Bill Medley reveals his favorite Righteous Brothers songs ahead of local gigs

Sixty years ago, Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield were having fun singing in Los Angeles rock ‘n’ roll vocal groups. But Medley never thought that, well into the 21st century, he’d still be with The Righteous Brothers, singing many of those early-1960s songs.

“When Bobby and I first started, rock ‘n’ roll was considered a fad at that point,” Medley said during a recent interview. “We had some West Coast hits from ‘63-’65. We thought, ‘We’ll ride it out until the fad’s over and we’ll go back to driving a truck.’”

Now 82, Medley’s never had to get behind the wheel of a Peterbilt or Mack. In fact, because of COVID, he had the longest time off from performing in six decades.

“Thank God, we’re out and the audiences are out, getting back to some sort of normal,” said Medley, who is singing with his new Righteous Brother partner Bucky Heard and performing a special Valentine’s Day show at Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa Feb. 10-11 and a headlining show at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio on Feb. 17.

The Righteous Brothers (Bucky Heard, left, and Bill Medley) will headline a pair of shows at Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa Feb. 10-11 and an evening at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio on Feb. 17. (Photo courtesy of Righteous Brothers)

The Righteous Brothers (Bucky Heard, left, and Bill Medley) will headline a pair of shows at Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa Feb. 10-11 and an evening at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio on Feb. 17. (File photo by Ethan Miller,Getty Images for Caesars Palace)

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“I’m kind of a one-trick pony,” he continued. “All I can do is perform. After this last year and a half, and everything I’ve gone through, getting on stage is really the medicine for all of that.”

Off the road for the first time in 55 years and performing only by livestream while quarantined at his California home, Medley had surgery to remove a cancerous growth from his throat in May 2020, then, in June, Paula, his wife of 35 years, passed away after a five-year battle with Parkinson’s disease.

Medley’s voice, he said, is fine. He can even hit some higher notes than before the surgery. But the man known for his smooth deep voice can’t come close to matching the highs he produced when he was a teenager.

“When I was 16, I might have been a first tenor,” he said. “I was 5-foot-3 and had a high tenor voice. One year, I grew 7 inches and my voice went from first tenor to kind of a bass-baritone. I was always singing, church choirs, school choirs. Then, when I was 15, I heard Little Richard and said ‘That’s something I want to be involved with.’ I never dreamed of any success. Then I met Bobby.”

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First together in a group called the Paramours, bass Medley and tenor Hatfield became the Righteous Brothers in 1963, and the next year had a couple L.A. area hits with “My Babe,” and “Little Latin Lupe Lu” that were big enough to land them an opening spot for the Beatles. Then the duo hooked up with “Wall of Sound” producer Phil Spector and found the Barry Mann-Cynthia Weil song, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin.’”

“We knew it was a great song,” Medley said. “But after it was recorded, we didn’t have a clue it was going to do what it was going to do. It was a 4-minute song and in those days, songs were two or two and a half minutes long. I sounded like I was on the wrong speed. I think everything wrong with it made it a special song.”

“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin,’” now radio’s most played song ever, propelled the Righteous Brothers to a new level.

“‘Lovin’ Feelin’ was a huge national hit and we were doing ‘Shindig,’ a national TV show at the same time,” the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member said. “Those two things are what got us there.”

Medley, who got thrown into producing the duo’s early singles “because nobody else wanted to do it,” ended up producing the Righteous Brothers’ next big hit.

“I accidentally produced ‘Unchained Melody,’” Medley said. “Phil Spector, our producer, came to me and said ‘I need you to produce the albums and I produce the singles’ because he took way too long and spent way too much money.”

“Unchained Melody” was supposed to be an album track and they put it on the B-side, he said.

“Every disc jockey in the country flipped it over and I’d produced a hit record,” Medley added.

The Righteous Brothers, who had another handful of hits, split up in 1968 when Medley left to pursue a solo career. But they regrouped in 1974, got another hit with “Rock ‘n’ Roll Heaven” and continued to appear together as a duo through the ‘80s, while Medley continued to do solo work.

Then “Unchained Melody” got a new life from the movie “Ghost,” anchoring a platinum-selling soundtrack album and putting the Righteous Brothers back on the road and performing three-month residencies through the early 2000s.

Hatfield died of a heart attack in a Kalamazoo, Mich. hotel room prior to a 2003 concert, seemingly ending the Righteous Brothers. But, in 2016, Medley reformed the group with Heard stepping into Hatfield’s role.

“I wasn’t looking to reform the Righteous Brothers, but I had a lot of friends and industry people telling me I should do it,” he said. “When I heard Bobby, I thought ‘If I ever get to do it, he’s the guy,’ because we were already good friends. That’s a key part of putting the puzzle together.”

The Righteous Brothers will, of course, perform all their hits at their concerts, but does Medley have a favorite?

“Of course, ‘Lovin’ Feelin’ is one of my favorite, favorite songs,” Medley said. “But the song that followed that, ‘Just Once in My Life,’ Carole King wrote it. That was always one of my favorites and the song ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone,” we never had a hit with it, but we played it in the show every night. Those three, I’d say, are my favorites.”

Choosing his favorite, Medley said, isn’t what is important to him about the songs. It’s the fact that “Lovin’ Feelin,’” “Unchained Melody,” “(You’re My) Soul and Inspiration” and “Rock and Roll Heaven” bring in multiple generations of fans to Righteous Brothers shows.

“I feel so grateful the audience still wants to come out and hear these songs,” he said. “The audience is really what keeps the excitement alive. When you walk out on stage, you feel like you’re 25-years-old anyway. When the audience reacts, it’s kind of like a magical, out-of-body experience. It’s a real wonderful feeling.”

Righteous Brothers

When: 8 p.m. Feb. 10-11

Where: Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, 615 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

Tickets: $49-$233 at scfta.org.

Also: 8 p.m. Feb. 17 at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84-245 Indio Springs Pkwy., Indio. $39-$69 at fantasyspringsresort.com.

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