Grandpa and I enjoy our trips to Las Vegas, mainly to see dear friends who have become family over the past 40 years. Our visits do not focus around gambling or other Las Vegas norms, but exploring and spending time with these loved ones.
Sometimes we will catch a show, but it’s usually a funny comedian who we enjoy or a unique magician like Piff the Magic Dragon, but the other day I saw that The Righteous Brothers were performing there at the same time we would be in town. Having a personal history with the two original members, my husband was over the moon when I surprised him with the tickets to see their show.
Grandpa had known them and actually played guitar in a band called Joe Piazza and the Continentals, which was a backup band for them. He got a job with Bob Mitchell and Tom Donahue at KYA radio after being seen as a dancer on “Dick Stewart’s Dance Party,” and one day was asked to pick up Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield from Villa Roma at Fisherman’s Wharf. He drove his black 1960 Ford convertible and immediately made friends with the pair.
The show was at the Vallejo fairgrounds, and he was so thrilled to be a part of their performance. This marvelous bit of his past would have a special impact on him and his enjoyment of their music for years to come. As I spent my youth enjoying groups at the Fillmore East, he was grooving to the San Francisco performances at the Fillmore West.
Originally, The Righteous Brothers were the duo of Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield. They began performing together in 1962 as part of a five-member group called The Paramours, but changed the name to The Righteous Brothers when the two broke away from the others. The pair had a breakup in February 1968 which would last for more than six years, when Medley left to pursue a solo career. He made a few recordings on several labels, while Hatfield teamed up with singer Jimmy Walker (from The Knickerbockers) using The Righteous Brothers name. Medley first recorded “I Can’t Make It Alone,” written by the amazing Carole King, but the song was not very successful. “Brown Eyed Woman,” written by Mann and Weil, was received a little better, but neither he nor Hatfield achieved the same ratings on the hit charts as before.
Hatfield and Jimmy Walker recorded an album, “Re-Birth,” as “The Righteous Brothers” before disbanding in 1971. Jimmy Walker said he had wanted to continue, but Hatfield decided to break up that act.
Medley at the time was performing three shows a night in Las Vegas, but — finding it too much of a strain on his voice singing solo — he contacted Hatfield to reunite the original The Righteous Brothers. Hatfield, at this point, was broke and living alone in a small apartment, so in 1974, Medley and Hatfield announced a reunion during an appearance on “The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour.” Their song “Rock and Roll Heaven,” about rock singers who had died, became a hit, peaking at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. They were back ... or were they?
Between 1976 and 1981, Hatfield and Medley stopped performing as a duo after the death of Medley’s first wife, as he wanted time off to look after his son. They reunited again for an anniversary special on American Bandstand in 1981 to perform an updated version of “Rock and Roll Heaven,” and resumed touring intermittently. In late 1987, Medley’s duet with Jennifer Warnes, “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” appeared on the soundtrack for Dirty Dancing, and the pair’s 1965 version of “Unchained Melody” — my personal favorite — was featured in the 1990 movie “Ghost,” with Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg. Nobody has sung that song like they did, though many have tried.
Bobby Hatfield passed away on November 5, 2003. Sadly, the autopsy report attributed his death to heart failure brought on by a cocaine overdose, and his beautiful voice was silenced.
In January 2016, Medley announced he intended to revive The Righteous Brothers for the first time since 2003, which was when the original duo was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He contacted singer Bucky Heard and discussed a collaboration, which ended in a coin toss. Medley won, resulting in Heard accepting Medley’s proposal.
That is the show we’ll see in October and I, for one, am not only stoked but looking forward to watching Grandpa’s face as he revisits his musical past with an old friend.
Marla Luckhardt is a Brentwood resident who works with senior care and advocacy groups. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.