BY ELLIOT STEPHEN COHEN
“In the early 60’s Bobby (Hatfield) and I used to play this marine base out in California where a lot of black marines used to come in" recalls Medley. “If you owned a really nice car or anything great, they would say, “Boy, that’s really righteous" and if a black guy liked you as a friend, he would call you 'brother.' Sometimes after we’d finish a song, someone would call out 'That’s righteous, brother!' So, Bobby and I decided to call ourselves that.”
Medley, born September 19, 1940 in Los Angeles, met his future singing partner in 1962 while both were attending California State University. After a few minor hits like “Little Latin Lupe Lu” and “My Babe” for the small Moonglow label, the duo struck gold with the Phil Spector produced “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” which is still the most played record in the history of American Top 40 radio, more than eight million plays. Other hits combining Medley’s dramatic baritone with Hatfields’ soaring tenor, like “Just Once In My Life,” and “Soul And Inspiration” kept the Righteous Brothers on the charts, until their first break-up in 1968.
The pair continued working together on and off until Hatfield’s untimely death in 2003.
Medley will be bringing his own show to Asbury Park’s Paramount Theater on August 23, 2013 with old friend Darlene Love supporting him.
ESC: Who was the first singer you heard on the radio that really inspired you?
BM: Well, probably the first was Little Richard. When I heard him at the age of 15, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I also loved Elvis Presley, but mainly the black artists from the 50’s like Fats Domino and Chuck Berry.
Examiner: What performer that you saw in person made you want to this?
BM: It was Ray Charles in 1959, in Los Angeles. I was 19 and I think me and the guys I went with were the only white guys in the whole place. Oh, it was wonderful. Really inspiring. Ray Charles just really twisted my soul to where I wanted to go to try to do that. I wasn’t going to a lot of concerts around that time. For some reason most of the singers like him didn’t come through California much, and if they did, us white guys didn’t hear about it. Orange County was a very, very, white place at that time.
Examiner : So, when Ray broke into “What’d I Say,” it must have seemed like being in a black church.
BM: For sure. It was a few years before he went country with things ike “Georgia On My Mind,” and “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” It was all serious r&b. Yeah, he did “What’d I Say" and the whole place just came unglued.
Examiner: Did you ever get to meet him or work with him?
BM: Yeah, I did get to meet him three or four times, and worked with him once back in the 80’s.
Examiner: Now prior to The Righteous Brothers, you were with a group called The Paramours.
BM: Yeah, I started out with a singer-songwriter friend of mine named Don Feducia, and we started a quartet.
Examiner: Was Bobby an original member?
BM: Well, we’d lost our first tenor, and Bobby came in just to replace him on a record we were making. I barely knew Bobby then. He had a band, and I had a band, and a mutual friend took Bobby, Bobby’s drummer, me and put us all together. We were still The Paramours. I wrote a song called “Little Latin Lupe Lu.” A friend of mine who owned Moonglow Records came in to see us and I said, “You ought to listen to a song that Bobby and I are doing." We sang it, and he said, “Let’s record it,” and we did.
Examiner: Now in 1964 The Beatles of course changed rock music overnight. Being that the trend was now British “long-haired” bands who wrote their own music and played their own instruments, and a year had passed since “Little Latin Lupe Lu." Were you and Bobby worried about being another in a long series of “one-hit wonders?"
BM: I don’t think we were worrying too much at the time, because we were still amazed that we had ever gotten one hit in the first place. (Laughs) We weren’t trying very hard to get another hit. In fact, I can vividly recall wondering when it will be all over. In fact, I’m still wondering about that. (Laughs)
Examiner: But were you concerned that as a straight looking duo in suits, you seemed so out of touch with what was popular. How did you meet Phil Spector?
BM: Well, we had like three or four regional hits like “My Babe,” and “Koko Joe” that were real rock and roll and r&b. Phil Spector knew about us because he was a real Califoria guy, too. We did a show with The Ronettes in San Francisco, and when we got home, he called up Moonglow Records, and told them he wanted to lease the remainder of our contract. Phil had Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil write “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” which was real odd for us. You can imagine us going from “Little Latin Lupe Lu” to “Lovin’ Feeling.” It was a real stretch, but we pulled it off.
Examiner: Now, originally didn’t some people think that the song’s tempo was too slow, and that the record was too long to be played on Top 40 AM radio?
