And then there was one.
For the Bee Gees, it wasn’t supposed to be a singular presence. Brothers Barry, and twins Maurice and Robin Gibb, had been performing as a trio since 1959.
It was their iconic three-part harmonies that landed them Grammys and an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It was the stream of hits — “Stayin’ Alive,” “Jive Talkin’,” “I Started a Joke,” “Words,” and so many more — that ignited discos and concert halls for a generation of pop music fans. “Grease” was the word because of their songwriting skills.
But tragedy struck the Gibb family hard, starting with the death of youngest brother (and solo artist) Andy Gibb in 1988. The Bee Gees carried on, only to face more sadness with the sudden passing of twins Maurice in 2003 and Robin in 2012.
BARRY GIBB — 7:30 p.m. May 27 — United Center, 1901 W. Madison — Tickets, $25-$250 — Visit ticketmaster.com
Barry Gibb says he found himself alone, depressed and a broken man. It was his wife Linda who finally got him to return to music, where he found healing and joy, even though the stage seemed a whole lot emptier without his siblings at his side.
Gibb kicked off his first-ever U.S. solo tour on May 15 in Boston, which concludes just five stops later next month at the famed Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. In between, the “Mythology” tour (named for a the 2010 CD/DVD compilation of Bee Gees hits) comes to the United Center on Tuesday night.
In a phone conversation earlier this month, Gibb talked about all things Bee Gees — from the lives and deaths of his brothers, to finding the strength to return to music, and to that iconic falsetto voice of his that still serves him well.
Q. Was it difficult to embrace your music from a solo standpoint after the passing of Maurice and Robin?
A. I think each of us wanted to be a solo artist. But we knew we were the Bee Gees. It was the three of us. Before Mo passed I spent about eight years not doing very much because Robin and I just didn’t do very much together after that. Robin wanted a solo career, so Robin just went out on his own. I decided to do some solo shows here and there. I’d been doing [benefit] shows for diabetes research for 35 years now. Sometimes it was the three of us. Sometimes just me. So I was used to performing on my own as a solo artist. But it always came back to the three of us. I started writing songs when I was about 8. Mo and Ro joined when they were about 11 or 12. It was very collaborative for so long. I don’t really enjoy not seeing them on stage. I miss their faces and their harmonies. I truly miss them but I’ve got to keep moving forward.
Q. You only scheduled six shows for the tour. Why?
A. I think it’s cautionary. Everyone kept saying I have to do at least 10. I said let’s do four or six really solid shows and not overplay it. If we add dates, that’s wonderful. I don’t expect to be the Bee Gees out there; the audience shouldn’t expect that. I’ve been doing solo shows all my life in different ways. The message is simple: I love the fans. I love playing. I feel like a fish out of water when I’m not on the stage. It’s energy. I love the instant gratification. I don’t necessarily want to make records anymore that take three or six months to make. So here I am, like it or not.
Q. What’s it like being the only guy in the spotlight now?
A. It’s sort of like stepping off a cliff or jumping out of a plane without a parachute. I think it begins with self-doubt, a lot of self-doubt. But then you build and grow and the band gets better and better and you start to get braver. I started this whole tour idea with the fundamental reason being that I want to sing the songs I love, and not sing the songs that were difficult for me to handle. I’ll celebrate all my brothers, but I’ve got to sing the songs I sang. I don’t tread on Robin’s territory. I don’t try to sing the songs he sang. I sing the songs I sang. It’s a no-nonsense show. There will be videos. It’s a celebration.
Q. It’s still a family affair though, isn’t it?
A. Yes, my daughter is on the TelePrompTer. I can look to the right of the stage and see her. She’s looking after all the computer stuff. But she’s also my biggest critic. She has no doubt about her opinions. My son [Stephen] is on lead guitar and he’s also a great singer. And [Maurice’s daughter] Samantha also sings with me at one point.
Q. Tell me about releasing “Mythology.”
A. It was the first thing that happened creatively after losing Mo. It’s an all-brothers’ choice, including Andy. Andy’s wife came up with 21 songs. Mo’s wife came up with 21 songs. Robin and I came up with songs. It was as collaborative as it could be. There’s also our live concert from 1989; at that point we were a really good live band regardless of the charts or the hits.
Q. The Bee Gees were perhaps the most successful trio in pop music history. What was the “IT” factor you guys had?
A. When we were all around one microphone and we were looking into each others’ eyes, picking up on each others’ breaths — we were locked. We were one. The harmonies just flowed from that. We all had the same idiosyncracies.
Q. You collaborated with so many iconic artists over the years. Your favorites?
A. I think Barbra Streisand [“What Kind of Fool,” “Guilty”] was my favorite. She’s such an incredible artist. She’s like me — highly complex, short attention span. The pair of us would take hours to argue about stuff, then five minutes to sing it. Our heads don’t bang together well, but when they do, it’s a great experience. And Dolly Parton [“Islands in the Stream”] was instantly one of my favorites. This lady just walks up to a microphone and sings and it’s magic. Michael Jackson [“All In Your Name”] — it blew me away to work with him.
Q. Have you ever considered releasing a duets album?
A. It hasn’t been something that’s excited me. But I’ll tell you my dream is to work with Paul McCartney. I met recently met him backstage at “SNL” [in December 2013] for only the second time in 35 years. He came to see one of our shows in 1967. I thought it wasn’t a particularly good show that night. But at the end of it he just came up to us and said keep doing what you guys are doing. Then we met up again backstage at “SNL.” We talked about the ’60s and the naivete of it all, to go from being neighborhood kids to being world famous. The Beatles were only together for 10 years but they changed the world, they changed pop culture, they changed pop music. [The Bee Gees] were a small part in the culture change.
Q. But the Bee Gees solidified the disco age, and that was a huge music/pop culture shift.
A. I suppose that’s true. Who would have known that today the music of the late ’70s would still be interesting to people? It was 40 years ago and our music is still being played.
Q. Did you know your falsetto voice would help make you a very successful artist?
A. [Laughing] I never knew I had it until we were recording “Nights on Broadway” and the producer asked someone to go out and scream into the microphone. And that’s what I did, and this really high falsetto just came out. The same thing happened to Frankie Valli; he never knew his voice could do what it did.
Q. What music do you listen to these days?
A. I’m still a Beatles freak. I love Stevie Wonder. Bruno Mars. Lorde. I love Pavarotti. I love bluegrass music. These days I’m listening to Ricki Scaggs. I just love music in general.
Q. Your favorite Bee Gees song?
A. “How Deep Is Your Love.” Then it became “Immortality,” which Celine Dion recorded.
Q. Describe the Bee Gees in three words.
A. Persistent. Determined. Crazy.
Posted on May 26, 2014.