Righteous Bro Hatfield Dies

Bobby Hatfield, the tenor half of the blue-eyed soul pioneers the Righteous Brothers, dead at 63

By Josh Grossberg Nov 06, 2003 6:15 PMTags

Righteous Brother Bobby Hatfield, whose soaring tenor was showcased on duo's classic "Unchained Melody," was found dead Wednesday in a Kalamazoo, Michigan, hotel, his manager said. He was 63.

Hatfield's body was discovered in bed by staff at the Radisson Hotel after he failed to respond to a wake-up call just a half-hour before the legendary blue-eyed soul pioneers were due to kick off a tour at Miller Auditorium on the campus of Western Michigan University.

"It's a shock, a real shock," manager David Cohen told Reuters, adding that Hatfield's "brother," Bill Medley, was "broken up. He's not even coherent."

Hatfield apparently died in his sleep, but police said the body was being transported to nearby Lansing, where an autopsy would be performed.

Powered by studio wizard Phil Spector's trademark Wall of Sound orchestrations, Hatfield's gospel-tinged tenor melded perfectly with Medley's deep baritone on such early 1960s standards as "Unchained Melody," "(You're My) Soul and Inspiration" and "Ebb Tide." Their signature song. "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling," according to industry experts, is the most-played record of all time on American radio.

The Righteous Brothers, who bridged the gap between traditional R&B and pop, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March by one of their biggest fans, Billy Joel.

"Sometimes people with blue eyes transcended the limitations of what their color and culture can actually be," Joel said. "Sometimes white people can actually be soulful. This was a life-changing idea. It changed my life."

Hatfield told reporters at the time that he always felt the "blue-eyed soul" label was "kind of goofy," something invented by deejays, not him or Medley.

Born on August 10, 1940, Robert Lee Hatfield moved with his family to Orange County, California, when he was four. An athlete, Hatfield played baseball and briefly considered going pro. But his love for music led him to form vocal and instrumental groups in high school and eventually to a chance encounter with Medley while attending Long Beach State University.

In 1962, Hatfield and Medley formed a five-piece band called the Paramours. Their rich gospel and R&B-influenced harmonies sounded so convincing, that most listeners assumed they were African-American, helping them defy traditional music labels. During one of their duets in a bar, a black Marine in the audience purportedly shouted: "That was righteous, brothers!" Hence the group's new name.

The duo eventually crossed boundaries, gaining airplay on both R&B and pop radio stations, appeared occasionally on the ABC show Shindig and opened for such acts as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones during the height of the British invasion.

But it was in 1964 when their careers really hit the stratosphere with the mega-success of "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling," a tune Vanity Fair once called the "the most erotic duet between men on record."

"We had no idea if it would be a hit," Medley once said. "It was too slow, too long, and right in the middle of the Beatles and the British Invasion."

Hatfield and Medley split up in 1968 only to regroup in 1974 and score another number one with "Rock and Roll Heaven."

Their tunes eventually found a second life in the movies, with "Lovin' Feelin'" featured prominently in the 1986 Tom Cruise blockbuster Top Gun, while an updated version of "Unchained Melody" used in 1990's supernatural romance hit Ghost went platinum and earned them a Grammy nomination.

"Movies," Hatfield one said, "introduced our music to a whole new generation of fans, for whom we are truly grateful."

In later years, the Righteous Brothers hit the road for up to 80 dates a year and played numerous 12-week stands in Las Vegas, where they always dreamed of playing as a lounge act.