gibb says there’s all the time been nation within the Bee Gees’ sound, whether or not or not his brothers significantly needed it there. However the thought of doing a full-length nation album had been a bucket-list merchandise for many years, till final yr, when the Bee Gees signed a brand new take care of Capitol Information. There have been discussions about Gibb revisiting the catalog ultimately; Gibb realized his nation second had arrived.

“I had been turning my dad on to Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton and Brandi Carlile and Sturgill Simpson,” Stephen Gibb stated. “He’s like, ‘Jesus, these data are nice. These are sensible.’ The frequent thread on numerous these data turned out to be Dave Cobb.”

Cobb, 46, has gained Grammys for his work with Carlile, Stapleton and Isbell; he additionally turned out to be an enormous Bee Gees fan. By October 2019, Gibb was at RCA’s Studio A in Nashville, recording new variations of Bee Gees classics and obscurities with a variety of country-associated duet companions: trendy hitmakers like Keith City, traditionalists like Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, icons like Dolly Parton.

Parton and Gibb minimize their rendition of the Bee Gees’ plaintive 1968 single “Phrases” on the primary day of recording; Cobb described it as “most likely probably the most intimidating session I’ve ever had in my life.” He remembered strolling out to the microphone to play guitar, “and my legs began trembling a bit of bit.”

Isbell was equally intimidated about singing with Gibb on “Phrases of a Idiot,” a deep minimize Gibb wrote for the soundtrack of the long-forgotten 1988 movie “Hawks.”

“At one level I used to be making an attempt to sing a concord half over Barry,” Isbell stated, “and Dave stated one thing, and I stated, ‘Dave, one in every of us isn’t Barry Gibb, man — you must again off a bit of bit and provides me a number of extra tries at this.’”

Gibb’s voice on “Phrases of a Idiot” is robust but in addition spectral, its shuddering vibrato bringing to thoughts the jazz singer Jimmy Scott. Practically six a long time after he first sang on a document, it stays one of the crucial otherworldly devices in in style music.

“I requested him how the hell he nonetheless feels like that,” Isbell stated. “I’m all the time afraid to ask folks that query, as a result of I don’t need to offend them by acknowledging their age, however I stated, ‘Barry, how are you going to nonetheless sing so superbly and powerfully?’ And he stated, ‘I by no means actually appreciated cocaine. You needed to do it each 15 minutes for it to work. So it simply didn’t attraction to me.’ That’s the proper reply to that query.”

It’s not shocking that Gibb discovered his option to nation music. Hearken to “To Love Somebody,” on which he builds from a gruff, tight supply earlier than releasing beautiful excessive notes, as if a dam is lastly breaking inside him. It’s a voice made for nation singing, as a result of it’s a voice made for unhappy songs.

Gibb has written numerous these. In 1964 alone, his copyrights as a songwriter included songs referred to as “Petrified of Shedding You,” “Claustrophobia,” “I Simply Don’t Prefer to be Alone,” “Home With out Home windows,” “Now Comes the Ache,” “Since I Misplaced You,” and “This Is the Finish.”

He can’t account for the place this predisposition for melancholy material got here from, any greater than he can clarify what a 16-year-old and his even-younger brothers had been doing singing a track referred to as “I Was a Lover, a Leader of Men.”

In Australia, regardless of being underage, they performed in bars, Gibb stated, that had been “‘Crocodile Dundee’ all the way in which.” He stated the Australian audiences had been wonderful, “nevertheless it’s a ingesting viewers. We witnessed numerous fights, whereas we had been singing. I noticed two guys punch one another out with out standing up.”

The minute that they had a success, with a track referred to as “Spicks and Specks” — “Robin used to say that was our first No. 1, nevertheless it was actually solely No. 1 in Perth” — they set sail again to England, signed with Stigwood, then an affiliate of the Beatles impresario Brian Epstein, and encountered ’60s London in full swing.

“We’d immediately tumbled into flower energy,” Gibb stated. “The entire thought was to search out out what character you’d gown your self up as.” He described a vivid reminiscence of getting in an elevator with Eric Clapton. “He’s dressed as a cowboy and I’m dressed as a priest.”

Barry was 20 then; his brothers weren’t but 18. “We had been nonetheless children,” he stated, “and we had been nonetheless very naïve. I don’t suppose the naïveté went away for a very long time.”

They did quickly uncover booze, pot and capsules, Gibb stated. However early British albums like “Bee Gees’ 1st” from 1967 with its trippy Klaus Voormann cover, oddball orchestration, and titles like “Each Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Present You” — made them seem to be extra energetic members within the ’60s way of life than they had been. Barry and Robin Gibb had been as soon as given a mescaline pill; they determined to flush it down the bathroom.

As steeped as they’re within the vibes of the second, the late-60s Bee Gees albums are additionally shot by means of with a twee, quavering disappointment that feels distinctive to the Gibbs. They sound just like the work of infirm boy-princes who’ve mastered the pop panorama by staring down longingly at it from the window of a tall tower. Medication alone couldn’t yield music this unaccountably odd.

“You haven’t any thought how people bought in a room and made these data,” stated Cobb, who discovered his option to the band’s ’60s materials by way of an obsession with the Beatles and the Zombies’ “Odessey and Oracle.” “They only are. They really feel like they’re coming from an alternate universe.”

However even their alternate-universe albums had been aimed on the charts. They by no means had a Brian Wilson lost-in-the-sandbox experimental section. They had been true immigrant hustlers, adaptable and industrious. They labored for Stigwood, who each managed them and owned their recordings, a battle of curiosity that went unexamined for many years.

