Bobby Hatfield, one half of the legendary blue-eyed soul duo the Righteous Brothers, was found dead yesterday in a hotel room in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He was sixty-three. Hatfield and partner Bill Medley were on the road doing what they've been doing for more than forty years: singing their hits for adoring fans.
The Righteous Brothers formed in Southern California in 1962 and are best known for their monster singles "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'," the most played song in the history of radio, and "Unchained Melody," which charted upon its release in 1965 and again in 1990 thanks to its use in the movie Ghost. The duo was elected into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in February.
With their sandy-haired good looks, the Righteous Brothers resembled members of the Beach Boys, but when their voices hit the airwaves listeners thought they were black -- hence, their being the very inspiration for the term "blue-eyed soul." Unlike the smooth pop crooners before them, Medley and Hatfield took their vocal cues from black artists like Little Richard, Ray Charles and Fats Domino. Their soulful vocals along with the arrangements of Phil Spector, who produced most of the group's hits, accounted for the Righteous Brothers' rich sound.
Bobby Hatfield, born in Wisconsin and raised in Southern California, had the misfortune of being "the other Righteous Brother," something he played up comically, most notably during his 1991 cameo on the sitcom Cheers. But while the deep-voiced Medley wooed the world with "Lovin' Feelin'," Hatfield scored his own blockbuster with the soaring "Unchained Melody."
"It was a ballad that I always dug, and I went in there and I am pretty darn sure that I knocked it off in one take," Hatfield told Rolling Stone earlier this year. "It was the B side of a Carole King/Gerry Goffin song 'Hung on You,' and all of a sudden the disc jockeys flipped it over and I had an accidental hit. It was kind of cool because Bill was singing lead on all of the songs then, so it was like, 'Wow, who's that little shit with the high voice?'"
The Righteous Brothers continued to tour diligently in recent years, playing more than 100 shows annually, and they did not tire of performing their hits. "These songs are great songs," Hatfield said. "We're working because we love to work . . . It took a long time to really comprehend what our music meant to so many people. [People tell us,] 'Unchained Melody' was our wedding song!' Actually for some people it was their grandparents' wedding song -- and that's where it gets a little scary."