BM: Yeah, it was actually a four minute something song, and yeah, it was too slow, and my voice sounded like it the record was being played at the wrong speed, (laughs) but all of those things kind of stood out you know. I think that’s why it’s remained a big record.
Examiner: What was Phil Spector like to work with in those days? Was he as domineering as he’s been portrayed to be?
BM: Nah. He was fine. He made us work hard, but whatever we were doing always got better every time we’d do it over. I think at that point in his life, he just wanted people to think he was very eccentric and weird, but he wasn’t nearly as weird then as he turned out to be.
Examiner: It seems that Jack Nitzche, who had arranged most of Spector’s hits, didn’t get as much credit for Spector’s success as he deserved.
BM: Well, Jack did a lot, but he didn’t do “Lovin’ Feeling.” Actually, it was arrange by Gene Page who later did “I’ve Had The Time Of My Life” with me.
Examiner: Of course you had lots of fantastic musicians on the Spector recordings, like (drummer) Hal Blaine, (bassist) Carol Kaye, Leon Russell, Glen Campbell, all part of a what they called “The Wrecking Crew,” and singers like Darlene Love and Cher. Were all of them on “Lovin’ Feeling?”
BM: Well, Glen Campbell was on guitar, as was Barney Kessell . Actually, Hal Blaine oddly enough was out of town that week, so used Earl Palmer.
Examiner: Not a bad second choice.
BM: No, not a bad choice at all. (Palmer is considered one of the best studio drummers of all time. Ed)
Examiner: And you probably also had Tommy Tedesco on guitar.
BM: Yes, of course. Tommy was also there.
Examiner: What about the background singers?
BM: Well, l’m sure Cher and Darlene were there. Maybe all of The Blossoms. Actually, Bobby and I were out of town the weekend that Phil overdubbed the voices.
Examiner: It’s still the most played single in the history of American radio. What did you think of Elvis Presley’s version?
BM: You know, I think he did a great job. I also like Hall and Oates' version.
Examiner: How did the success of “Lovin’ Feeling” change The Righteous Brothers’ career, and who were some of the big acts that you toured with?
BM: Well, we did the first Beatles and Rolling Stones tours , and we were doing a national television show called Shindig, when “Lovin’ Feeling” came out. We kind of got big so fast, we didn’t really have much time to tour. We’d take people like Glen Campbell, and April Stevens and Nino Tempo with us. We never did those Dick Clark tours. We were fortunate enough to go out on our own.
Examiner: Did you tour with any African-American acts?
BM: Not many. We tried to. Things were still pretty split then. Darlene and The Blossoms toured with us. They would open our shows, and they would just kill.
Examiner: What precipitated your breakup with Spector?
BM: It wasn’t Bobby’s or my idea. We didn’t want to leave Phil, especially me because Phil was having me produce our albums while he produced the singles. Moonglow and Spector got into some kind of legal disagreement because they didn’t want us recording something with Phil. So, our agent met with the people at Verve Records and they said they’d take care of all our legal expenses, in addition to giving us a million dollars to sign with them.
Examiner: How did The Righteous Brothers come to record “Soul And Inspiration,” which was such a big record.
BM: That was supposed to be the followup to “Lovin’ Feeling,” but something happened between Phil and Barry and Cynthia. So, after we got to Verve I called them up and they sent it along with about three or four other songs that became hits for other people like “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place.” (a big single for The Animals.)
Examier: Now, you produced “Soul And Inspiration” very much like Spector’s “Wall Of Sound” style.
BM: I just did what I learned from watching Phil.
Examiner: Did you also use musicians from “The Wrecking Crew” on it?
BM: Yes. I used Hal Blaine and a lot of those guys, but I didn’t use Jack to arrange it. That would have caused a big problem for Jack. My friend Bill Baker arrange the record.
Examiner: Did you use Phil’s regular studio, Gold Star?
BM: No, I think we did it at Western.
Examiner: So, why did you and Bobby break up only two years later?
BM: Oh, you know, the hippie thing was coming in; long hair and beards. The singers were wearing t-shirts and jeans onstage. Bobby and I didn’t have anything against that, but we were just looked on as the guys who started out before this. We were having trouble getting our records played on the radio, and I had started out as a singer-songwriter, so I thought this would be a good time to finish what I started. So, I left Bobby.
Examiner: “Brown-Eyed Woman” was kind of a controversial song for1969. Was it ever banned by some radio stations?
