It’s just 17 minutes before showtime inside Englewood, NJ’s beautiful BergenPAC auditorium this Thursday, July 11, 2019 evening. The packed house is getting ready for a rare East Coast appearance by Bill Medley and Bucky Heard, also known as The Righteous Brothers.
As we wait for the show to start, we chat with several fans in the audience including Mick from Queens who says, “I’ve been a fan of the group since the 1960s when it featured original members Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield. To me, The Righteous Brothers have always epitomized the concept of ‘blue-eyed soul,’ so I can’t wait to hear how they sound live — especially here at BergenPAC, which is an extraordinary place to hear live music.”
Lisa from Bergenfield agrees adding, “Bergen PAC recently held a contest on Facebook. To win, you had to write down why you would want tickets to tonight’s show, so I borrowed a line from The Righteous Brothers’ song, ‘You Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’, and wrote ‘I’d get down on my knees for tickets.’ And guess what? I won two of them!”
Explaining, “I like all kinds of music, but I had older brothers and sisters who listened to The Righteous Brothers — I can even remember playing their LPs on our family record player with the automatic drop!” Lisa concludes by declaring, “I’m so glad to be here tonight seeing the group in this theater; it has a real small town feel to it.”
Lastly, we chat with Susan from Allendale who says, “I’m a long-time fan of The Righteous Brothers — since the 1960s. I remember American Bandstand, The Everly Brothers — the whole era of the ’60s — and The Righteous Brothers were one of my favorite groups.”
Wondering, “How can anyone not like their music?” Susan explains, “The Righteous Brothers sang songs which told love stories. You felt their music, and you could connect with a partner through their songs. I feel young people today are missing out — you just can’t compare the music from back then to today,” before noting, “I can even play The Righteous Brothers’ songs for my girls and they love them, too.”
The lights dim and the stage fills with musicians on saxophone, trumpet, guitar, drums, bass, and keyboards, along with two female backup singers. The Righteous Brothers — Bill Medley and Bucky Heard — enter and take center stage performing a soulful rendition of Sam and Dave’s “Hold On, I’m Coming.”
The audience claps along as Medley’s smooth full baritone/bass vocal alternates with Heard’s strong tenor on this rousing opening number.
The audience cheers, and the duo launches into their 1965 power ballad, “Just Once in My Life,” the band solidly backing them up as Medley and Heard croon “Once in my life/Let me get what I want/Girl, don’t let me down” on the number’s powerful chorus.
The crowd responds with avid applause before founding member Bill Medley welcomes the crowd. Explaining, “Starting in 1962, The Righteous Brothers did rhythm and blues and what was called ‘hard rock and roll’ until 1965 when we hit with ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” he announces, “This next song was our first hit on the West Coast — it’s a song I wrote about my girlfriend.”
Here the duo performs the group’s 1963 recording, “Little Latin Lupe Lu.” Heads bop in the audience on this upbeat blues number as the guys sing about such ’60s dances as “the twist,” “the watusi,” and the “mashed potato.” During the number, guitarist John Wedemeyer plays a rockin’ guitar solo to the solid beating of the drums.
The audience cheers and Medley introduces the group’s next number stating, “In 1966, this went straight to #1.” Here, The Righteous Brothers perform one of the highlight numbers of the evening, “(You’re My) Soul and Inspiration.” The audience applauds for the low bass intro by Medley before he and Heard trade off singing the tune’s soulful melody. Once Heard speaks the lyrics of the bridge, Medley follows up with his soulful cry, “Baby/I can’t make it without you,” to the audience’s great delight.
Medley introduces the duo’s next song as “my favorite,” and dedicates it “to all of the people who have passed,” notably Aretha Franklin. Here, Medley and Heard perform The Righteous Brothers’ 1974 Top 5 hit, “Rock and Roll Heaven,” where many in the crowd join in singing the tune’s well-known chorus, “If you believe in forever/Then life is just a one-night stand/If there’s a rock and roll heaven/Well you know they’ve got a hell of a band.”
After Medley informs the audience about the group’s current residency at Harrah’s in Las Vegas, he introduces Bucky Heard who performs his version of Roy Orbison’s “Crying.”
