Bill Medley, a founding member of the legendary “Blue-Eyed Soul” group The Righteous Brothers, appeared last week at the Arcada Theatre. It was a “righteous” show with all the excitement of those in the group’s heyday.
It was another example of one of those bands most people just don’t realize the amount of hits it had. Just smash after smash. The show was an audience singalong that brought smiles and memories to all of those who attended.
“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” “Soul & Inspiration,” “Unchained Melody” and Bill Medley’s “The Time of My Life” are the big ones, but they covered many others that brought the audience to its feet at the show.
Bobby Hatfield, Medley’s partner in the original Righteous Brothers, tragically passed away in 2003 just a few months after the group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. For the next 12 or so years, Bill performed solo with his band, often with a special appearance by his daughter, McKenna. She has performed with him twice at The Arcada — an amazing talent!
Then in 2016, Harrah’s Casino in Las Vegas offered Medley a residency, provided he put together a new version patterned after the duet-style performance of the original group. Bill set out to find a voice that would capture the essence of his beloved partner. Bucky Heard was Bill’s choice after seeing and hearing him do a tribute to the band Journey.
So after three years and counting, the “three-month” residency continues to delight tourists five days a week on the Vegas strip!
As I witnessed shear professionalism and “Unchained” vocals, I, too, was blown away by the performance of these Righteous Brothers. Hit after hit, story after story, the show was rock ‘n’ roll history personified.
But I must say, I became extremely emotional during their performance of the band’s 1974 hit “Rock And Roll Heaven.” It is a song Bill wasn’t crazy about doing in the first place, yet it turned out to be a big hit for he and Bobby.
The first four lines of the tune are a one-two punch that put life and music into perspective:
If you believe in forever,
Then life is just a one-night stand.
If there’s a rock ‘n’ roll heaven,
Well you know they’ve got a hell of a band.
The first two lines really show just how short life is, and just how important it is to make the most of it. The second two lines make me think about those music icons we have lost, who are undoubtedly in a better place. It depicts a grand concert, featuring a colossal band of musical brothers and sisters, all performing together.
The original song was first recorded a year earlier in 1973 by the band Climax, led by my old and dear friend Sonny Geraci, who has also since passed. The song talked about a band formed by Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Otis Redding, Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens.
When Don McLean’s “American Pie” came out, Holly and Valens were replaced by Jim Croce and Bobby Darin. Later, lyrics were added to honor the passing of Elvis, John Lennon, Roy Orbison, Jackie Wilson, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, Cass Elliot, Dennis Wilson and Ricky Nelson.
But then the song puts us all at that same level, saying, “Everybody’s got a song to sing, Everybody’s a star.”
To think, one day I may be playing drums next to Buddy Rich, guitar next to Jimi Hendrix or singing along with Elvis. Now THAT would be Heaven!
• Ron Onesti is president and CEO of The Onesti Entertainment Corp. and The Historic Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. Celebrity questions and comments? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.