By 1969 all three Bee Gees had been married and dwelling separate lives. “I feel we stopped actually figuring out one another after we arrived in England,” Gibb stated. They started to argue the way in which solely a band of brothers with two frontmen — Barry and Robin — may. Robin Gibb left the band in 1969, returning after 18 months at Stigwood’s urging. Many points, Gibb stated, remained unresolved. As an alternative of speaking they wrote “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” collectively, singing to one another the issues they couldn’t say.

Their early ’70s work represented a low inventive ebb; after they relocated to Miami on the suggestion of their pal Eric Clapton, they started making among the largest data of all time.

Songs just like the elegant “Jive Talkin’” had a heavier beat than something they’d executed earlier than. Gibb considered their new course as a transfer towards R&B. However their contribution to “Saturday Night time Fever,” a 1977 blockbuster produced by Stigwood, would redefine them in a different way. The minute John Travolta strutted down a Bay Ridge boulevard to the supple bass line of “Stayin’ Alive” — a showcase for the anguished falsetto Barry Gibb had these days found — they grew to become a disco act.

“We bought sucked into that,” Gibb stated. “We had been simply making data we beloved. The truth is, we didn’t even name them ‘disco.’ I by no means thought a Stylistics document was disco, and I by no means thought ‘Shining Star’ by the Manhattans was a disco document, and ‘Too A lot Heaven’ was not a disco document. ‘How Deep Is Your Love’ isn’t a disco document. However you get categorised.”

The movie’s soundtrack album grew to become their largest hit; it’s been licensed platinum 16 occasions and stays the second-biggest soundtrack album of all time, after Whitney Houston’s “The Bodyguard.”

In 1979, as the Bee Gees toured the world in a personalized Boeing 720 passenger jet with their brand painted on the tail, a reactionary anti-disco motion was coalescing amongst white rock ’n’ roll followers. Between video games at a White Sox doubleheader that summer time, a Chicago disc jockey named Steve Dahl blew up a crate filled with disco data on the sphere at Comiskey Park.

In Marshall’s movie, the Chicago house-music producer Vince Lawrence — who was working as a Comiskey Park usher that evening — recollects seeing individuals exhibiting up that day carrying data by Black artists who had nothing to do with disco, and describes the occasion as a “racist, homophobic book-burning.”

Disco, as a cultural phenomenon, was Black, brown and homosexual; the truth that the Bee Gees had been none of these items didn’t cease them from being caught within the crossfire. They had been the style’s pop avatars, and the “Disco Sucks” motion would flip them into immediate pariahs. Marshall’s movie cuts forwards and backwards between the countdown to the explosion and photographs of the band onstage, smiling in silver, trying completely unaware of the future bearing down on them like a prepare.

“The dynamic of their state of affairs modified in a single day,” Marshall stated. “Every little thing that that they had ever dreamed of was taking place. They had been on the pinnacle. And immediately it grew to become a nightmare, and so they needed to have escorts and there have been bomb threats. And so they’d go ‘Wait, we’re only a band’ — nevertheless it was a lot larger than them. It was historical past, and so they had been caught within the center. Their largest second grew to become their largest nightmare. I actually beloved that irony.”

Gibb stated he by no means let the Comiskey occasion hassle him: “I knew that no matter it’s you do has to return to an finish, it doesn’t matter what it’s.”

However after all the tip is rarely the tip, once you’re a Bee Gee. After the bell tolled for disco, Gibb and his brothers had been a punchline and a punching bag for an extended whereas. Gibb admits he was “a bit of upset” the primary time he noticed the “Barry Gibb Talk Show” sketch on “Saturday Night time Stay,” wherein Jimmy Fallon performed Gibb as a rageful, dyspeptic peacock whereas Justin Timberlake, as Robin Gibb, struggled to maintain a straight face — however principally as a result of, in actual life, “Robin was the one who was all the time indignant.” (He popped up on a 2013 Christmas episode of “S.N.L.,” to sing with Fallon and Timberlake. No arduous emotions.)

Gibb doesn’t anticipate to overcome the pop charts once more; making extra data like this duets one can be sufficient. “I’m a rustic singer,” he stated. “I’ll all the time be a rustic singer. I’ve managed to shed all of those different issues. I don’t also have a white swimsuit anymore.”

However he’s lived lengthy sufficient to see the dialog change round his music. There are dozens of movies on-line wherein YouTubers — principally Black, principally too younger to even keep in mind Wyclef Jean sampling “Stayin’ Alive” within the late ’90s — react to the Bee Gees’ video for the “Spirits Having Flown” ballad “Too A lot Heaven.”

The video is a quintessential doc of its period, like a free quaalude fished from the sofa cushions of time. The Bee Gees are singing in a fern-filled recording studio, backed by a string part. They’re sporting open-necked silk shirts. Barry’s denims are a lewd joke about avocados. So at first, the YouTubers are skeptical. Then, just about with out exception, they’re struck speechless when the vocals are available and Gibb and his brothers start constructing a cathedral with nothing however the breath of their lungs.

Barry Gibb has not seen these movies. However he’s watched a number of clips of younger individuals protecting Bee Gees songs like “How Deep Is Your Love” on-line, and a few of them aren’t half unhealthy. “This one boy couldn’t have been greater than 11 or 12 years previous. Whoever he’s, he will likely be one of many greats if he retains his head. That’s all the time the query. Proper? All the time the query.”

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