Bobby Hatfield, whose wholesomely passionate tenor carried the upper harmonies of the pop-soul duo the Righteous Brothers, died on Wednesday in a hotel room in Kalamazoo, Mich. He was 63 and lived in Newport Beach, Calif.
The cause was unknown, David Cohen, his manager, said. Mr. Hatfield's body was found in bed shortly before the Righteous Brothers were to perform at Western Michigan University, Mr. Cohen said.
Mr. Hatfield and his partner in the Righteous Brothers, Bill Medley, were influenced by the intimate and expressive style of black soul singers, but unlike most previous white groups they sought to emulate the raw intensity of those singers. In hits like ''You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin','' ''Unchained Melody'' and ''(You're My) Soul and Inspiration,'' Mr. Medley and Mr. Hatfield channeled an emotional power that had rarely been heard in white pop.
Robert Lee Hatfield was born in Beaver Dam, Wis., and grew up in Anaheim, Calif. He is survived by his wife Linda; his sons Robert Jr., Kalin and Dustin; and a daughter, Vallyn, all of Newport Beach.
Mr. Hatfield attended Fullerton Junior College and Long Beach State University, both in California, and sang in groups that played at proms and fraternity dances. In 1962 Mr. Hatfield's group, the Variations, merged with Mr. Medley's, the Paramours. The men formed a duo later that year and reportedly took their name after a black fan exclaimed at one of their concerts, ''That was righteous, brothers.''Continue reading the main story
WASHINGTON — The Righteous Brothers have become the soundtrack to our lives, not to mention the soundtracks to “Ghost,” “Top Gun” and “Dirty Dancing.”
Now, co-founder Bill Medley revamps the duo this Sunday at The Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia.
“I tell the audience we do all the old stuff ’cause there ain’t no new stuff,” Medley joked with WTOP.
Joining him on stage is Bucky Heard, who replaced the late Bobby Hatfield after his 2003 death. The new duo launched a Las Vegas residency last year with gigs every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
“Bucky and I have been friends for 13-14 years,” Medley said. “I went in to see him and he was doing a couple Journey songs [and] it broke me up! I said, ‘My God, this guy can really sing!’ If you can do Steve Perry, you’ve got a shot at Bobby Hatfield. … I told him, ‘You don’t have to sound like Bobby, you just need to sing like Bobby. You need to hit those notes and just have a good time with me on stage.”
While Medley was himself convinced, he wasn’t sure if audiences would accept the new duo.
“We went to Laughlin, about an hour and a half from Las Vegas, where I told Bucky, ‘We can go there and break the show in. We could die and no one will know,'” Medley joked. “I walk in and say, ‘How’s the crowd tonight?’ My road manager says, ‘The whole week is sold out!’ So, we didn’t get a chance to walk into this gently. … The only two questions in my mind were: Do people care there’s a Righteous Brothers? And will they accept Bucky? The first song Bucky sang himself, he got a standing ovation.”
Still, no matter how well the new duo clicks, Medley will always miss the heck out of Hatfield.
“You can’t replace Bobby Hatfield,” Medley said. “He was just a phenomenal singer. We grew up together from about 21 until he was 63. We were friends and partners. I miss him as much offstage as on stage, so there’s everything to miss. He was a very funny guy. We just had a lot of fun together.”
The fun began in 1962 in Orange County, California, where Medley performed with a rock ‘n’ roll group called The Paramours and Hatfield performed with a similar group called The Variations.
“We had a mutual friend that had been working in Las Vegas and he was a little tired of it,” Medley recalled. “So, he took Bobby, Bobby’s drummer, myself and my guitar player and put us all together.”
How did they spin off from this group to form a duo dubbed “The Righteous Brothers”?
“Back in those days, ’61 and ’62, there wasn’t any white guys in California doing what we did,” Medley said. “Orange County at the time was very white, but there was a marine base there in El Toro and the black marines heard there were these two white guys at the club singing rhythm-and-blues, so they started coming down. … A lot of times when we came to work, they’d say, ‘How ya doing, Righteous Brother?’ … Bobby said, ‘Why don’t we call ourselves what the marines have been calling us?'”
Thus, the Righteous Brothers were born, releasing their first record “Little Latin Lupe Lu” in 1963. A year later, the duo recorded its first smash hit, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” which went to No. 1.
“Phil Spector knew us from California,” Medley said. “He had called our record company Moonglow and said he wanted to lease the remainder of our contract, which had about two years left. … We were a little hesitant because he had worked with mainly girls, The Ronettes and The Crystals, [but] we said, ‘OK, we would like to give that a shot.’ So, Phil Spector called Barry [Mann] and Cynthia [Weil] and said, ‘Write the Righteous Brothers a song and record it, and they wrote ‘Lovin’ Feeling’.”
Ironically, the original version was much different from the version we know today.
“They really wrote it faster and a little more bubble gum, so when we sat down with Phil and Barry to learn it, they were singing it really high and I said, ‘I can’t hit that high note! I can’t get up there,” Medley said. “So, they lowered it a little, and every time they lowered it, they slowed it down. They literally had to lower it like four keys. By the time we got to [the key of ‘C’], it was slow and a totally different song. It didn’t sound like it was going to be a hit; it sounded like it was on the wrong speed!”
