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October 17, 2018

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Music:

The Righteous Brothers reborn: Bill Medley’s emotional Harrah’s residency

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The Righteous Brothers featuring Bill Medley, right, with Bucky Heard.

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The Righteous Brothers featuring Bill Medley, right, with Bucky Heard.

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The Righteous Brothers — Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield — at the Riviera on Sept. 4, 1975, on the Las Vegas Strip.

The Righteous Brothers Unchained Melody

The Righteous Brothers You've Lost That Loving Feeling

Since the death of singer Bobby Hatfield of The Righteous Brothers in 2003, his music partner of more than 40 years, Bill Medley, has remained under the radar. There were occasional concerts with daughter McKenna and son Darrin, but the legendary sound of “blue-eyed soul” had moved to heaven.

Now for the first time in more than a decade, Bill has brought The Righteous Brothers back to life, and new partner Bucky Heard and he start a three-month residency tonight at Harrah’s. The Righteous Brothers are back, and one of America’s legendary duos is reborn and revived.

I talked with Bill, who was at his Orange County, California, home, as he made plans for the drive on I-15 to Las Vegas.

Let me have it clear in my mind: When you revived the duo in Laughlin in January to test it out with Bucky, was that the first time you brought it all back together in a long time?

Yeah, I’ve never, ever touched it since Bobby passed away in ’03. I never really wanted to do it. I signed with a couple of guys who kind of sang like Bobby and this and that, but it didn’t feel right.

Without making it overly sad, how did it feel to re-create “Unchained Melody” and “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” with the new voice of Bucky?

Well, you can imagine. I mean it’s good news, and it’s bad news. It’s great that Bucky does such an incredible job, but, yeah, it brings back all the great memories. You can’t replace Bobby. There’s only one Bobby Hatfield.

All Bucky can do is fill in, and he’s doing a great good job of filling some pretty big shoes. We’ve been friends for about 10 to 12 years, and he’s just a great guy. This is the first-time big deal.

It felt odd. We did five nights in Laughlin in January to break it in, and the first two shows I was just kind of like in a coma. Then about the third show, I started to loosen up a little bit and started having fun, remembering the fun part of The Righteous Brothers.

Was it eerie? Did it make you sad again? Can you describe the feelings that you went through?

I really didn’t get a chance to get emotional until I got home from Laughlin because I was so concentrated on putting it together and teaching Bucky this and that. But when I got home, a lot of memories started kicking up. Of course it was very sad. We were together a long time. We were good friends, and we laughed a lot together. It was a pretty incredible 42 or 43 years.

That’s almost like saying you were more than brothers so named for the stage?

We probably were a lot more than brothers. It’s like having a marriage except you can’t have an argument and have make-up sex. The really odd thing that nobody can put their head around, you probably can, is that Bobby and I went through some really dramatic, wonderful things, just him and I. We’re the only two, so there becomes this bond.

When you go into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or you go on “Ed Sullivan” and you do this stuff, well those are really dramatic things, and you’re going through it with your partner. There becomes a bond there that’s pretty amazing.

What was it about Bucky that made you say I want to start this up all over again?

Well, I had had fans and emails and all kinds of Facebook messages, people in the business … keep The Righteous Brothers going and keep the music alive. They’d been wanting me to do it for about nine or 10 years, and I just wasn’t up for it. I sang with a couple of guys just to kind of see what it felt like, and it didn’t feel good. Then this … Bucky has been a friend of mine for about 10 or 12 years, and I didn’t know how good he was until I went to see him.

He was doing some Journey songs in his show, and I was amazed. If you can do Steve Perry, you’ve got a good shot at doing Bobby Hatfield. The real thing that made me say, “Yeah, I want to do this,” is that he was the kind of guy that Bobby was, just a fun-loving guy who just sings his chops off. I wasn’t looking for it. I just ran into it.

Is he pretty close to the real thing?

He’s a first tenor. He pretty much idolized Bobby Hatfield, so he sounds a little like Bobby because he was so influenced by Bobby. But I told him, “I don’t need you to sound like Bobby. I need you to sing like Bobby.” I don’t need phony. I don’t want you to try to be Bobby. You can’t, and if you do the audience is going to smell that right away.

You did five test-the-water dates in Laughlin. Now you’re coming in to headline at Harrah’s for an initial three-month run?

Yes. We’re coming in for three months, which is perfect because I get a chance to see how it feels for me. I know it already feels great, that happened in Laughlin, but after three months, they’ll sign me up for another year or life or whatever. Or they’ll throw me out for life or whatever comes first. We’re real excited about it.

I had two questions. Do people care that they can go see The Righteous Brothers, and are they going to accept Bucky? We were at the Riverside in Laughlin, and we turned away people every night. We did five shows and sold it out every night. They just absolutely loved Bucky.

The three-month run will probably lead to a longer run. At your age, are you happy with that and the veteran standing of the act over four decades?

How long I want to do it I don’t know. I’m 75 right now, and one of the main reasons I’m doing this is … you know I live in Newport Beach, so I can drive in and out to Las Vegas. We’re doing Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I just can’t stand being in airports anymore. I just can’t stand it.

