In a jaw-dropping 60-year career, Bill Medley certainly has had the time of his life.
The 81-year-old “blue-eyed soul” pioneer brings his Righteous Brothers tour (with singer Bucky Heard) to Davenport’s Adler Theatre on Wednesday, April 27, at 7:30 p.m., a date that was rescheduled from last October.
With a string of #1 classics, including what the group says is the most-played song in radio history, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame duo of Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield topped the charts in four decades.
After Hatfield’s death in 2003 (at age 63), Medley continued to perform to sold-out crowds around the world, but fans and friends pleaded with him to keep The Righteous Brothers alive. Medley has said: “No one could ever take Bobby’s place, but when I caught Bucky Heard’s show, it all came together – I found the right guy to help me recreate the magic.”
The new concert experience features their biggest hits – “Lovin’ Feelin’,” “Soul & Inspiration,” “Unchained Melody,” “Rock and Roll Heaven,” and Medley’s Grammy-winning “Dirty Dancing” theme “The Time of My Life,” (sung with his daughter), and much more.
Medley has won a Grammy, an Oscar, a Golden Globe, and an American Music Award. The Orange County, Calif., native began writing songs as a boy and had his breakout as a songwriter and singer when, in 1963, the Medley-penned “Little Latin Lupe Lu” became a regional hit for Bill and Bobby Hatfield, their first release as The Righteous Brothers.
Where did the name originate?
In the early 1960s, Orange County was about the whitest place in the country, Medley has said. All these black Marines from El Toro Marine base heard that there were these two guys singing rhythm and blues, “so they came down to hear us,” he said.
“In those days if you really liked something, like a great shirt, a white guy would say, ‘Boy, that’s cool’ or ‘bitchin’. A black guy would say, ‘That’s righteous, that’s a righteous lookin’ shirt’,” the famous story goes. “And if they like you as a friend, they’d call you a ‘brother.’ Like, ‘Hey brother, how you doin’?’
“A lot of times we’d be coming to work and pass one of the black Marines, and he’d say, ‘Hey righteous brother, how you doin’?’,” Medley recalled. “I loved that and so did Bobby. Sometimes at the end of our songs they’d yell out, ‘That’s righteous, brother!’
“Finally, I think it was Bobby who said, ‘What about the name that the Marines have been calling us, the black guys.” he said. “How about The Righteous Brothers?” I said, ‘Oh man, I would love that.’ That was it–we put the name on our first record. That’s the true story. The black Marines from El Toro Marine base named us.”
Medley noted their first record was “Little Latin Lupe Lu,” which he wrote when he was 19. Hatfield and Medley were first in a five-piece band called The Paramours.
“We recorded the song in November 1962 for Ray Maxwell at Moonglow Records. Since it was just Bobby and I, we needed a new name,” he recalled. “The song peaked on the Billboard Hot 100 at 49 on June 8, 1963. It launched The Righteous Brothers. Shortly thereafter, Phil Spector approached us and recorded “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.”
Becoming the most played song
The Righteous Brothers caught producer Phil Spector’s attention and he signed them to record what would become, according to BMI, the most played song in the history of American radio – “Lovin’ Feelin’,” co-written in 1964 by Spector, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil.
Covers of the Righteous Brothers’ big songs (like Hall & Oates’ 1980 version of “Lovin’ Feelin'”) makes Medley feel good.
“It’s always a compliment when people want to do your music, especially when it’s a really good group like Hall & Oates,” he said in a recent interview. “We always thought it was an honor.”
One of Medley’s favorite songs came out right after “Lovin’ Feelin’,” “Just Once in My Life” (co-written by Carole King in 1965), but it didn’t do as well. Another major Righteous Brothers’ hit, “Unchained Melody,” followed in 1965, but it was originally penned in 1955 (music by Alex North and lyrics by Hy Zaret).
In 1968, Medley and Hatfield agreed to part ways to pursue solo efforts. Medley soon scored with top 10 hits, “Peace, Brother, Peace” and “Brown-Eyed Woman.” In 1974, Bill and Bobby re-united and within a few weeks had yet another monster hit with “Rock and Roll Heaven.”
From then, until Bobby’s passing in 2003, The Righteous Brothers never stopped performing to packed crowds.
The “Dirty Dancing” duet
During that period. Medley recorded the chart-topping duet with Jennifer Warnes, “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” for the 1987 movie “Dirty Dancing,” which went on to sell over 32 million copies worldwide. (Watch the video clip from the film HERE.)
He was asked to sing the hit song while his fourth wife Paula was expecting their first child, in 1987.
“My wife’s just getting ready to have our child and I said, ‘I can’t do it, ‘cause they want me to go from California to New York to record it,” Medley recalled in the recent interview. “I’m not going to leave town until my child was born. And they stayed after me and stayed after me. And then my wife had my daughter McKenna, which is interesting.”
