Gary James' Interview With Bill Medley Of
The Righteous Brothers
Their first big hit was a song called "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'", a song that holds the distinction of being the most played song in U.S. radio history, having been played more than 8 million times! On March 10, 2003 they were inducted into Cleveland's Rock And Role Hall Of Name. We are talking about The Righteous Brothers. Bill Medley, one half of The Righteous Brothers, has, along with Mike Marino, written his autobiography titled The Time Of My Life (Da Capo Press).
Q - I'm glad that you decided to write your story rather than let someone else tell it and probably get it wrong. But you felt that now was the time to do this?
A - Yeah. When Bobby passed away in '03, people said you better write down all the stuff you can still remember. So, I started writing a book in '04. I really got fed up with it. I was tired of hearing about Bill Medley. So I kind of put it away. A friend, well now he is a friend, Mike Marino, had called me and said "I'd like to do a book on you." I said, "I don't know. Why don't you come over and we'll try a chapter." So, he brought over a recorder and sat in front of me and put the recorder on and asked me questions and asked me about these stories. So, the book is really coming from my mouth and it kind of reads that way, that I'm talking to you. And he did a great job, so I said "Okay, let's do it!"
Q - That's the best way to do it.
A - Yeah. I think so. It was for me.
Q - You title your book The Time Of My Life. You must be describing your time on stage because actually in 1965 you suffered a nervous breakdown. You were hospitalized, weren't you?
A - Yeah, unfortunately I have my mom's nervous system. We got so busy. It was right when we were doing Shindig! a national TV show and "Lovin' Feelin'" came out and we just went from 0 to 60 overnight and boy we were in London, we were in New York and everybody needs you. You need to do all these interviews. You need to do these recordings. You gotta do these fittings. After we got done with all the "Lovin' Feelin'", it was number one in the nation and we were done promoting it, I folded. I folded up like a cheap lawn chair. I had a nervous breakdown. I was on my back for about three months.
Q - As bad as it was for you back then, just think how bad it would be for you today! You'd have to make videos and all the media that exist today that wasn't around then, Rolling Stone Magazine, E! Entertainment Television, MTV, VH1, Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood.
A - Yeah. At least the '60s were a little gentler. I don't know how people keep up with this Facebook and texting. I mean, I don't do it because thank God I have managers and agents that answer the phones. Anything I need to know, they tell me or I have a cell phone my wife can call me. It's just kind of overwhelming to me.
Q - I actually interviewed a woman, Gale Rosenberg, who specializes in getting out the word on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblir and all social media about an artist.
A - Well, that's what you need. That's how you have hit records today. It's pretty cool that you can get that exposure. I have a 27-year-old daughter who is a singer in Nashville and she's going through all of that. (Laughs). It's changed dramatically since Bobby and I started.
Q - The biggest surprise to me in your book was that you were the driving force in The Righteous Brothers and Bobby was kind of holding back at times, wasn't he?
A - Yeah. We had, and we didn't know it at the time, we had two comfort levels. Bobby and I never sat down and said, "Let's start The Righteous Brothers. Let's be a team and be together for 42 years." We never did that. The public just kind of made us, made The Righteous Brothers. Bobby's comfort level was pretty much no muss, no fuss. "I don't want all that stress and what goes along with stardom," and I kind of loved it. I was anxious to see how big we could make The Righteous Brothers, which was kind of a natural thing to do. What was natural for Bobby was "Let's just stay in the middle lane here where there's no pressure." That was kind of a problem, but unfortunately I only know now. It wasn't very clear to me or Bobby when we were doing it. We were just kind of pulling in two different directions.
Q - You write in your book, "One of the reasons I think we lasted so long beyond the string of hit records is that we understood that the 'live' performances had to be more than just us standing there singing. It was a 'live' show." What kind of a show did you put on? Are you talking about your Las Vegas performances?
A - Well, probably more Vegas than anything, even though when you go out on tour it doesn't feel like a Vegas show. I'm 73, so we were a couple of years older than say The Beach Boys or even The Beatles, so we kind of had the back end of the Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Jack Benny, all of that. We were educated by those guys. So, when we went on stage and Bobby Hatfield was an extremely funny guy, our sense of humor was kind of the same. When we were on stage, in between songs, we did a lot of humor and it just made it fun and a little more interesting to Bobby and I. If you get out there on tour and do the same shows every night for about two years, you need something to break it up.
Q - I actually saw The Righteous Brothers at Miller Court at the New York State Fair in Syracuse in 1990. What so impressed me was your voice, Bobby's voice. You guys could still sing is what I'm trying to say. It could've been 1965.
A - I did lose my voice in the '70s, but I got it back through my high school choir teacher who gave me lessons and thank God for that because now I know how to keep it right. In 1990 I knew all the vocal exercises to do before every show. If you plan on doing this business for a long time, it's a muscle, you have to take care of it. If you are going to run on it every day, you better do your stretching and do all that. 1990 was a great time to catch us. All of our songs had been in those great movies. Bobby and I were blessed with our voices. I think if you love to sing, if you love to run, whatever you love to do, keep doing it and don't stop and it'll hold in there for you.
