The Bee Gees emerged as a harmonizing British pop trio following in the Beatles' footsteps. A decade later, they morphed into the glitzy kings of disco who insisted we should be dancing. Yeah.
Turns out, though, the brothers Gibb were really a country vocal group in disguise all along. Who knew?
"There's a streak of country music in all of our songs," insisted Barry Gibb, the lone surviving Bee Gee. "I'm a country artist. It doesn't matter what anybody else thinks I am. Always have been."
To prove his point, Gibb released on Friday his first made-in-Nashville album featuring duets of Bee Gees songs with Dolly Parton, Miranda Lambert, Little Big Town, Jason Isbell, Brandi Carlile and others, including old pal Olivia Newton-John.
Gibb's irresistible "Greenfields: The Gibb Brothers Songbook Vol. 1" is Part 2 of a double dose of renewed Bee Gees fever, ignited in December by the must-see HBO documentary "Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart," which chronicles the triumphs and tragedies of Barry, Maurice and Robin Gibb and their kid brother, Andy.
The country influences go back to the Gibb family's days in Australia in the 1950s.
"Country music wasn't called country music in Australia in 1958," Gibb said. "A lot of those songs were country songs like '[Ballad of a] Teenage Queen' with Johnny Cash and 'It's Only Make Believe' with Conway Twitty. And things like that really sunk in with us. It was the music we loved. Our real love was a real song, with a real melody and words that mean something. So we always headed in that direction. We always got detoured or pushed off that path."
The ever-versatile eldest brother Barry — who has written hits for everyone from Barbra Streisand and Dionne Warwick to Frankie Valli and Kenny Rogers — is such a country die-hard that, in 2006, he bought Cash's and June Carter's home outside Nashville to use as a songwriting retreat because that vibe "was my childhood." But during renovation, the old wood house was destroyed by fire, and Gibb never planted roots in Music City.
Until now. He talks about finding a second home there. And he's so jazzed about country music that he's already compiling a list of songs for "Greenfields Vol. 2."
In a telephone interview Wednesday from his longtime Miami oceanfront property, Gibb, 74, talked about everything from his sex symbol image and a Bee Gees biopic to why he won't watch the "Mend a Broken Heart" documentary and how he had to warm up to Jimmy Fallon's "Barry Gibb Talk Show" bit on "Saturday Night Live."
On 'Greenfields' songs
Working with Nashville's hippest producer, Dave Cobb, the guests chose the songs. Gillian Welch and David Rawlings opted for the obscure "Butterfly," which the Bee Gees recorded as teens in Australia. "They're not trying to re-sing a Bee Gees hit; that was important to them," Gibb said. "I don't know how they heard it."
At Gibb's suggestion, Olivia Newton-John did "Rest Your Love on Me," which she sang with Andy Gibb in 1979 at a UNICEF concert at the United Nations.
"She hadn't been performing in a while, and it was a big deal to get her back in the studio," Gibb said of the 2019 session. "So there we were at RCA, the legendary [studio] where Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson, Roy Orbison all made their records. Of course, that was inspiring."
Gibb was thrilled to cut "Too Much Heaven" with Alison Krauss.
"The first thing I said to Alison when I met her was 'I love you. I don't mean romance. I just love everything about you. You're the voice of an angel.' "
She responded by asking Gibb to write with her and Robert Plant for a new project. And then the pandemic broke out.
On his vibrato battle with Dolly Parton on 'Words'
"I did say to her: 'I can't believe how you make your voice curl the way you do. She said, 'That's my Appalachian background.' OK, I said, what I will not do is try to match that. I want you to be Dolly. Sing the way you want to sing, and my place is to sing with you.'
"I would never try to emulate that kind of skill. It's an emotional skill, too."
On the documentary
Even though he's the dominant figure in the film, Gibb hasn't seen it. "I don't think I can see it because I'd be witnessing the loss of all my family," he said. "So I watched something in the very beginning, and I've made my comments about that."
Still, he thinks the project has been a revelation, something that's somehow eviscerated the Bee Gees' tarnished reputation from disco days.
"I don't know what to think anymore. You get kicked around the block and everyone likes you again. And then you get kicked around the block again [chuckles] and then everyone likes you again. That's been the story of our lives. That's OK. You pick yourself up and you dust yourself off."