BM: I don’t know if it was actually banned, but it was number one in New York and L.A. and didn’t do much of anything anywhere else. It was about a white man in love with a black woman, and a lot of people weren’t too crazy about that, not at that time.
Examiner: Do you think “Blue-Eyed Soul” was a good label for what you and Bobby did?
BM: We loved the term only because we were named it by a black disc jockey. He was on an all-black radio station, and every time he would play “Lovin’ Feeling,” to let his audience know it was a couple of white guys, he would say, “Here’s my blue-eyed soul brothers.” So, we were really proud of being called that by the black audience. I think the term is pretty washed out now, but there are plenty of great “blue-eyed soul” singers; great white guys singing black soul music.
Examiner: Who are your very favorite singers?
BM: Ray Charles, period is my all-time favorite singer. A few years ago, I did a blues album which I haven’t released yet. It’s a tribute to all the guys I was raised on like Sam Cooke, B.B. King, Bobby “Blue” Bland, all these great, great singers, but the truth is, if I was stuck on a island, and could only take one someone's cds, it would probably be The Eagles. I just love them, and Elton John. Of the newer singers, I think Bruno Mars is real talented.
Examiner: You knew Elvis Presley. What do you remember about him?
BM: Elvis was a real, real good friend of mine, as far back as ’62 and ’63 when him and his boys would come out to see Bobby and me in these little joints in California. Then in the 70’s, when Elvis worked at The Hilton in Vegas he would have me performing in the lounge room, which seated around 600 people. So, I got to know him real well. Spent a couple of days at Graceland. Really sweet guy. Great cat.
Examiner. What was Elvis like the last time you saw him?
BM: It was in his dressing room after a show. He was obviously very heavy, and seemed pretty wasted from all of the drugs. The last thing I remember, he looked up at me with a real sad look on his face and said, “Bill, everything’s gonna be allright.” I realize now what he was really trying to tell me. I think if Elvis had lived, he would have straightened his drug problem out pretty good.
Examiner : It’s a shame he had so many hangers-on. It’s like “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Who was going to dare to tell him something’s very wrong here?
BM: That was part of the problem, but his regular guys like Red and Sonny West, George Klein, from what I saw, were really great guys. But it was Elvis’ world. He was the boss.
Examiner: Now, the Grammy-awarded record, “I’ve Had The Time Of My Life” kind of came out of nowhere.
BM: Yes. I just got a phone call from someone connected with the “Dirty Dancing” movie, asking me to record that song for it. I turned it down for about three months, but I thought having a chance to work with Jennifer Warnes would be fun. I didn’t really think the record would go anywhere, but thank God for accidents.
Examiner: When Bobby passed away in 2003, you were still working together.
BM: Yeah. The day he died we were just starting a tour in Kalamazoo, Michigan. We were still heavy at it.
Examiner: Had he been using a lot of cocaine, as it’s been reported?
BM: Well, they did find cocaine in his body, but that alone certainly was not what killed him. Some of his arteries were like 99 per cent clogged up. He was just one of those guys who never went to the doctor. He played hard, and just lived the way he wanted until he died. Fortunately, he died very peacefully.
Examiner: Had you seen his cocaine use firsthand?
BM: He never did it in front of me. If I knew he was doing it I would made him stop; not that I’m a prude or anything, but come on, 63 years old. He drank and smoked; did everything wrong you could do.
Exanimer: Although Elvis had different problems, they both seemed to have the same kind of self-destructive personalities.
BM: Yeah, very, very similar.
Examiner : How did Billy Joel come to induct The Righteous Brothers into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
BM: Billy has always been a huge Righteous Brothers fan. He asked if he could do it, and Bobby and I said, “Absolutely. That will be perfect.” It happened about six months before Bobby’s death, so fortunately, he got to see it.
Examiner : Do you have any plans for new recordings?
BM: No. I never do unless somebody calls me and says, “I’d like to do something with you.” I’ve always got my hat in the ring, but I’m never running after something.
Examiner : Now, tomorrow, you’ll be performing at Asbury Park’s Paramount Theater with Darlene Love, whom you have a long history with.
BM: Well, Darlene and me were a couple for a long time, starting in the early 60’s. It was real scary back then to be a black and white couple. We had a great relationship that I wouldn’t have missed for anything in the world. Great, great chick. Great singer. That’s why I’m so excited about working with her on this show, which will be the first time we’ve ever done anything like this.