It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Bee Gees’ music dominates the movie Saturday Night Fever. After all, the film is about a tight group of dudes for whom the tribal pulsing of disco rhythms offers the only escape from lives treading in tedium and obscurity. Had producer-manager Robert Stigwood conceived the property three years earlier, he wouldn’t have needed John Travolta. His own recording stable could have provided a home movie saga with the same message: except that it would have starred the three Brothers Gibb—Barry, 31, and non-identical twins Robin and Maurice, 28.
The British-born Gibbs have been variously up, down or out during their 22-year career. They were splintered at one point for 15 months by sibling ego-spats and weakened by Maurice’s drinking problems. Then they were up again at the turn of the decade, and finally out for what looked like the long count of the ’70s.
But they hooked up with brilliant Atlantic producer Arif Mardin, discovered the good life of the Sunshine State and the loose funk of the burgeoning Florida R&B sound, and in 1975-76 amassed four monster hits (Jive Talkin’, Nights on Broadway, You Should Be Dancing, Love So Right) that elevated them atop the disco-soul heap. Their Here at Last—Bee Gees Live LP then sold some one and a half million, and when impresario Stigwood asked them to come up with some tunes for a disco movie, they delivered five in a week and a half: one of them, Stayin’ Alive, in two hours. Its title—and exhilarating thrust of rhythm—tells it all about the Gibbs. So do sales: Their first single release off the LP, How Deep Is Your Love, shot to No. 1 the same week Saturday Night Fever hit the moviehouses. Alive, the film’s opening and closing theme and one of the finest creations of the disco era, is well on its way to the top. And Fever’s sound track double LP, moving a staggering 200,000 a week, finally dislodged Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours from No. 1 after so long that everyone had forgotten its predecessor (Hotel California).
Moreover, the brothers have just wrapped filming the mightily hyped Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band fantasy-musical in which they co-star with Peter Frampton. They also sing 32 Lennon-McCartney classics in the film. Asks Barry Gibb reverently: “What group wouldn’t be thrilled to sing those songs?” The Bee Gees’ double coup has for the moment also earned back some respect for age in the family—baby Brother Andy, 19, became an overnight superthrob last year when his I Just Want to Be Your Everything wafted to No. 1 for four weeks and went gold.
For now, the Bee Gees are hanging together tougher than ever. Their near-fratricidal split, coming after a lengthy string of such ’60s pop standards as Words, To Love Somebody and Massachusetts, was caused by “immaturity,” according to Maurice. “We’d become enemies—the magic was lost” is how Barry recalls it. But, says Maurice, they discovered they “weren’t cut out to be solo stars.”
In the present-day flourishing Florida period of their lives, virtually the entire Gibb extended family, including in-laws, has shown that a clan that grooves together can also move together. Indeed, while the Bee Gees were filming Sgt. Pepper, as many as 11 kinfolk crammed into George Hamilton’s former Beverly Hills mansion. Says Stigwood: “They are all family people, which is very strange in this business. They don’t create scandals just to see their names in print.”
Barry, the eldest, is the chief songwriter, apostle of domesticity and prime mover of the Gibb HQ to Florida (after spotting it on a promo tour last year). Once he’d relocated his wife of seven years, Lynda, a former Miss Scotland, and their two children, he convinced Maurice to follow with Yvonne, his wife of three years, and their son. Along the way came the Bee Gees’ parents—Barbara, an ex-songstress, and Hugh, a ferryboat bandleader back in Britain and their manager pre-Stigwood. They bought a houseboat near the homes Barry and Maurice own along a private cove in Miami Beach. Andy (who has lately been dating actress Susan George, 27, since his marriage got into trouble after 16 months) also lives nearby.
The other Gibb with a similar domestic problem was Maurice, whose first marriage, to pop star Lulu (To Sir with Love), lasted six years. “Lulu was more interested in her career than marriage, but for me,” reports Maurice, “marriage always came first. That’s why Yvonne always goes with me. I think family. Our mom and dad raised us that way, and her parents raised her that way.” The proof: Yvonne’s parents and her two brothers as well as Lynda’s have all migrated to Florida. “Her brothers play a great game of billiards,” says Maurice, “and they look after us.” Maurice needed looking after for a while. He started “hitting the bottle heavily” when his marriage to Lulu went blooey. “I’d get pissed and smash up my Rolls-Royces. I had six of them and five Aston Martins. Now I’m happy with someone else driving, or riding my bike. That’s why I bought a boat.” Speedboater Barry also no longer drives. “But Andy’s just bought a Ferrari,” notes big brother Maurice, “and he’s going through it just like we did, but he’ll learn.” The mellowed-out Maurice hasn’t had a drink in over eight months. “I could stop all by myself,” he says proudly. “I did it out of family and professional responsibility. I have a clearer picture of everything now. I’ve improved as a bassist, and it’s really great to see my eyes in the morning.”
Only brother Robin and his wife, Molly, whom he met in 1967 when she was a secretary for Brian Epstein, the Beatles’ manager for whom Stigwood once also worked, are still tied to the old English life-style. Molly and the two children, Spencer, 5, and Melissa, 3, rarely leave their countryside estate in Surrey to go on location or tour with the Brothers as the other Gibbs do. Robin’s closest friends are journalists and ad men; he fishes in the Thames from a boat docked at Runnymede and reports his only indulgence is half a glass of vodka at night taken “sitting on the bed so I can fall right into sleep.” Robin claims his refusal to “uproot has nothing to do with patriotism, emotion or being attached to the hills,” and confesses, “I’m waiting to see what happens in the next elections. If the Conservatives get in, I’m sure they’ll reduce the maximum tax to 50 percent.” His present rate is 83 percent.
That sort of calculating opportunism and a Bee Gee-whiz nonchalance about their composing have meshed to propel the Bee Gees out of artistic trouble and into the hearts of a wide audience on at least three continents. Spurred by their musician dad (“He had the Mills Brothers in mind,” recalls Maurice), they began mimicking contemporary pop stars between films at neighborhood cinemas when the twins were 6 and Barry 9. In 1958 Hugh Gibb moved his brood to Australia for the promise of better life and weather; within a couple of years, the boys had their own TV show and a record deal, and by ’66 they had gone as far as they could Down Under.
To get into wider markets, the Gibbs moved to London at the height of Beat-lemania and the dawn of heavy metal (Cream, Hendrix). Against all odds, their sumptuous vocal harmonies (probably unmatchable by nonsiblings) and arranged oversophisticated melodic structures (rivaled perhaps only by the Beatles and the Beach Boys) made them, in less than two years, international superstars. Then in 1970-71, after their reconciliation, it was Lonely Days and How Can You Mend a Broken Heart that brought them back temporarily before their pre-R & B recession.
“We’re fully aware,” says Barry, “that our music is almost totally commercial. We write for the present.” (None can read music—the three of them just noodle it out informally, sometimes while crossing a Miami causeway.) As for their seeming conversion to the fail-safe mold of disco-pop, says Robin, “We were always writing the same kind of music, only we weren’t putting it down right,” meaning, Barry explains, “nuance songs in an R & B framework.”
It’s unlikely they’ll stay in it. For one thing, Barry is producing Andy (who all agree should not become the fourth Bee Gee); Robin would like to act and write in films; furthermore, manager “Stiggy,” as he is called, has got them lined up for a U.S. summer tour to launch the Pepper blitz, plus maybe a Soviet concert trip and a worldwide TV satellite program. He says he turns down a TV-special request weekly. “We haven’t peaked yet,” exults Robin. “The first and second times out the Bee Gees didn’t quite make it all the way to the top. This time we have. And so far, there are no signs of leveling off.”