By Tricia Witkower
When I talked to Bill Medley about his upcoming show at Fantasy Springs Casino on Friday, February 11, I tell him it’s my 4th time interviewing him and we’ve talked so much that I’m running out of questions. He chuckles – even his laugh is recognizable in that deep bass-baritone that is so iconic – and tells me he’s running out of answers. I tell him I’ll try to keep it fresh, and off we go.
We started with the genesis of the band name, The Righteous Brothers. As Bill tells it, “In the early 1960s, Orange County, CA was about the whitest place in the country, but all these black Marines from El Toro Marine base heard that there were these two guys singing rhythm and blues, so they came down to hear us. In those days if you really liked something, like a great shirt, a white guy would say, “Boy, that’s cool” or “bitchin’.” A black guy would say, “That’s righteous, that’s a righteous lookin’ shirt.” And if they like you as a friend, they’d call you a “brother.” A lot of times we’d be coming to work and pass one of the black Marines, and he’d say, “Hey righteous brother, how you doin’?” I loved that and so did Bobby [Hatfield]. Sometimes at the end of our songs they’d yell out, “That’s righteous, brother!” Finally, I think it was Bobby who said, “What about the name that the Marines have been calling’ us, the black guys. How about The Righteous Brothers?” I said, “Oh man, I would love that.” That was it–we put the name on our first record. That’s the true story. The black Marines from El Toro Marine base named us.”
Onto other major firsts, I ask Bill what is the first show he ever attended. “That was a while ago,” he tells me. “It was Ray Charles and it was absolutely life changing. It was great. When I heard him I said, ‘Man I need to do that.’ He was just spectacular. Probably my most important concert because of the impact it had on me and how much it motivated me.”
In his many decades in the music industry, he has many tales to tell. “The cool thing about being a successful performer is you get to meet a lot of your heroes and people you admire. When we went into Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, what surprised us the most was when other artists came up to tell us how we influenced them, that was really cool.” Some of the close friends he made, included Kenny Rogers, Glenn Campbell, and Elvis Presley.
How has it been for him not touring these past few years due to Covid? “Well, it’s been an enormous drag. I’m thrilled to death to be back to work. I had a couple of bad things happen right about the same time covid hit and going on stage is really the medicine for everything that I do. So not being able to go on stage was really very much a drag and it seemed like it just went on and on and on and this tour is the light at the end of the tunnel.”
He didn’t find there was much during that time that filled the void musically. “We did one streaming thing, that was ok. It was at least something to do artistically.” But mostly, he tells me, he didn’t do anything during the covid-induced hiatus on live music. “I’m a one trick pony, I’m a singer.” Part of the problem, he explains further, is that his wife passed away in June of 2020. “I was alone in the house, so it was just horrible. I didn’t do much. I tried to stay busy. It was my 4th marriage, but we were together for 35 years.”
What can fans expect at his show this weekend? “We do all the hits. There are a couple of surprises in the show, but we know the audience is there to hear those particular songs. I’ve gone to hear some of my heroes and wanted to hear the songs I was influenced by and loved and when they didn’t do them, it was disappointing. So we do our hits and we have a lot of fun doing it.”
Buy your tickets to see The Righteous Brothers play this Friday at Fantasy Springs at https://www.fantasyspringsresort.com/righteous-brothers/