To their surprise, it was a massive radio hit, climbing all the way to No. 1 on the Billboard chart.
“That’s an out-of-body experience, when you hear your first record on the radio,” Medley said. “‘Lupe Lu’ was the first one we ever heard and we just flipped out. So, when we heard ‘Lovin’ Feelin’ on the radio, it was just amazing because it sounded so great against all the other songs they were playing.”
The duo cracked the Top 10 again with “Just Once In My Life” (1965). It was penned by Carole King and Gerry Goffin during a friendly competition with rival songwriters Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, who were struggling to finish writing the eventual No. 1 hit “(You’re My) Soul and Inspiration” (1966).
“We were at Barry and Cynthia’s house learning ‘Soul & Inspiration,’ and Phil Spector, Barry and Cynthia got in some sort of disagreement,” Medley said. “They sent us back to California to work with some little girl named Carole King [who] wrote the song ‘Just Once in My Life.’ [When] we went over to MGM, I called Barry and Cynthia and said, ‘I need that song you were teaching us!’ Barry said, ‘Oh god, we didn’t even finish writing it!’ And I said, ‘Please finish writing it and get it to me immediately.”
By now, Medley was arranging and producing the duo’s records, including “Unchained Melody,” which peaked at No. 4 in 1965, but would gain even more steam over the years as the duo’s most famous hit.
“‘Unchained Melody’ was written for a movie way back called ‘Unchained’ about a guy that’s in prison writing a letter to his girl,” Medley said. “Roy Hamilton and Al Hibbler had recorded it and we fell in love with it. … I arranged it and produced it. Phil Spector thought it was such a bad record that he put it on the B-side of ‘Hung on You,’ which was Spector’s production, but the disc jockeys said, ‘No, we love ‘Unchained Melody.’ Damn! The guys that wrote that song must have died and went to heaven!”
It was a different film that returned “Unchained Melody” to prominence in “Ghost” (1990), capturing the romantic longing between Molly (Demi Moore) and her murdered husband Sam (Patrick Swayze).
“Now, ‘Unchained Melody’ is about this guy that passes away,” Medley said. “I really feel ‘Unchained Melody’ had a lot to do with making ‘Ghost’ a great movie. … It’s real haunting and it’s real beautiful.”
While “Unchained Melody” found a new home in “Ghost,” “Lovin’ Feelin'” made a return in “Top Gun” (1986), as Tom Cruise and Anthony Edwards serenaded Kelly McGillis at the bar. Most acclaimed of Medley’s movie soundtracks was his Jennifer Warnes duet “Time of My Life” for “Dirty Dancing” (1987), which won an Oscar for Best Original Song and a Grammy for Best Pop Duo Performance.
“That song was just placed in the movie right at the right place,” Medley said. “Jennifer and I just did the song to work together, because we didn’t figure the movie [would take off]. A movie called ‘Dirty Dancing’ sounded like a bad porno movie! … All of a sudden, this little movie that was going to do nothing became probably the biggest movie of the year. How can you figure any of this stuff?”
The song has come full circle in Medley’s personal life. His wife Paula was pregnant with his daughter McKenna at the time of its recording, and now he brings McKenna on stage to sing the duet with him. However, if you see McKenna up on stage for “Time of My Life,” don’t expect the “Dirty Dancing” lift.
“Oh, God no,” Medley said with a laugh. “No thank you! Not even at a young age would I try that!”
His marriage is his biggest triumph. Medley has been married to Paula since 1986. What’s the secret?
“I don’t know man,” Medley said with a hearty laugh. “I tell ya, marriage is a whole career. My first marriage was about six years, my second marriage was a year, my third marriage was six months and my fourth marriage has been like 31 years now, so I finally got it right [and] got the right girl.”
It’s a happy ending for Medley, who now also has closure for the 1976 murder of his ex-wife Karen Klaas, a cold case that was just solved in January thanks to the discovery of new DNA evidence.
“It kicked up a lot of dust when we had to do the press conference,” Medley said. “She was such a beautiful, sweet, wonderful lady and the mother of our son. So, it kicked up a lot of dirt for a couple of weeks and I tried to stay away from interviews because it just wasn’t letting it go away. But now, it’s good. And I do ‘Unchained Melody’ on stage, which is a tribute to Bobby [Hatfield], but I must say, every once in a while — actually, almost every time I do it — Karen pops into my head as I’m doing it.”
Through it all, the highs and the lows, the glory and the heartbreak, Medley knows how lucky he is.
“[I remind myself] almost every day,” Medley said. “I should just write it on a piece of paper and put it on the mirror so I see it every morning, [saying]: ‘Do you realize how blessed you are?’ ‘Cause I am.”
Click here for more on The Birchmere concert. Listen below for the full conversation with Bill Medley:
Like WTOP on Facebook and follow @WTOP on Twitter to engage in conversation about this article and others.
© 2017 WTOP. All Rights Reserved.