He had no idea of the enduring adoration. He figured everyone moved on after the death of Maurice Gibb, twin brother of Robin, in 2003 when the Bee Gees retired the name.
"I thought I've moved on, too, and that's OK," he said, saying he buried himself in family life. "Family is a great place to be if you want to be happy. So I don't worry about all that stuff."
On his current image
The once hirsute hunk now has thinning silver locks, a salt-and-pepper beard and glasses. In other words, unlike 70-somethings Mick Jagger and Bruce Springsteen, Gibb looks his age.
"I don't worry about it," Gibb said. "You can't not be the age you're at. That screws your head up. I don't mind being my age. There's a little bit of wisdom that starts to creep in after 70. That's been really helpful for me because now I'm able to dismiss anything that makes me unhappy. Now I can monitor my feelings. I was never able to do that before."
On being a solo act
"For a couple of years after my brothers passed [Robin died in 2012], I'd wake up depressed. And not knowing what the day would be like and not knowing what I'd be doing with myself. But I had to grow out of that and shake it off. I needed to be an individual. So that's where it's gone. Now I wake up every morning with a smile."
On his 50-year marriage
He said he and wife Linda still love to laugh. They have five adult children and eight grandchildren. "There's no pop stars in this house."
On the movie 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band'
While they loved singing the Beatles' songs and recording them with producer George Martin, the Bee Gees never felt comfortable doing the 1978 movie, for which only George Burns had a speaking part.
The best aspect might have been the "pure insanity" behind the scenes, all the mischief when they weren't filming scenes with Peter Frampton and others. "We enjoyed being in Hollywood," Gibb reflected. "But nobody could speak [in the film]. Maybe that was a good thing."
Apparently, the critics and the public agreed; the movie bombed, mere months after the megaselling soundtrack to "Saturday Night Fever" propelled the Bee Gees to become the biggest act on the planet.
On 'The Barry Gibb Talk Show'
The first time Jimmy Fallon, as Barry, and Justin Timberlake, as Robin, did the parody on "Saturday Night Live" in 2003, Barry didn't get it.
"I didn't understand why I was being displayed as some kind of angry guy. And Robin being portrayed by Justin as this quiet person, which Robin was not.
"But after two or three of these sketches, I began to see the funny side of it," he said. "If you can't laugh at yourself, you've got problems."
In 2010, the real Barry and Robin joined Fallon and Timberlake to reprise "The Barry Gibb Talk Show" on NBC's "Tonight Show." Barry and "Tonight" host Fallon have become good friends.
On working with Michael Jackson
In 2002, Jackson went to Miami and recorded a demo with Gibb for the song "All in Your Name."
"Michael really wasn't in good shape," Gibb recalled. "He was right in the middle of [allegations of child molestation]. He'd come to my house and hang out there and pretend to be happy. But he was not. We all tried to keep him on a positive level but he was just fading inside. Depressed. He knew something was over. He could never really accept that."
The song was released in 2011 on the second anniversary of Jackson's death.
On his falsetto
When the Bee Gees were making a transition to R&B with the song "Nights on Broadway" in 1975, veteran producer Arif Mardin asked if any of the trio could scream in falsetto to create excitement near the end of the song. Barry volunteered even though he hadn't essayed falsetto since 1967.
"I didn't know it was there," he remembered. "Once it started appearing, it got stronger and stronger, and it became one of the key elements of our sound. It was really time for a change. We started to make more energy records rather than sad records."
Gibb's falsetto also comes in handy when he demos songs for female singers like Dionne Warwick and Diana Ross.
"That is a more persuasive way for a lady to hear a song in their own key," he said. "If you do it in your natural voice, they don't relate in the same way."
On a Bee Gees biopic and his memoir
For the past five years, Gibb has been sharing his story as his son Ashley types his words. He figures that project is at least two years from fruition.
First, though, he wants the Bee Gees biopic to be released. Work started six months ago, with producer Graham King (of "Bohemian Rhapsody") and Paramount on board.
Gibb doesn't have a preference as to who should portray him, though he's heard the rumors about Bradley Cooper. He's more concerned about getting accurate depictions of his brothers Maurice and Robin.
"We want people to see the humorous side of our lives. It isn't all tragedy. We had some amazing times," he said. "I just want to get them right and I want them to sparkle regardless of what it has to do with me. Lift my brothers up."
Twitter: @JonBream • 612-673-1719