On this sentimental ballad, Heard sings from the heart, accompanied by arpeggiated chords on the piano as well as horn lines which build along with the harmonies of the backup singers.
The audience cheers and Medley returns for a rockin’ duo version of “Young Blood.” Having fun as they sing this rollicking number, the back up singers dance at their microphones and Medley and Heard move about the stage as they croon. The audience claps along to a bright saxophone solo which is accompanied by the sound of a honky tonk keyboard.
Reminding the audience that his former partner, Bobby Hatfield, sang lead on the group’s recording of “Unchained Melody,” Medley recalls how the song was not only a hit when it was first released in 1966 but again — 25 years later — once it appeared in the movie, Ghost.
Continuing, “In 2003, The Righteous Brothers were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Bobby Hatfield was there,” Medley announces that, this evening, he will handle the lead vocal on “Unchained Melody” while a video of Bobby is shown on the screen behind him explaining, “This is my way to spend a few moments with him every night.”
As Medley croons the famous “Oh, my love/My darling/I’ve hungered for your touch” lyric, images of a young Hatfield and Medley with The Beatles, Ray Charles, Sammy Davis, Jr., and more dance across the screen.
The audience cheers for his poignant and tasteful performance, after which Medley says, “Thank you to Bobby Hatfield — that was Bobby Hatfield’s song.”
Shifting moods, Medley announces, “1963 was when we loved flat out rock and roll.” Here, he and Heard perform the rockin’ “Koko Joe.” As they sing about “the cutest little monkey in town,” the background singers dance the monkey. Medley plays the piano while musical director, Tim Lee, steps out in front to play a hot harmonica duet with guitarist John Wedemeyer as bass and drums continue to boogie on.
Following enthusiastic applause, Heard exclaims, “That’s a fun song to sing!” before Medley leaves the stage and Heard performs a song he describes as “one of my favorites.” Tim Lee’s arpeggiated keyboard supports Heard’s strong tenor on the tender ballad, “Ebb Tide,” a number which elicits cheers and applause from the crowd.
When Medley returns, he says, “In 1963, Bobby and I wrote this song,” calling it “Elvis Presley’s favorite Righteous Brothers’ song.” Having fun, the guys perform “My Babe,” a swinging blues number which features guitar and bass rolling alongside the keyboard and blaring horns, as colored lights alternate to the rhythm of the drums.
After Medley announces, “We love and appreciate our veterans,” he asks the vets in the house to stand and be recognized as Heard declares, “We’re so honored to have you here. We should have been your ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water.’”
Here, the group performs a medley of Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me.”
Background singer McKenna Medley joins Bucky Heard and Bill Medley in the center of the stage for this musical tribute. As they harmonize on “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” on-screen images of veterans and war memorials add to the patriotic feel of the arrangement. When the music segues into “Lean On Me,” McKenna handles the lead on this rousing tribute which brings audience members to their feet.
Taking a moment to introduce his daughter, McKenna Medley, to the crowd, Bill Medley reveals, “She’s been singing with me since she was seven years old.”
Here, the father-daughter team performs a touching rendition of Medley’s 1987 hit with Jennifer Warnes, “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” from the film, Dirty Dancing. Sweetly singing “Now I’ve had the time of my life/And I never felt like this before,” the pair dances together center stage. The horns and backup vocals add to the sweetness of the performance, and the lyric, “I owe it all to you,” takes on new meaning as father and daughter sing to one another.
Following excited applause, McKenna performs her solo interpretation of The Mamas and the Papas’ “California Dreamin’.” Opening with just her powerful voice and keyboard on this slowed-down arrangement, bass and guitar join in, the sparse accompaniment showcasing a compelling vocal performance filled with nuance and emotion.
Another highlight of the evening follows when Bill Medley sings “This Will Be the Last Time,” a minor blues number which opens with just piano and voice. As his soulful vocal cries out, bass, guitar, and drums join in. John Wedemeyer takes a soaring guitar solo as Medley interjects soulful vocal ad libs and the arrangement builds in intensity. At the end of the number, Medley and Wedemeyer fist bump and hug to large applause.
After introducing the members of the band, Medley reveals that his favorite songs are “anything by Little Richard” and “Luciano Pavarotti’s ‘Nessun dorma.’” Here, Heard performs Puccini’s “Nessun dorma” in Italian, eliciting cheers from the crowd.