Q - You and your father didn't get along. Why didn't you and your father get along? What was the problem? What were you doing?
A - I was kind of an unhappy surprise, (laughs) in the family when I was born. I think my dad thought he was finished with my brother and sister. My mom got pregnant and here I came. It was 1940. They were scrambling, trying to put their lives together. My brother and sister were just angels. They're just wonderful, wonderful people. Never got in trouble. Never got in trouble with my parents. Never got in trouble with my dad. So, I must've looked at them and said, "Okay. They are going to be the good guys, I'm good to be the bad guy." Believe me man, this wasn't my dad's fault. My dad was the sweetest, most wonderful man in the world, but he was a Texan. He was from a cattle ranch in Texas and I was a punk. I was a rebellious punk. My dad didn't know how to deal with it. So, when he would try to spank me or hit me with a belt, I fought him. And I mean I really fought. So, it got a little carried away, but by the time I was in my late 20s, my dad just became one of my best friends. I really understood the pressure he was under. My mom was kind of the head of the family and so I got it. I'm a pretty logical guy. I got what my dad was going through. He became one of my best friends. The sweetest man in the world.
Q - When you say you were rebellious, were you in trouble with the law? Were you drinking? Were you taking drugs?
A - I never did drugs. Nobody kind of hardly he believes that. I smoked marijuana for three months in the '70s. It was the best sleep I ever got. I wasn't in trouble with the law. I just was in trouble with my dad. (Laughs).
Q - What exactly were you doing? Were you most thing off? Were your grades bad?
A - Yeah. I was that kind of jerk. I quit school when I was 16. My dad would come home from work and we'd all sit down at the dinner table and my dad was stressed. I was a punk. Dinner time wasn't a good time. Did I drink? Yeah, I drank. I was 15 years old in 1955. I was pretty typical; I smoked, drank. I was out running the streets but never was a bad kid. I was kind of a Fonzi I guess. (Laughs).
Q - You had Elvis come to see you early in your career. Did you know he was in the audience?
A - Yeah. Him and his Memphis boys would have to call the places that we were going to work if they were coming in so they could get a table and keep Elvis as private as possible. We never introduced them because it really would've just been a problem. So they would get a back booth or back table. We knew they were coming in. They would call to say, "We're comin' to see you. We're going to get a table in the back and see you after the show." From 1962, Bobby and I had a West Coast career. We were having hit records, "Little Latin Lupe Lu", "My Babe", "Cocoa Joe", and Elvis just became a real fan. He would come to a lot of our shows, which was amazing that we got to be good friends with Elvis. He was a great guy and all of his Memphis guys were great guys. I still talk to them and see all the guys once in a while.
Q - At one point Brian Epstein wanted to manage The Righteous Brothers and you guys turned him down. If you had said yes, how different with the career of The Righteous Brothers have been?
A - That's an interesting question because I don't know. We were on the Beatle tour and we hadn't had "Lovin' Feelin'" yet. We were on the first American Beatle tour and Brian asked to manage us and we were just two dumb rock 'n' roll singers and that's how we felt in those days. We were just taking advantage of having hit records and girls and money and it was great. It wasn't a lot of money and it wasn't a lot of girls, but it was more than we had before. (Laughs). I don't know how our career would have changed, but Brian wanted to manage us and we loved The Beatles, but it just kind of wasn't the music we were doing in those days. Brian was a great guy and The Beatles were great. Boy, their music grew wonderfully. I don't know what would've happened, but thank God we recorded "Lovin' Feelin'" with Phil Spector.
Q - You flew on the same plane The Beatles used?
A - Yeah.
Q - Wasn't there some kind of unwritten rule that you could not just get up out of your seat and talk to The Beatles? You had to wait for them to talk to you?
A - Kind of, but not really. It was very loose. We were drinking beer on the plane. I remember one night George came back and was talking to our guitar player and asked him how he played all those great Blues licks. Our guitar player was way ahead of his time. He was doing B.B. King in 1959. We talked to the guys. I don't think we would've had the nerve to walk up and say, "Hey John, Paul, how are you doing? How was the show tonight?" But we got to talk to them because we went on right before them. We would talk to them for three or four minutes while they were setting up for The Beatles. They were just real normal guys. And just as amazed as everybody else at the response to The Beatles. It was an unbelievable situation to be in.
Q - You say in your book you have no idea how you got on that Beatle tour. I read your agent got you that tour.
A - Yeah. You know what? We still don't know. Everybody kind of wants to take credit for it. (Laughs). So, I don't know. It could of been our agency. It could've been The Beatles themselves. I know The Rolling Stones asked for The Righteous Brothers, but The Beatles I'm not sure. We were told they asked for us, but then there's agencies that say, "No. We got you on there."
Q - Had you heard of The Beatles before you toured with them?
A - We kind of knew there was this wave, this interesting wave that was happening. But we were Rhythm And Blues singers and in those days "I Want To Hold Your Hand" was just really Pop(py). Good stuff. Great records. But it kind of wasn't our bag. We didn't pay a lot of attention to it until we went on tour.
