One third of the trio of brothers who made up the chart-topping group the Bee Gees, Barry Gibb flourished both as a member of the band and as a solo songwriter and performer. His flowing mane and otherworldly falsetto vocals were his calling cards, but his craft as a songwriter and the depth of his vocal abilities truly made him an icon.
Born on the Isle of Man in 1946, Barry and his brothers, the twins Maurice and Robin, began playing music at an early age. After moving to Manchester, they formed the skiffle band the Rattlesnakes in 1953, then, when the family moved to Australia in the late '50s, they became the Bee Gees. Their early rock & roll sound caught the ear of Festival Records and the band was signed to a recording contract. With Barry writing all the songs, the band released numerous singles and albums, and eventually scored a big hit with the song "Spicks and Specks" in late 1966. By then, the brothers had decided to return to England and had scored a record deal with Polydor thanks to the efforts of Robert Stigwood, an employee at North End Music Stores (NEMS) who, in shades of Brian Epstein, became the band's manager. Their first single recorded in the U.K., "New York Mining Disaster 1941" was the result of a new songwriting partnership among the brothers. It was an instant hit and the Bee Gees were on their way to stardom, both in the U.K. and in America, releasing a steady stream of hit singles and albums. Meanwhile, Barry wrote songs for other artists, including the Marbles, Samantha Sang, and P.P. Arnold.
The Bee Gees' tempestuous personal relationships led to their 1969 breakup, and when the bandmembers stopped working together, Barry turned to thoughts of a solo career. He began recording an album, which was supposed to be called The Kid's No Good, but only got as far as releasing one single, "I'll Kiss Your Memory," in 1970, before returning to work with his brothers. They picked up where they left off, scoring a couple of hits with the songs "Lonely Day" and How Do You Mend a Broken Heart?," before their career began a slow decline. It was revived by their splashy disco singles and 1977's Saturday Night Fever album, which made the brothers Gibb, and especially Barry since his falsetto vocals took the lead on almost every song, worldwide superstars. They even attempted to launch a film career in the ill-fated Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1978.
As the Bee Gees struggled to keep on top of the charts, Barry turned to writing songs and producing for other artists. One of his biggest solo compositions was the theme song to the movie version of Grease, sung by Frankie Valli in 1978. Around this time he formed a production team with songwriter Albhy Galuten and engineer Karl Richardson, and the trio worked on his kid brother Andy's solo albums and, notably, Barbra Streisand's 1980 Guilty album. The brothers Gibb still worked together as a songwriting team too, penning Dionne Warwick's "Heartbreaker" and "Islands in the Stream" for Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, while making their own records, like the 1983 soundtrack to the Saturday Night Fever sequel Staying Alive.
That same year Gibb signed a solo deal with Arista Records, and in 1984 he released his first solo record, Now Voyager. Gibb co-produced the album with Richardson, all three brothers wrote songs, and it featured a duet with Olivia Newton-John on the song "Face to Face." He began recording songs for another solo album, provisionally titled Moonlight Madness, in 1985, but never finished the project. (Some of the finished songs did turn up on the soundtrack to the movie Hawks and the 1990 Tales from the Brothers Gibb box set.) Instead of pursuing a solo career, Gibb returned to the Bee Gees, who began recording a new album in 1987, but were derailed by the tragic death of Andy Gibb. It was a particularly devastating blow to Barry, who was devoted to his youngest brother.
The brothers Gibb did continue on, though, releasing two albums in the '90s, High Civilization and Size Isn't Everything, and getting inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1997. Barry continued to work on his own, writing songs for Tina Turner and Cliff Richard and, in 2002, recording a song with his friend Michael Jackson. Another tragedy struck the Gibb family in early 2003 when Maurice passed away. His death meant the Bee Gees were again put on the back burner and Gibb returned to solo work. He wrote songs for Cliff Richard, appeared on his son Steve's 2004 solo single "Living in the Rain," and teamed again with old cohort Barbra Streisand on her 2005 album, Guilty Pleasures, which featured Barry on the cover and duetting on many of the songs.
In 2006, the same year that Rhino launched a series of reissues covering the Bee Gees' early U.K. albums, Gibb released a series of demo collections to iTunes. Two of the songs from 2004, "Doctor Mann" and "Underworld," were released as singles. He also bought Johnny Cash's former home in Tennessee and began working on an album of country songs. It was never completed, though one song, "Drown on the River," was released as a single in 2007 and appeared on the soundtrack of the film Deal. The years that followed passed without much activity. An appearance on a Gorillaz album was rumored, but Gibb reportedly backed out due to hearing problems. Heartbreak struck yet again for the Gibbs when Robin died in May of 2012 after a battle with cancer.
Barry Gibb reappeared later in 2012, performing at the Grand Ole Opry near the end of the year with Ricky Skaggs. He provided backing vocals on Skaggs' 2012 album, Music to My Ears. He then launched a tour of Australia and the U.K. in 2013, performing with his son Steve and Maurice's daughter Samantha in the backing band. The tour stretched to a few North American dates in 2014, and he also appeared on a Paul McCartney tribute album (The Art of McCartney) performing a version of "When I'm Sixty Four." Meanwhile, he started working on his third solo album, writing songs with two of his kids, Steve and Ashley, and recording them at the same Miami studios where the Bee Gees had recorded their mid-'70s hits. Titled In the Now, the album was co-produced by Gibb and John Merchant, and released by Columbia Records in October of 2016. ~ Tim Sendra