In hindsight, singer Bill Medley can see how someone looking back on the Righteous Brothers could consider “two white guys from Orange County” singing soul music a great commercial move.
But Medley and Bobby Hatfield had no ulterior motive when they began to sing songs like “Little Latin Lupe Lu,” “My Babe,” and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.”
They were simply taking inspiration from the R&B music they were raised on, making waves at a time when “the white stations didn’t play a lot of the black artists and the black stations didn’t play white artists.”
“It wasn’t a racial thing,” Medley said. “It was ‘A country station plays country’.”
But both stations soon embraced the duo, a contrast to clean-cut artists like Frankie Avalon and Fabian.
“Certainly Bobby and I weren’t the first two white guys to sound black or sing rhythm and blues but we were the first one through the door,” Medley said. “The minute we opened up the door, the floodgates were opened and blue-eyed soul was alive and well.”
The Righteous Brothers furthered the genre with numerous albums and a string of singles like “Ebb Tide,” “(You’re My) Soul and Inspiration” and “Unchained Melody” over the next several decades.
A few hiatuses, reunions and solo projects spotted the band’s career (Medley shares a Grammy with Jennifer Warnes for their duet “(I’ve Had) the Time of My Life”), but Medley and Hatfield always found their way back to each other and they sound they helped popularize.
But after Hatfield’s death in 2003 from a heart attack, Medley put the Righteous Brothers name away and continued performing under his own name.
“With Bobby gone, to me the Righteous Brothers were gone,” he said. “It wasn’t going to happen and I wasn’t looking for it to happen.”
But in about 2010, Medley was approached about the possibility of touring with a revived Righteous Brothers.
Though initially reluctant, he started thinking about what the Righteous Brothers means to fans.
“(They) explained that there’s millions of people out there that want to hear those songs and if you put the Righteous Brothers back together, they can go out and relive those songs,” he said.
Enter Bucky Heard.
While in Branson, Missouri, Medley saw Heard, an old friend, perform in a Journey show.
Medley knew Heard could sing, having previously seen him perform in a “Legends” show as John Belushi, but he was blown away hearing Heard perform Journey’s material.
The next day, he took a walk and remembers a light bulb going off.
“I said ‘Man, if I was going to do the Righteous Brothers, that would be the guy,’ ” Medley said. “First off, he’s a phenomenal singer. But he’s a great guy. He’s a wonderful, wonderful guy.”
Medley and Heard sang a couple Righteous Brothers songs, and Medley asked Heard if he was interested in performing together.
Medley advised him that while he wanted Heard to sing with the same amount of passion Hatfield did, he didn’t want Heard to imitate Hatfield because the audience would immediately pick up on the impersonation.
“The Righteous Brothers, if nothing else, we were very honest about what we did and didn’t do,” Medley said. “I said ‘When I go onstage, I need you to be the best Bucky Heard that you can be. If you sound a little like Bobby, that’s because you sound a little like Bobby.”
Around the same time, Medley’s friend asked him if he’d be interested in doing a Righteous Brothers residency at Harrah’s Las Vegas Hotel and Casino.
Medley was again a little apprehensive, but he agreed to do a three-month trial.
The pair made its Las Vegas debut in 2016, and the residency quickly turned into much more.
“We came in and it just took off,” Medley said. “It didn’t even dawn on me that we would be going out and doing concerts but there was so much people wanting to hear those songs that, thank God, we get to go out and come to your town and do a concert.”
During residency shows, Medley and Heard perform for about an hour and 15 minutes.
“In Vegas, they’d rather have you in the casino than at the show,” Medley said with a laugh.
Which is why he and Heard have a lot of fun when they hit the road. These concerts are usually a little more relaxed and give them the chance to do things they can’t in Las Vegas.
After this show, the Righteous Brothers have the rest of the month off before hitting the road again in August. Then, it’s back to Las Vegas in September.
In between the residency and national tours, Medley and Heard have talked about recording new Righteous Brothers material.
Thus far, the pair has only recorded one new song together, the Medley-penned “Love Wins All,” which appears on a collection of Righteous Brothers tunes Medley and Heard released in 2016.
“To us, it’s all about the songs,” Medley said. “If we have great songs to do and we can do them correctly, we would love to go in and record. But we don’t want to record just to record.”
Aside from recording new Righteous Brothers music, there’s not much left on Medley’s bucket list.
He said he’s been “amazingly blessed” with his family, Heard, the fact that his voice has held up and the opportunity to perform in Las Vegas and across the country.
He’s continuously touched when fans come up after shows and tell him how much the Righteous Brothers mean to them and is glad to have the chance to thank them for supporting the Righteous Brothers throughout the years.
“I ask myself ‘What would I do if I walked out this door that I’ve always wanted to do?’… ” he said. “I’ve been there, done that, got the T-shirt.”
“You must have a very full closet,” I said.
“I have a big closet.”
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