Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



Vocal trio: Barry (b 1 September 1946), Robin and Maurice Gibb (both b 22 December 1949; Maurice d 12 January 2003 following surgery; Robin d 20 May 2012 of cancer). Family originally from the Isle of Man, sons of drummer/ bandleader Hugh Gibb and singer Barbara. They began harmonizing at an early age, copying the Everly and Mills Brothers from the radio, and made their debut in a Manchester cinema when the record they were to mime as a pre-matinee attraction broke. The family emigrated to Australia in 1958; the boys were spotted by driver Bill Gates singing for change at speedway track. The were named Bee Gees for Gates, or local disc jockey Bill Goode, or the Brothers Gibb; they later said it was Barry's initials...

They were making money on TV but couldn't get a hit single until fan and small-time record producer Ossie Byrne gave them free run of his two mono tape recorders and they began experimenting. 'Spicks And Specks' was a no. 1 in Australia on the Festival label; on tour they played in places 'where the men were so drunk they couldn't stand up, so they fought sitting down'. They went back to England early '67 having sent on demos to Brian Epstein's NEMS concern and got a five-year management contract. Australians Colin Peterson on drums, Vince Melouney on guitar were added to Barry on rhythm guitar, Maurice on bass. NEMS director Robert Stigwood (b 16 April 1934, Adelaide; d 4 January 2016) launched them April '67 on a £50,000 budget; first single 'New York Mining Disaster 1941' introduced their keening harmony to the UK audience, who made it a no. 12 hit. 'To Love Somebody' flopped; dirge-like 'Massachusetts' hit no. 1 in October; all three were written jointly by the boys, marking them an all-round talent in the Beatles mould. Subsequent releases lacked Beatles' depth but five were top ten hits, all ballads after the bluesy 'Jumbo' made only no. 25. Melouney left '68, craving a more varied musical diet; success was assured as long as the brothers stuck together, but marriages (Maurice to singer Lulu) and problems adjusting to fame caused breakup and lawsuits (drummer Peterson claimed rights to the group's name!). Polydor released a best-of album; Robin had no. 2 solo UK hit 'Saved By The Bell', Barry and Robin made pointless rock-star film Cucumber Castle; a reunion '70 failed to capture the imagination in the UK. Apart from a no. 1 USA with 'How Can You Mend A Broken Heart' the next four years were virtually hitless; they became an oldies act, rescued by Atlantic soul producer Arif Mardin after that label (which distributed them in USA) rejected new LP A Kick In The Head Is Worth Eight In The Pants.

A new partnership started with transitional Mr Natural '74 and blossomed with Main Course '75, in which Mardin encouraged an R&B feel. A new band with Alan Kendall, guitar, Dennis Byron on drums and Blue Weaver on keyboards (both ex-Amen Corner) provided the missing backbone: songs like 'Jive Talkin' ' (their second US no. 1) were improvised in studio from an instrumental base, while 'Nights On Broadway' (later a hit for black singer Candi Staton, a compliment indeed) saw Barry unleash a falsetto that became a trademark in their third career. The trio had unwittingly presaged the disco boom, so after consolidating their approach with Children Of The World '76 (with no. 1 single 'You Should Be Dancing') they were commissioned by Stigwood to write the score for disco movie Saturday Night Fever: the soundtrack album broke sales records worldwide, over 30 million, topping US LP chart 24 weeks (a record for a two-disc set) with three US no. 1 singles ('How Deep Is Your Love', 'Stayin' Alive', 'Night Fever' nos 3, 4 and 1 respectively in UK). Their new image was not their fault; turning up at a photo shoot the photographer made them change clothes: 'We were jeans-and-boots guys,' said Maurice, but they were mercilessly lampooned during the disco era. (Disc jockey/TV comic Kenny Everett did a sketch about how to become a Bee Gee, which they loved; the Hee Bee Gee Bees, led by the young Angus Deayton, later an acerbic TV personality, had a hit called 'Meaningless Songs Sung In Very High Voices'.

[Meanwhile, brother Andy -- b 5 March 1958, Brisbane; d 10 March 1988, Oxford, England -- launched his career with three straight no. 1 singles, all written or co-written by his older brothers; his second album Shadow Dancing was a USA top ten. Later Andy was a TV game-show host; he died of a heart virus.]

They repeated the disco formula with variations in Spirits Having Flown '79, including three more U.S. no. ones in 'Too Much Heaven', 'Tragedy' (also no. 1 UK), 'Love You Inside Out'. Living Eyes '81 was not as big, but they were passing the golden touch to others: with Karl Richardson and Albhy Galuten (who took over from Mardin when Stigwood left Atlantic mid-'70s), Barry produced Guilty '81 for Barbra Streisand, Heartbreaker '82 for Dionne Warwick (both no. 1 USA), and Eyes That See In The Dark '83 for Kenny Rogers (no. 6). Other films following Fever were sequel Stayin' Alive, disaster Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band '78 with Peter Frampton; Barry's solo effort Now Voyager '84 indicated hiatus in trio's recordings, but it was clear that his touch could sell records. Robin's Walls Have Eyes flopped. They co-wrote 'Chain Reaction' ('85 hit for Diana Ross), came back with album E.S.P. '87 after the image of Fever had finally died down. Barry's other projects included the Bunburys '86-8, about rabbits who play cricket. They signed with Warner Brothers '88, having earlier freed themselves from Stigwood via a lawsuit settled out of court. One '89 was more pretty pop, followed by High Civilization '91 and Size Isn't Everything '93, the latter reaching top 30 albums in UK, no. 153 USA; among many compilations Tales From The Brothers Gibb: A History In Song 1967-90 was a four-CD set, seen as too much of a pretty thing. Album Still Waters '97 was followed by a world tour, a South Bank Show on them (the UK arts TV showcase) and coincidentally a stage version of Saturday Night Fever in London.