I don’t mind security. I mean I get that. But, boy, flights are delayed, or they’re canceled, and it’s about 60 percent of the time. My main thing was if I can do something in Las Vegas like this, I’m fine, but, boy, if I have to keep traveling, I very well might retire. It’s a killer.

You topped the charts in four decades. You were admitted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. You are one of the greatest rock and roll duos of all time. Define for me, please, your sound, what you call blue-eyed soul?

Blue-eyed soul is a white guy singing black music and doing it pretty well. Really how that came about was when Bobby and I had our first records, black stations were playing our records. On “Loving Feeling,” they knew that we were white. …. A disk jockey in Philadelphia, I believe, was the first one. He started saying, “Here are The Righteous Brothers, my blue-eyed soul brothers.”

What he was doing was telling his audience that we were white. Somehow, some way, it caught on, and we became the blue-eyed soul brothers. The reason we were called that is because we sang black music, and we were doing it legitimately.

You have happy memories of working here in Las Vegas with Bobby? How many years were you here together?

All my memories of being in Las Vegas with Bobby were great. Frank Sinatra brought us to the Sands Hotel in 1965. When we worked that lounge, it was a great lounge. I think it was bigger than the showroom. We were two 25-year-old dumb kids from Orange County in Las Vegas with The Rat Pack. How bad can it get? I have incredible memories. I mean Las Vegas is like a second home.

I owned a home there. I don’t right now. But if I end up doing this residency thing longer, I will probably get a house or a condo. It’s been a second home to The Righteous Brothers and me. When I wasn’t with Bobby and I was on my own, boy, Las Vegas had their arms open, and thank God for Elvis Presley. He had me come over to the Hilton when they closed the lounge at the Sands.

I have great memories of Las Vegas. Somebody asked me the other day how is Las Vegas different than when you were here. I said it isn’t there. The Old Vegas is gone. It’s not that it’s necessarily better or worse; it’s just totally different.

Youngsters have revitalized the entertainment scene in Las Vegas. First Britney Spears, then Mariah Carey, and now Jennifer Lopez and Pitbull. They’ve turned it back into the entertainment mecca.

I’m thrilled about it. I was talking with Mike Love of The Beach Boys, and they’re considering doing a residency. I know Lionel Richie is starting his soon at Planet Hollywood. It’s exciting. The Cirque du Soleil shows are unbelievable, but I think people go to Las Vegas and also want to get something that’s entertainment — singers.

The reaction from the announcement of your residency was really positive.

Yeah, it’s been really wonderful. I know that they’re not going to be let down because we had such a really good run in Laughlin. I think we proved a point. Bobby Hatfield is very much alive and well in this show. It’s honoring Bobby and the music that we did. I’m hesitant to say we pay tribute to him because I don’t want people to think it’s a tribute show.

What was the one special quality that he had that made him so unique?

Well, for me, I don’t think he was ever serious. He was a remarkably funny guy onstage and offstage. That was very unique. He took stuff seriously when it was time to take it seriously, but, boy, he kept very level. ….. You know, don’t make such a big deal out of it, it’s just the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Does Bucky have some of those qualities?

He has a lot of those qualities. I can’t say he smooths me out, as I have to smooth him out. Now I’m at the age when I can look at a 50-year-old guy and say right before the curtain comes up, I look at his eyes and say, “Calm down. Calm down. They’re here to see us. We don’t have to do any shuck and dive. We need to sing the best we can and show them we’re having a good time.”

Presumably that’s what you want your audiences to have, too.

That’s exactly right. If you went into the audience and say, “Why are you here today?,” they would say, “I’m here because ‘Loving Feeling’ was our first song or ‘Unchained Melody’ was our anniversary.” … They’re really there now not so much to see the guys but to share the music.

I think you have to have a pretty good understanding of that. … In the ’60s, they were there to see Bill and Bob, and then Bill and Bob became a certain age, and now they’re there to relive those songs.

This will still be very emotional for you?

Absolutely emotional, absolutely. In the show, we show a little tribute to Bobby, and I can’t even look at the screen. I just have to keep singing and looking forward. It will be emotional every night we take the stage at Harrah’s. It will be two or three emotions. It will be emotional that Bobby is not up there, but I certainly feel that Bobby is in that show, that’s for sure.

It will also be emotional energy, man, let’s go do it, let’s do a great job, let’s do these songs as good as we can. I told Bucky you don’t have to sound like Bobby. I don’t want you to sound like Bobby. I just want you to sing like him. Sing the song. Sing those notes.

And, boy, does he have it. You’re going to be quite amazed!

* * *

Bill and Bucky promise to take audiences through the legendary music stylings of one of the greatest rock and roll duos of all time performing such Grammy-winning hits as “(I’ve Had) The Time of My life,” “Soul & Inspiration,” “Unchained Melody,” “Rock and Roll Heaven” and “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling.”

It’s a one-of-a-kind rock show with Bill’s brilliant baritone voice and iconic songwriting talents and Bucky’s reputation as a gutsy rock singer with an incredible vocal range.

Starting today, The Righteous Brothers featuring Bill Medley with Bucky Heard will perform Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays for three months and subject to renewal.

Robin Leach of “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous” fame has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past 15 years giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Las Vegas Sun Entertainment + Luxury Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

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