Q - Their appearance, the haircuts, the collarless jackets, the high heel Cuban boots didn't grab your attention?
A - No. That wasn't too weird to me. Even on Shindig!. I let my hair grow pretty long in the back and we were wearing Nehru coats, so it wasn't that odd to us.
Q - You were originally offered the role in Then Came Bronson that Michael Parks eventually got because your management was asking too much money. You thought you could play the guy that was riding on a motorcycle around the country?
A - I used to ride a motorcycle. I used to race in the dirt. They came to me. The guy wrote it and saw my picture at MGM. He said, "Boy, that's Bronson. I just wrote this script," and that night my agent and my business manager and the writer came to Las Vegas to see me. I was in my suite and they came in. The writer threw the book down and said, "I need you to be Bronson. You are Bronson." I said, "Well, I've never acted." He said, "No. I just watched your show. You're going to do fine and any help you need, we can get you all the help." I said, "Okay." I was on my own at the time . I had left The Righteous Brothers in '68 for about six years. He just liked the idea that I was a motorcycle guy and I left this really big group and that's what Bronson did; he didn't leave a group, but he was a very successful guy that got on a motorcycle to drive across America. My agent apparently said, "Here is what we want. Bill wants this amount of money for doing it." I was never asked what I wanted to do it. I was just told I didn't get it. I said, "Well, how does that happen? They came to me." I was in an elevator in Hollywood and the writer was in the elevator and said, "You're Bill Medley, aren't you?" I said, "Yeah." He said, "Do you remember me? I wrote Then Came Bronson." We started talking and he said, "I'm sorry that I didn't have the money to pay you for the show. We had Michael Parks, but we still went back to try and get you." I said, "What are you talking about money? Nobody talked money to me" I would've done that pilot for nothing. It just made the guy sick. So, we pushed the stop button and went up to the top floor where there was a bar and we talked for about an hour and a half. We were both very disappointed that it went down that way.
Q - I liked that show, but I guess it didn't capture enough of the public's imagination.
A - The guy that wrote it and even the guy who directed said, "If Bill would've been Bronson, the show would still be on the air." Michael Parks is great, but I think Michael took kind of an Eastwood approach to it. Kind of that whispering. I think they wanted Bronson to be a little ballsier.
Q - Michael Parks reminded me of James Dean.
A - Yeah. Exactly. Same thing.
Q - In all my research I could not find out how many records The Righteous Brothers have sold. Do you have any idea?
A - Boy, you know what? I don't have a clue. I've been asked that before and I don't have a clue. (Laughs). I know "Lovin' Feelin'" is the most played record in the history of American radio. I know the album "Time Of Your Life" sold 30 million or more. The single probably sold millions. It was number one all over the world.
Q - When you perform today, you are billed as Bill Medley, not Bill Medley ex-Righteous Brothers because everyone knows you by now?
A - Well, I'm trying to get that across. Sometimes they'll bill me as Righteous Brothers' Bill Medley. I'm trying to just build the name Bill medley. I don't want to lean on The Righteous Brothers because they're not going to see The Righteous Brothers, even though my show, that's what I do. I do all Righteous Brothers' songs and Bill medley songs and I do all the hits and my daughter is out there. She's 27 and she does, "I've Had The Time Of My Life" with me. So, life is good, but I don't want to lean on The Righteous Brothers' thing.
Q - When a Righteous Brothers' song comes up on stage, didn't I read somewhere that a video screen is in back of you and we see Bobby and you sing along with him.
A - Well, no. I do an "Unchained Melody" video and it's a tribute to Bobby. Everybody in the band sings and they're great singers and they're great players. So, the Bobby Hatfield part gets taken care of. Nobody is Bobby Hatfield, but we do a good job.
Q - When you were growing up, did you have any idea what it would be like to be famous?
A - No, of course not. (Laughs). I was a high school dropout. No, I didn't even get through, I think I was telling my daughter this the other day, I had pretty much dreamt or daydreamed how it felt to be on the stage with girls screaming and all that stuff. So it was very weird. I never thought that's going to happen to me. I just remember as a young kid coming out of an Elvis Presley movie and just being absolutely psyched. I guess I had it in me, I just didn't know that this was what I was going to do.
Q - And the fact that you met Sinatra, Elvis and The Beatles is quite an accomplishment too!
A - Yeah. We went on The Rolling Stones' first American tour and when we went over to England to promote "Lovin' Feelin'" The Rolling Stones met us at the airport and they came to our press conference and they were huge in England in '64, '65. They made The Righteous Brothers a household name overnight. We just had a remarkable life, a remarkable career. Very blessed and we dodged a few bullets and had a bunch of amazing things happen for us and we just lost Bobby too early.
Q - It must make you feel good to know that people will be listening to your music as long as people will be listening to music.
A - Yeah. That's the great thing about movies and recordings. Today man, they take those albums and they put 'em on CDs and they are just better than ever. So yeah, the music lives on. It's wonderful.