The Bee Gees are back

DPO and Stayin’ Alive anchor dazzling Bee Gees tribute

By Patrick Suarez

Photo: The Dayton Philharmonic and Stayin’ Alive present One Night of the Bee Gees on Oct. 3 at the Schuster Center

Some people have a knack for recognizing potential. Brian Epstein, the troubled manager of the Beatles, had that knack. In early 1967, English drummer Hugh Gibb sent a demo tape of songs made by his British-born sons to Epstein. It took Epstein about a half-second to realize that these guys had the kind of talent to ascend to the top of rock superstardom. Epstein passed the tape to Polydor Records producer Robert Stigwood, who was not going to make the same mistake Decca Records made five years before when Decca passed on signing the Beatles (Decca made up for it by signing the Rolling Stones, but one can only imagine those two groups on the same label).

Not yet in their teens, the brothers had entertained car-racing enthusiasts at a racetrack and were under the direction of a local Australian DJ named Bill Gates (not that Bill Gates). Gates named the group the BG’s (after himself and one of the brothers), finalizing on the name Bee Gees. After limited success in the Land Down Under, the group headed back home, which is when their dad sent the tape to Epstein. The result led to a career that has been nothing short of legendary.

On Saturday, Oct. 3, the Dayton Philharmonic, under the baton of Associate Conductor Patrick Reynolds, will join the Canadian tribute group Stayin’ Alive in a splashy tribute to that most beloved band.

The Bee Gees have been the only rock band in the six-decade history of the art form to have two distinctly separate careers with two radically different musical styles. Only the Rolling Stones had a longer career with the major band members still intact. The group’s collective sales of their songs now approach a quarter billion. And they opened, in the U.S., with a bang.

Bee Gees 1st arrived auspiciously in August 1967, the closing days of the Summer of Love, and the range in the songs was breathtaking. The LP spawned no fewer than four hit singles, putting the Bee Gees into territory previously claimed by the Beatles and the Stones.

What made this music so special was the Gibbs’ ability to harmonize. Those three voices, performing together, possessed a sound that was both brassy and smooth. They also wrote their own material, displaying nearly limitless lyrical and tonal imagination that made their output simultaneously powerful and beautiful. “Turn of the Century,” “To Love Somebody” and “I Can’t See Nobody” set a gold standard that continued into the early ’70s.

The melodies the brothers wrote were stunning. If you want to hear what melodies can arise from a talented pen, try “With the Sun in My Eyes,” “Indian Gin and Whisky Dry” (arguably the zenith of their ability to harmonize), “Marley Purt Drive,” “Edison,” “Lonely Days” and, especially, “In the Morning.”

And then the group fizzled. Music tastes among teens and young adults altered and the Bee Gees were rendered irrelevant…until 1975.

On the advice of Eric Clapton, the group pulled up stakes for Miami. For the Bee Gees’ eleventh U.S. album, Main Course, producer Arif Mardin suggested the brothers adopt dance music, specifically an up-and-coming Caribbean-based club dance called disco. Going out the door were the orchestras and ballads; replacing them were Blue Weaver’s synthesizer and an infectious, toe-tapping beat and, most significantly, Barry Gibb’s desire to explore the upper registers of his voice through falsetto. The result transformed music for the next several years.  “Nights on Broadway” and “Jive Talkin’” set a new standard and resurrected the brothers’ careers. The trend continued in 1976 with “You Should Be Dancing.”

In 1977, the musical and dance tsunami swept over the world and catapulted the Bee Gees to the pinnacle of their careers. They played a significant musical role in the John Travolta hit film “Saturday Night Fever,” a movie that used the LP to fuel film attendance while the LP used the movie to promote LP sales. The cross-promotion was the golden ticket for all involved. By 1978, the Bee Gees road the disco wave to sold-out stadium appearances and record LP sales with “Spirits Having Flown,” featuring megahits “Tragedy” and “Too Much Heaven.”

One would have assumed that all of this hyper-success would have ignited sales of the group’s LPs from a decade ago. But many young fans were not even aware that this group had a previous career: those LPs might have well been historical objects discovered in the Egyptian pyramids. Eventually, fans migrated to the LPs from the late sixties.

It will be this treasure trove that DPO audiences will relish and relive, fronted by Stayin’ Alive. This is music that envelops your soul with glory; it soars and swoops; it makes your heart melt and then your foot start tapping. If you see some of the audience give in and dance in the aisles, don’t be surprised. For those of us who were university sophomores when Bee Gees 1st was released, it will be a magnificent evening that will enable us to shake off the cares of the world and go back to a time when music still shaped our lives in positive ways.

The Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra and Stayin’ Alive present One Night of the Bee Gees on Saturday, Oct. 3 at 8 p.m. at the Schuster Center, 1 W. Second St., Dayton. For more information, or to purchase tickets, visit dayonperformingarts.org.

Reach DCP freelance writer Pat Suarez at PatSuarez @DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Pat Suarez has been involved with a wide variety of music for nearly five decades. He has hosted music programming on FM radio and produced and hosted the radio broadcasts of two symphony orchestras. His articles about music have been published extensively in print and online. Reach him at PatSuarez@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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