Spectropop remembers

BOBBY HATFIELD (1940 - 2003)

Blue-eyed Soul Brother

Bobby Hatfield of the Righteous Brothers, who died on 5th November 2003 aged 63 in Kalamazoo, Michigan, was part of one of the most instantly recognisable acts in popular music. Complete opposites in looks, personalities and singing voices, the Righteous Brothers never lost their appeal, still performing as an act right up until the day of Bobby Hatfield's untimely death.

He was born Robert Lee Hatfield on 10 August 1940 in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. The Hatfields moved to Anaheim, California when Bobby was four years old. Years later he became the president of the high school student body at Fullerton Junior College, being an all round athlete as well as active in musical and theatrical productions.

He formed his own group the Variations and was performing at coffee houses and high school proms when a mutual friend, Barry Rillera, introduced him to Bill Medley, the leader of a similar band, the Paramours. Initially, they were paired together by Johnny Wimber as lead singers of a new Paramours line-up. When the inevitable happened and Medley and Hatfield decided to break off from the group, they chose the name the Righteous Brothers after a black marine shouted to them "that's righteous brothers" after one of their performances.

Their first single, 'Little Latin Lupe Lu', written by Bill Medley and released on Moonglow in May 1963, become a Top 50 hit. This was followed by the minor hits 'My Babe' and 'Try To Find Another Man', both written by Medley/Hatfield, and 'This Little Girl Of Mine'. They continued their rise to fame despite making what appeared to be a backward career move when they quit their role as show openers for the Beatles US tour in August 1964 after finding it impossible to perform against the background of screaming Beatles fans. Immediately they returned to Los Angeles to become regulars on the newly launched Shindig! TV show where they built up a strong following with their frantic rock'n'roll numbers.

Their biggest break came when legendary producer Phil Spector bought out their contract with Moonglow Records, in late 1964. Spector created what many consider to be the best pop record of all time in 'You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'', written with Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil specifically for the Righteous Brothers. Despite initial reservations by the Righteous Brothers themselves over the style of the song, and general concerns over the length and the speed, 'You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' very quickly hit the top of the pop charts. The Righteous Brothers were suddenly in major demand, touring and appearing on the major TV shows.

They made history in January 1965 by being the first act to have three albums in the top 20 at the same time with 'Right Now' and 'Some Blue Eyed Soul' on Moonglow and, of course, 'You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' on Philles. It was a major surprise when most people actually saw the Righteous Brothers, presuming that they were black, only to discover they were in fact white. As white men who could sing black music, the phrase 'blue eyed soul' was coined for them.

The follow-up to 'You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin', the Carole King/Gerry Goffin/Phil Spector-authored 'Just Once In My Life', used the same formula as its illustrious predecessor, becoming another major hit. The next release, a further Goffin/King/Spector song, 'Hung On You', was unlike their first Philles 45s in that the Righteous Brothers sang the song mostly together. The call and response at the climax of the track went a step further than on the two previous releases with Bobby Hatfield and Bill Medley completely unrestrained. A marvellous mass of sound, 'Hung On You' was not really appreciated by your average DJ, who instead started to play the B-side 'Unchained Melody', a Bobby Hatfield solo from the 'Just Once In My Life' album. As with all Righteous Brothers albums, there was always at least one solo each. Recorded in a single studio take with the minimum of backing produced by Bill Medley, Bobby Hatfield gave a truly majestic performance on 'Unchained Melody' and it quickly became a major hit, making #4 in the US charts. Although perturbed that one of his productions should be overlooked in favour of an album filler, Phil Spector seized on the opportunity and recorded Bobby Hatfield performing similar standards in 'Ebb Tide', 'For Sentimental Reasons' and 'The White Cliff Of Dover'. 'Ebb Tide' was another major hit, reaching #5.

Despite all this success, the Righteous Brothers became increasingly frustrated and disillusioned with Phil Spector, feeling that they were not given the deserved recognition. Late in 1965, they broke their contract with Philles Records and, after much legal wrangling, signed with Verve, releasing '(You're My) Soul And Inspiration', written by Mann/Weil, which very quickly topped the US charts. On Verve Records, the Righteous Brothers now had Bill Medley as sole producer, Bill Baker as arranger and a major change in format in that they shared the vocals, singing a verse each. By this time they were firmly established as one of the major acts in the US. They released a string of top quality singles, 'He', 'Go Ahead & Cry', 'On This Side Of Goodbye', 'Melancholy Music Man', 'Stranded In The Middle Of Noplace' and 'Here I Am', plus albums including 'Soul & Inspiration', 'Go Ahead & Cry', 'Sayin' Somethin'', 'Greatest Hits', 'Souled Out', 'Standards', 'One For The Road' and 'Greatest Hits Vol 2'.

