One is a bluegrass and country music legend, the other a songwriting icon whose material has encompassed pop, disco, R&B and country. On July 28th, 2012, when Grand Ole Opry member Ricky Skaggs invited the great Barry Gibb to share the Opry stage with him, anyone in the audience who may have been incredulous about the pairing soon realized that Gibb — who was born in England and raised in Australia, where he sang with his younger brothers, Maurice and Robin — had much more than just a passing interest in authentic country material.
The writer of the classic Eighties crossover smash “Islands in the Stream,” for Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers, Gibb did the honors for his longtime friend when Rogers was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2013, and Gibb has made frequent trips to Music City for a number of years. In 2006, he and his wife Linda purchased the home that belonged to Johnny and June Carter Cash until both died in 2003. Sadly, before the Gibbs could move in, the home was destroyed by fire in 2007. Other country hits Gibb (and his brothers) have written include Rogers’ “Buried Treasure” and “Eyes That See in the Dark,” “Come on Over,” for Olivia Newton-John and the Conway Twitty hit, “Rest Your Love on Me.”
In 2012, Gibb offered a song he wrote, “Soldier’s Son,” to Skaggs for his bluegrass album, Music to My Ears. The Kentucky native then invited him to sing on the tune with him. Introducing Gibb to the Opry audience, Skaggs said of him, “He’s written some of the greatest songs in our music history and he’s one of the greatest singers I’ve ever heard. He and his brothers left a tremendous work of music in our past.”
Gibb, the oldest and last surviving of his brothers, fellow Bee Gees Maurice and Robin and youngest brother, Andy, said of the Opry stage and its home city of Nashville: “This is the center of the universe, musically. I could not be prouder to be here. I’m standing in the circle.”
The circle to which he was referring is the aged piece of wood that was originally part of the stage floor at the Opry’s previous home, the Ryman Auditorium. But stretching back even further in time was the song Gibb chose to perform for his Opry debut. “When the Roses Bloom Again” was penned in 1901 by Will D. Cobb and Gus Edwards, based on an old Irish folk tune, and tells the story of a soldier going off to battle. Throughout the past century the song has been covered by everyone from Glenn Miller and his orchestra, to Johnny Cash, to Billy Bragg and Wilco. In 2002, the song even served as the title cut of Laura Cantrell’s sophomore album. Interestingly, one of the song’s writers, Edwards, was responsible for discovering an entertainer who came to prominence performing with his brothers: Groucho Marx.
In addition to his heartfelt rendition of “When the Roses Bloom Again,” Gibb treated the audience to a couple of the Bee Gees’ biggest hits during his first Opry appearance: “To Love Somebody” and “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” classic ballads that, even though they aren’t considered country, don’t sound the least bit out of place on the Opry stage.