Medley introduces the group’s last song of the evening saying, “It was written in 1965 especially for us by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil.”
The audience cheers when they hear Medley sing the iconic opening line of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.” As he croons in his basso profondo voice, “You never close your eyes anymore when I kiss your lips,” the audience is immediately transported back to a simpler time on this classic power ballad which lifts the entire crowd to its feet.
As audience members continue to cheer, Medley, Heard, and the band segue into a rockin’ reprise of “Young Blood” before taking bows and waving goodnight to the crowd.
As patrons make their way out of the BergenPAC auditorium, we chat with several in attendance who share their opinions of The Righteous Brothers’ performance tonight.
Remarks Bob from Elmwood Park, “This show was incredible. I can’t believe Bill Medley was able to find someone who could replace Bobby Hatfield.”
Noting, “This is my first time seeing them,” Bob explains, “When I heard they were playing at BergenPAC, I just had to be here,” reasoning, “All of these artists from our youth? You have to see come them when you can — and these guys just killed it tonight!”
Declares Mark from the Bronx, “The Righteous Brothers were really great! Some groups cover a lot of songs by other artists, but this group did so many of their own hit songs tonight.”
Adding, “I really liked Bill Medley’s daughter, McKenna — she has a beautiful voice,” Mark concludes, “and I love this theater, too. Coming from The Bronx, it’s not far to get to — only 20 minutes and I’m here.”
Jean from New Milford concurs stating, “I come to this theater often, and I really loved tonight’s show. Bill Medley is so great! I’ve seen him three times now — once with Doc Severinsen, once in Las Vegas, and now here — and he’s still got it. I love his personality and his stories,” before concluding, “His daughter is fabulous, too, and his tribute to Bobby Hatfield was very touching.”
Next, we chat with two sisters from Oradell, Laura and Therese, who are here with their dad, Don.
Explains Laura, “My sister and I got these tickets for our dad for Father’s Day.” Acknowledging, “I’m a fan of The Righteous Brothers by default because my dad is a fan,” Laura declares, “They put on great show — it was so entertaining and a lot of fun.”
Notes dad Don, “This is my first time seeing The Righteous Brothers. I’ve been a fan since the start — my friends and I had all of their records,” before confessing, “As a man in his 70s, I am inspired by Bill Medley; he is just great.”
Daughter Therese admits, “I really wasn’t a fan of the group — I mainly only knew their hits — but now after seeing the show, you can call me a fan, too!”
We also chat with Mark, a dad from Bergenfield, and his son, Mike.
Declares Mark, “I’m a big time fan of The Righteous Brothers! Their show is nostalgic, powerful, sentimental, and — overall — just fantastic!”
Notes his young son Mike, a drummer, “It was great — I especially liked the drums,” before acknowledging, “and I knew so much of the music because my dad plays it at home.”
Marilyn from Brick calls The Righteous Brothers, “Incredible — better then ever,” explaining, “Bill Medley’s still got it and Bucky Heard is great,” adding, “I hope to get to Las Vegas to see them again soon.”
Dave from Brick agrees recalling, “We’ve been seeing them for the past 20 years, and Bill Medley is as good as ever — he’s still going strong.”
Adrienne from Edgewater calls tonight’s show, “Great!” When asked if there was anything specific that made this performance so special, she replies, “Bill Medley is rock and roll royalty.”
Before we leave the venue, we get a moment to chat with Bill Medley who — along with Bucky Heard and daughter McKenna Medley — has come out into the BergenPAC lobby to meet and greet fans.
When we ask how he enjoyed performing for tonight’s Jersey crowd, Medley, 78, exclaims, “It was a pleasure!” Moreover, after being asked if it’s true that the term “blue-eyed soul” was originally coined to describe the sound of The Righteous Brothers,” Medley smiles — and with a wink of his baby blues — affirms, “Yes — that was us.”
As we make our way out of the BergenPAC lobby, we happen to catch up with Susan from Allendale, with whom we spoke before the show. States Susan, “Wasn’t it just fabulous? They were so great, I was dancing in my seat!” before concluding, “If they were here again, I’d come back tomorrow!”