After the break-up of the Righteous Brothers in 1968, Bobby Hatfield's first solo release was the Mann/Weil song 'Hang Ups', which he produced himself, followed by the self-penned autobiographical 'Brothers'. Verve Records then decided to record him performing standards from the 1950s like 'Only You', 'My Prayer' and 'Answer Me'. There was an unissued album from this period. Hatfield, who had already appeared in the films Swingin' Summer and Beach Ball with Bill Medley, also appeared in the TV movie The Ballad Of Andy Crocker which was intended a pilot for a TV series.

In 1969, a year after honouring the contractual condition, Bobby Hatfield took the extraordinary and bizarre decision to replace Bill Medley in the Righteous Brothers with Jimmy Walker of the Knickerbockers. This partnership lasted for just one album, 'Rebirth', although the act did tour and appeared on several TV shows.

Following the inevitable break-up of this new partnership, Bobby Hatfield went to Rick Hall's Fame Studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama to record his only released solo LP 'Messin' In Muscle Shoals'. A complete departure from anything that he had recorded previously, it was a vibrant album combining the splendour of Bobby Hatfield's vocals coupled with the captivating Muscle Shoals sound. With bankruptcy looming, MGM Records was in turmoil at this time and the LP went almost completely unnoticed by the record buying public. The scheduled single from the album, 'The Promised Land'/'Woman You Got No Soul' was never issued.

In 1972 on Warner Brothers Records he recorded what is arguably his best solo track, a Richard Perry-produced version of 'Stay With Me', a song perfectly suited to Bobby Hatfield who gave a virtuoso performance. He also recorded a version of another soul classic, 'Oo Wee Baby I Love You', in London.

The original Righteous Brothers reformed in 1974 and signed with Lambert and Potter's Haven Records. They immediately had a surprise Top 3 hit with 'Rock And Roll Heaven'. They had other hits with 'Give It To The People' and 'Dream On', plus a couple of albums, 'Give It To The People' and 'The Sons Of Mrs Righteous'. Bobby Hatfield's voice had remained in perfect shape and really excelled during their Haven period, sounding better than ever. As in the 1960s the Righteous Brothers toured extensively and appeared on the major TV shows, but by 1976 they had stopped recording and touring.

Nothing was heard from the Righteous Brothers as a duo until, in 1982, they were asked to reform for the American Bandstand 25th Anniversary Show, where they gave a magnificent performance of a slowed down 'Rock And Roll Heaven'. This gave them the inspiration to reunite for a Righteous Brothers 20th Anniversary Tour. In 1990, with the help of three movies, the Righteous Brothers were subjected to massive media attention, generating legions of new fans across the world. Initial interest was sparked by 'You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' in Top Gun. Then Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes hit #1 with '(I've Had) The Time Of My Life' from Dirty Dancing. The film Ghost, featuring Bobby Hatfield's 1965 original solo of 'Unchained Melody', was a colossal box office success, the reissued single becoming a worldwide #1 hit. Initially, the Righteous Brothers received no royalties from the reissue, so they rerecorded 'Unchained Melody' (and their other big hits) for Curb Records. Released on a cassette single the remake sold a million copies and the Righteous Brothers made history by becoming the first act to have two top 20 hits with different versions of the same song.

By then end of the '90s the Righteous Brothers were again big news when it was announced by BMI that 'You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' was the most played record on US radio in the 20th century, with over 8 million plays. The Righteous Brothers were inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in 2003. Many felt that this was long overdue, including Billy Joel, who gave a heartfelt induction speech to two of his inspiring heroes. Bobby Hatfield gave a very moving acceptance speech in which he acknowledged his late parents and his two late brothers, John and Carl Jr., whose birthday it would have been.

For twelve years Bobby hosted the annual Bobby Hatfield Charity Golf Classic to raise funds for Lupus, an illness his wife suffered from for many years, raising over 1 million dollars for the cause.

Bobby Hatfield, ever the family man, is survived by his wife Linda, daughter Vallyn, sons Dustin, Bobby Jr., and Kalin and grandson Luke.

Peter Richmond

Robert Lee Hatfield, singer: born August 10, 1940 - died November 5, 2003.