Bobby Hatfield

Tenor voice of the Righteous Brothers
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The Independent Online

Robert Lee Hatfield, singer: born Beaver Dam, Wisconsin 10 August 1940; married (two children); died Kalamazoo, Michigan 5 November 2003.

Bobby Hatfield's high tenor contrasted with Bill Medley's deep baritone to create the distinctive sound of the Righteous Brothers. Their 1965 hit "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' " is frequently listed among the best records ever made. "I remember being a kid in a car with my mother," says the jazz and rock musician Curtis Stigers,

and "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' " by the Righteous Brothers came on and it blew my mind. It was not just the song but the way it was sung and the way it was recorded. Sometimes Phil Spector's Wall of Sound was overwhelming but this time it was perfect. The way the record unfolds is wonderful and it's one of the greatest moments of popular music ever. How can you not love that record?

"Unchained Melody" (1965), a Hatfield solo, is another Righteous Brothers record that is widely loved, and many versions have been released over the years, including UK No 1 hits for Robson and Jerome in 1995 and Gareth Gates in 2002.

Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield both came from Orange County, California. Hatfield had been born in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, in 1940, but the family moved to California when he was four years old. He would assist at his parents' dry-cleaning business and although he had dreams of playing baseball professionally, he also loved music. He especially appreciated the black doo-wop sounds of the Spaniels and Hank Ballard and the Midnighters.

He sang with his own group, the Variations, and realised that there was chemistry between himself and Bill Medley when he made a guest appearance with Medley's group, the Paramours, in 1962. Rather than the standard vocal quartet, they thought they would contrast Medley's deep baritone with Hatfield's tenor. After someone shouted, "That's righteous, brothers!" during a performance, they became the Righteous Brothers.

The Righteous Brothers began recording for the small Moonglow label in 1963 with the raucous "Little Latin Lupe Lu", written by Medley, which had a similar attack to the Isley Brothers' "Shout!", with Hatfield screaming at the end like Little Richard. They quit their day jobs, but going to radio stations to promote the record seemed to do more harm than good. The stations, which were split on racial lines, had assumed the duo were black, and neither black nor white stations wanted to play them. The record froze at No 49 on the US charts.

Their singles and albums (Right Now!, 1963, Some Blue-Eyed Soul, 1964) for Moonglow have been overlooked and reveal how distinctive they were even before they met the producer Phil Spector. In "Try to Find Another Man", for instance, Hatfield berates his woman for not doing the housework: "You never do nothing," he yells, "All you ever do is sit around the TV set, feed your fat face, complain, and make my life a complete misery." Hatfield and Medley scream on top of each other in "B Flat Blues", but "My Prayer" and "For Your Love" are not far removed from what they did for Spector, albeit with a smaller accompaniment.

In 1964, Spector caught their act in San Francisco and realised that their wild, uninhibited approach would be perfect for his "Wall of Sound" style. His successes had been with girl groups such as the Crystals and the Ronettes, and he wanted to work with male vocalists. He bought them out of their Moonglow contract and they joined his label Philles.

Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil often wrote songs for Phil Spector's acts and Spector invited them to Hollywood to see the Righteous Brothers. Cynthia Weil recalls,

He had found these two guys out of Orange County whom he thought were terrific. We thought they should do a ballad. We started to write "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' " and we called Phil and played him the verse and the hook, and I said, " 'You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' is not the right title, we'll get something better", and he said, "No, that's the title", and we finished it with him. That whole middle section was Phil's idea. We played it for the Righteous Brothers, and Bobby was not happy because Bill had the whole first verse. He said, "What am I supposed to do while the big guy's singing?" and Phil said, "You can go to the bank!"

Phil Spector's vision called for a huge, cavernous sound and scores of musicians featuring the cream of Los Angeles session men. The pianist Leon Russell was among them:

Phillip liked to see how many people he could get into a small room. He'd get 30 people into a room that was 20 feet by 30 feet. With the tympanis and five guitars and three pianos and five horns, it was kinda close, and he had armed

guards on the door. Phillip's records were an unusual take on music, somewhere between Wagner and Jimmy Reed.

Barry Mann was presented with the finished product:

We knew we had written a great song. The production was so great that I had a feeling that nothing could stop this record. When Phil played it for us over the phone, I kept yelling at him, "It's at the wrong speed." It was a long record for those days. It was over three minutes but Phil put 2:58 on the record as he wanted airplay. It's the perfect combination of a great production, great artists and a really great song. BMI issued a press release which said it was the most-played song of the 20th century.

The Righteous Brothers topped the US chart but it wasn't such an easy ride in the UK. Tony Hall was promoting the record for Decca:

There was a cover of "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' " by Cilla Black. She was managed by Brian Epstein and with the Liverpool thing going, she had every TV spot under the sun and all the radioplay. Sam Costa, who was on the BBC's Light Programme, told me that the Righteous Brothers' record was a dirge and added, "I wouldn't even play it in my toilet." Things were desperate.

Hall suggested to Spector that the Righteous Brothers should visit the UK to promote the record:

We met them at Heathrow and got on another plane to do TV in Manchester and then to Birmingham, and it was a crazy, crazy week. By Friday night, the Righteous Brothers had gone home and we held a party. Eppy and Cilla were there, and Eppy said, "You've had it: we're No 3 and you haven't a hope in hell." Thank God the public came to their senses and they bought the magnificent Righteous Brothers record in vast quantities. It went to No l and Cilla's version disappeared.

The Righteous Brothers then recorded an underrated ballad by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, "Just Once in My Life". Hatfield became disillusioned with Medley taking the lead vocals and Spector placated him by recording solo performances of the oldies "Unchained Melody" and "Ebb Tide". "Unchained Melody" was placed on the B-side of "Hung On You", but US radio stations preferred it, and the single climbed to No 4. "Unchained Melody" was an A-side in the UK and made No 14. Further tracks with Spector included "The White Cliffs of Dover", but they tired of his paranoia and Medley persuaded Hatfield that they should make the records themselves.

The Righteous Brothers' work for Verve is usually dismissed as a Spector pastiche, but they did top the US charts with "(You're My) Soul and Inspiration" and had further hits with "He" and "Go Ahead and Cry". They split up in 1967, with Hatfield keeping the Righteous Brothers name and making an album with Jimmy Walker. He released solo singles, "Soul Café" and "Only You", and made the album Messin' in Muscle Shoals in 1971.

The Righteous Brothers reformed in 1974 and made No 3 in America with a tribute to stars who had died, "Rock and Roll Heaven" - sample lyric, "If you believe in forever, then life is just a one-night stand." After that, the duo worked on and off as the Righteous Brothers, and Medley and Jennifer Warnes had a hit in 1987 with "I've Had the Time of My Life" from the film Dirty Dancing. "I've enjoyed being Bobby Hatfield," joked Warnes at the time.

"Unchained Melody" had first been written for the 1955 prison drama Unchained but the Righteous Brothers' version became closely associated with the moulded clay scene in the 1990 film Ghost, when Demi Moore's pottery wheel collapses as she is distracted by Patrick Swayze. The Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody" was on the soundtrack, and it topped the UK chart that year. The soundtrack of Ghost and The Very Best of the Righteous Brothers were best-selling albums, and a reissue of "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' " went to No 3.

In March 2003 the Righteous Brothers were elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Spencer Leigh

Righteous Brother Bobby Hatfield dies just before he was due on stage

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