Over the years (since about 2006), McKenna Medley has toured with her father, singing the Jennifer Warnes part for “The Time of My Life.” Medley didn’t expect the song and movie to become as big as they did.
“Oh boy, were we pleasantly surprised,” he said. The song won Medley and Warnes a 1988 Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal and an Academy Award for Best Original Song for the composers (Franke Previte, John DeNicola, and Donald Markowitz).
Medley titled his 2014 memoir “The Time of My Life.” It’s very special to sing with McKenna in concert, Medley said.
“It’s just wonderful, and it’s wonderful to be on the road with my daughter – between her and Bucky, and we have a phenomenal band,” he said. “It’s just a great musical thing to be involved in.”
McKenna lives in Nashville, and has a singing career. Medley’s son Darrin (born in 1965) has kids, so Bill is a grandpa and great-grandpa. His son lives about an hour from him in California.
In concert, McKenna usually does a solo in the show, and they don’t do other duets.
Finding a new brother
Shortly before Bobby Hatfield passed away, in 2003 Righteous Brothers fan Billy Joel inducted the pair into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with a glowing seven-minute speech.
Bucky Heard is an Alabama native and Auburn University alum. He’s been one of the most popular and versatile performers in America for several years, headlining countless shows in major venues. His reputation as a gutsy rock and roll singer, with an incredible vocal range, has garnered much critical praise and a legion of fans. He’s been hand-selected to share the concert stage with legends, like Andy Williams and Glen Campbell, and honored as “Male Vocalist of the Year” by entertainment publications.
“Performing with Bill Medley is like getting your PhD in show business,” Heard has said. “He is more than a legend; he puts everything into every performance, and really understands how to connect with an audience. He motivates me to be my best and I’m so grateful for this opportunity.”
In January 2016, Medley announced he intended to revive the Righteous Brothers for the first time since 2003. The late Hatfield was replaced with Bucky Heard at Las Vegas’s Harrah’s Showroom for more than 40 shows in 2016.
“I was working in Branson, Missouri. And so was Bucky. He was a great singer and a great guy,” Medley recalled recently. “And I had a lot of people telling me that I should re-form Righteous Brothers and keep the music alive.
“I went in to see Bucky when one night when he was doing his job and he did a couple of Journey songs,” he said. “If I was going to do it, that would be the guy. So we sat down at the piano and let’s just start singing a little bit and it just really felt very comfortable.”
Hatfield’s shoes were tough to fill, but Medley said Heard does a remarkable job.
“I knew he’s a great singer. But what’s the next really important thing was, that we were friends,” he said. “It’s like getting married. I don’t know him, but this is the guy because we’re just really good friends. And that’s as important as being a great singer.”
Medley told Heard, “I want you to sing like Bobby, but I don’t want you to sound like Bobby.”
“He was a real big Bobby Hatfield fan anyway, so it kind of came natural,” Medley said. “He’s just a great singer; he can do a lot of different stuff. He’s very well-rounded.”
Recovering from COVID, cancer, death
The Righteous Brothers’ last concert before the shutdown was in Las Vegas March 10, 2020. Medley was in Vegas working that spring, and could tell there was something wrong with his precious instrument, his throat and voice.
“Then I went to my doctor and they took a biopsy, and said no, it’s cancerous and so they cut it off,” Medley said of the cancer, which luckily didn’t affect his vocal cords.
He had throat surgery in May 2020, and then tragically, the following month, Medley’s wife of 35 years, Paula passed away from Parkinson’s disease. After that, he sold his house and moved.
“It’s been a really crappy two years,” Medley said recently, noting he and Heard did very little online performing during the pandemic. “I just absolutely got my ass kicked. But that’s why I’m so thrilled that we’re back.”
The audiences in the new tour (since early 2022) have been great, he said. “They’ve been unbelievable. They’re very excited about being out.”
Medley said he doesn’t get bored singing the same songs for six decades straight.
“It’s really about the audience,” he said. “If they react real good, well, it feels like you’re doing it for the first time.”
The classic “Unchained Melody” was memorably used in the 1990 movie “Ghost,” the original Righteous Brothers record, with Hatfield on lead vocal. (See that film clip HERE.)
“I knew it would be a hit, so we went back in the studio and did an album behind it, and it was extremely successful,” Medley said. It was a coincidence to have Patrick Swayze star in both “Dirty Dancing” and “Ghost.”
“I used to joke on stage, why didn’t he call me for his next movie,” he said. “That was odd — two of his biggest movies and two of our biggest songs, pretty interesting.” (Swayze died in 2009 at age 57 from pancreatic cancer.)
Previously purchased Adler Theatre tickets will be honored for the new date on Wednesday, April 27. Tickets ($50-$90) are available online here and in person at the Adler Theatre Box Office (136 E. 3rd St., Davenport. For ticket inquiries, call 563-326-8500.
They also have dates in Des Moines on April 30, and Des Plaines, Ill. (near O’Hare Airport) on May 6. For more on the Righteous Brothers, click HERE.