The Bee Gees were riding high when Maurice Gibb (pictured above at far left, with Robin and Barry) called me from Miami in February 1998 to discuss an upcoming HBO concert special.
Their current album, Still Waters, had sold almost five million copies worldwide, peaking at No. 2 in Britain and No. 11 in the United States. The previous year they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and received career achievement nods at the American Music Awards and the Brit Awards. A few weeks before our conversation, the Bee Gees took a break from their busy songwriting schedule (Bette Midler, Deana Carter) to perform at Madison Square Garden for the 20th anniversary of their monster album Saturday Night Fever.
“I’ll be honest with you, Dean,” Maurice said. “Just to have the respect back is worth it all. Whether the album had been a success or not, it’s just having the respect back. We’ve been slapped around a bit for a few years. It was just nice not to be anymore and not have any negative questions or things like that, because now everyone seems to want to enjoy that (disco) culture. It was great fun for us…”
There was one downer moment. Maurice and his brothers walked off a British TV chat show after being offended by its host, Clive Anderson.
“There’s a difference between being funny and malicious,” he said. “The guy just ripped us apart. You don’t knock our songs. You can rip us apart but the songs are like our kids. I’ve never seen him (Barry?) as mad as that in my life … I felt like flooring the guy… Robin was white with rage.”
BARRY TOLD ME LAST YEAR THAT HE AND YOU REALLY HAVE TO WORK HARD TO CONTROL YOUR TEMPERS, AND ROBIN IS THE GRUMPY ONE …
Do you know something? I’ve got to be honest with you. Since the Clive Anderson show, it’s totally changed. I’ve never seen Robin so happy. He’s been very happy, he’s been mellow. No negativity, nothing. And Barry’s been the same. I don’t know whether it was great therapy or what. He just got all his anger out.
IT MUST BE YOUR TURN TO BE THE GRUMPY ONE?
No, actually. I’m probably the mellowest of all. I’m sorta the in-between one. I’ve been often called different things. One of them was “the engine” — I don’t know about that! I’m the one that makes the deciding vote, y’know?
THE HBO SPECIAL SEEMS ALMOST LIKE THE BARRY GIBB SHOW, WITH RELATIVELY LITTLE CAMERA TIME FOR YOU AND ROBIN. IS THAT JUST THE PRICE YOU PAY FOR NOT BEING THE LEAD SINGER?
No, I never looked at it that way. We always think of which is the voice that is best for the song. I’ve never really ventured in that field so much because I’ve not enjoyed it as much as I have played or doing harmonies. When I do it I have fun with it too, but it’s not my priority. Each one has a different function, which makes the other ones fit. When we write it’s the same way. We sort of all sit with ideas and an idea will come up between the three of us and we become one with that idea. It’s the same as on stage. We don’t look at each other as lead singers. We look at each other saying, ‘Boy! They really like that song’ and not really concerned on who sang it. We used to, probably, when we were kids. We used to get ego trips and start arguing, ‘Well, I wanna sing lead on this.’ Or something like that. But these days, we don’t think about that. It’s the actual song and everything that we present with it.
YOU LOOK THE BEST, WITH THE OUTLAW COAT!
(laughs). Well, I’m the musical director, too, of the band. I’m doing two jobs at once. But I love to do that. That’s something that I can do that Barry and Robin don’t necessarily can do.
WHO DECIDED TO RESURRECT “DON’T THROW IT ALL AWAY” (AS A TRIBUTE TO LATE BROTHER ANDY)?
We thought we’d love to do a tribute to Andy on the show, and that was one of the most beautiful songs he’d done. We thought let’s do that because we’re all singing on it, and there’s not many singing on the other ones, and that was a pretty well-known hit for him. We thought this is the perfect song to do, and we wanted to do it with great taste, and we did it with video screens. It was like Andy was on stage with us. We wanted to do it very tastefully and to pay tribute to him, because we have a lot of fans of ours that are fans of him to.
WE’RE COMING UP TO THE 10th ANNIVERSARY OF HIS DEATH (MARCH 10, 1988), WILL THAT BE A TOUGH TIME?
We’re just debating with Mum right now. We’re thinking of doing something on that day. She’s back in Vegas right now, living there with our sister Lesley and her husband. She’s a character. Her best friends are Siegfried and Roy. She has a great time. We’re not doing anything very morbid or anything like that. We’d just like to do a celebration of some kind.
Losing a younger brother is a different kind of grief from a mother losing her youngest child. She was tough though. My father, he died when Andy died. He had three years after Andy passed away and he was so bitter. He basically died of a broken heart. He was never the same after Andy passed away.
HE WAS BITTER ABOUT?
Not knowing enough. Maybe he did things wrong that he thought he did wrong. I don’t know. It’s hard to tell. He wouldn’t talk. He was just very angry all the time.
HOW ABOUT YOU AND YOUR BROTHERS?
We had each other and Mum. It made us realize how close we are and how short life can be. You just don’t take anything for granted any more. Especially at his funeral. we made that pact that we can’t let anything come between us, and take life as it is, and have fun. When you’re 10 or 8 years older, you feel more vulnerable. I got help (AA) years ago and I couldn’t help Andy myself either. I blamed myself for that for a while.
YOU WERE CLEAN WHEN HE DIED?
DOES ANDY’S ESTATE STILL GENERATE QUITE A LOT OF INCOME?
Oh yeah, sure. Especially for his daughter (Peta). It got her through school and all that stuff.
-No, I think we’re hungry to create. It’s more that. Somebody once said to me after Fever, “Why did you bother making the Spirits (Having Flown) album?” I said, “It’s like you getting the Pulitzer Prize for journalism and saying, OK I don’t have to be a journalist anymore.” It’s something that’s within us that’s been with us since we were kids. We’ve always been trying to create something — songs, production, whatever.
(He talked about the stresses of touring, and his refusal to do back-to-back tours like the Stones. Maurice was good friends with Bill Wyman who confided to him that he quit the Stones because of the touring demands. “It’s just so tedious,” Maurice said. “We’re not going to go and slog our guts out and not have fun. We want to do big events, major events, always get into that country a week before the show, get it in incredible shape and that way also the people get a good show. You do two shows in a row, we need a night off, especially when you’re doing falsettos — that’s a killer. You need three days’ rest after a show!”)
I GUESS YOU’VE GOT TO A STAGE IN YOUR LIFE WHERE YOU DON’T REALLY NEED THE MONEY?
Once again, it’s not that. The wonderful thing about Fever was the security for my kids and good schools and stuff like that. I want security for my family, and that was one of the benefits of getting a studio, too, so we could always create. If we didn’t do what we were doing, I think I’d just die. I think I would just fade away because I can’t stop doing what I’m doing. I just love to do it, and we’re very fortunate to have our hobby as our work.
Copyright © 2003, 2013 by Dean Goodman. PLEASE DO NOT CUT AND PASTE THE WHOLE THING