The death today of the the Bee Gees Robin Gibb from has rocked the Australian – and world – music scene. Jenny LeComte looks back on a talent like no other.
The death of Bee Gees co-founder Robin Gibb has prompted a flood of tributes from a diverse array of celebrities, ranging from contemporary singers Bruno Mars and Sam Sparro through to Hollywood actress Marlee Matlin.
Musician Bryan Adams tweeted:
“Very sad to hear about yet another great singer dying too young.”
Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall, members of Duran Duran and broadcaster Paul Gambaccini were also among those paying their respects to Gibb, who died on Sunday, May 20 at 10.47pm UK time (7.47am today Australian Eastern Standard Time) following a long battle with liver and colon cancer.
Gambaccini described the 62-year-old artist as “talented beyond even his own understanding”.
“Everyone should be aware that the Bee Gees are second only to Lennon and McCartney as the most successful song writing unit in British popular music. Their accomplishments have been monumental. Not only have they written their own number one hits, but they wrote huge hit records for Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross, Dionne Warwick, Celine Dion, Destiny’s Child, Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers, the list goes on and on.”
In a musical career spanning six decades, Robin Gibb was perhaps best known for turning disco into a global phenomenon on both sides of the Atlantic.
Born Robin Hugh Gibb on the Isle of Man on 22 December 1949, he wrote the core of Saturday Night Fever, a 1977 soundtrack album for a film of the same name starring John Travolta.
Eight of the hit singles on the album, which sold more than 15 million copies in the United States alone, were credited to Robin, his twin brother Maurice and elder brother Barry, 65 — the last surviving member of the Bee Gees.
Robin considered their close relationship crucial to the band’s success.
He explained, “We wanted to make music all our lives and it evolved to a point where the only people who could understand that were the three of us. We didn’t feel comfortable with anybody but ourselves. The three of us were like one person.”
Saturday Night Fever topped international album charts for 24 straight weeks from January to July 1978, and then stayed on Billboard’s album charts for 120 weeks until March 1980.
In the UK, the album spent 18 consecutive weeks at number one and the musical trio’s signature tracks Stayin’ Alive, Jive Talking, How Deep Is Your Love and You Should Be Dancing were just as popular in the Bee Gees’ adopted homeland, Australia.
After spending their earlier years in Manchester, England, the Gibb family emigrated to Australia in 1958 and eventually settled in Redcliffe, Queensland – a seaside community bordering Brisbane – where they began performing singing gigs for extra pocket money.
Gambaccini and others are quick to point out that Robin Gibb’s talent transcended disco.
“What must also be said is Robin had one of the best white soul voices ever. He was singing lead on his first number one when he was 17, that was Massachusetts (in 1967),” Gambaccini said.
Family friend and UK radio DJ Mike Read also praised Robin’s clear vibrato, which was a hallmark of the Bee Gees early hits including the 1967 classics Spicks and Specks and New York Mining Disaster 1941(Have You Seen My Wife, Mr Jones?)
The latter – the Bee Gees first international hit — was released with a plain white label listing only the song title.
Radio DJs on both sides of the Atlantic were so impressed by the Bee Gees’ talent that some believed they were actually the Beatles recording under a pseudonym.
They put the song on high rotation, and it reached number 12 n the UK and number 12 in the US.
Read says the band then went from strength to strength, and this was largely due to Robin’s talent.
“He had a great gift for pathos, more than any other singer I know. His voice could make you cry, it was just incredible. He had a great voice and was a great writer,” said Read.
Concerns about the artist’s health were first raised last year when Gibb appeared looking gaunt on a British TV show.
Gibb tried to allay any rumours about his health. While admitting he had cancer, Gibb claimed doctors had given him the all clear.
He said, “It’s gone, they’ve told me they can’t see it no more, I’ve done it.”
When Gibb suffered a relapse last month, his wife, Dwina, was told to make plans for his passing after he slipped into a coma after contracting pneumonia.
In a scene which mirrored the classic Bee Gees track Gotta Get A Message To You, the singer woke from a 12-day coma despite being given just a 10 per cent chance of survival by doctors.
Family members, including Dwina, his three children and older brother Barry maintained a 24 hour bedside vigil and reported that Gibb communicated with them by nodding and at one stage, weeping when the Roy Orbison song Crying was played to him.
The teetotal vegan, who underwent seven rounds of chemotherapy during his illness, wondered whether his family tragedies – including his own illness and the deaths of his brothers Andy in 1988 and Maurice in 2003 – were a “karmic price” for the Bee Gees’ worldwide success.
In an earlier interview, he said:
“I sometimes wonder if all the tragedies my family has suffered, like Andy and Maurice dying so young and everything that’s happened to me recently, is a kind of karmic price we are paying for all the fame and fortune we’ve had. But we’ve worked hard for everything we’ve achieved.”