News Column

Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees Dies At 62, Leaves Musical Legacy

May 21, 2012

Howard Cohen

Robin Gibb, one of the most identifiable voices in popular music for five decades and whose contribution to oft-covered pop standards in which he sang lead such as I Started a Joke, I've Gotta Get a Message to You and Holiday proved timeless, lost his fight for life Sunday. He was 62.

"The family of Robin Gibb, of the Bee Gees, announce with great sadness that Robin passed away today following his long battle with cancer and intestinal surgery," reads a statement from his family. "The family have asked that their privacy is respected at this very difficult time."

The musician and member of the Bee Gees -- with brothers Barry and Maurice -- died in London. He had lapsed into a coma in April as he battled pneumonia following a series of health complications.

Gibb emerged from the coma after nine days, astonishing his doctor, who was treating the musician for advanced colorectal cancer. Gibb was conscious and able to communicate.

Gibb, who, up until last year, had a home in South Miami, was diagnosed with colon cancer after surgery for a blocked bowel and twisted intestine in 2010, and the disease had spread to his liver.

Maurice Gibb, his twin and often songwriting partner on projects outside of the Bee Gees, died in January 2003, at age 53, at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach after surgery for an intestinal blockage. The twins shared the hereditary intestinal condition.

Youngest brother Andy Gibb, who had a successful solo career in the late 1970s, died in 1988 at age 30 of a heart ailment after battling an addiction to cocaine.

After a series of treatments, including chemotherapy and two operations, Robin Gibb appeared to have recovered from the cancer, and had planned on attending the premiere of The Titanic Requiem, his first classical work, composed with his son RJ, to commemorate the centennial of Titanic's sinking. But he underwent further intestinal surgery in March, and couldn't attend the premiere, and it was reported that doctors believed a second tumor was present before he contracted pneumonia.

"My dad has had a hard recovery from cancer," RJ told the UK's Daily Mail last month. "When you get rid of the cancer, a lot of periphery problems can occur."

Robin Gibb, who was born, as were his brothers, on the Isle of Man, found hometown success as a vocal trio in Australia but enjoyed greater exposure when they moved to England in 1967 to launch the Bee Gees. The trio's music and their image became inescapable, however, after a move to Miami Beach in the mid-1970s and an updating of their sound to incorporate R&B and dance on songs like Jive Talkin', You Should Be Dancing and Stayin' Alive.

In 1967, Otis Redding's manager approached Barry and Robin Gibb to write a song for his client. Redding would die in a plane crash before he could record To Love Somebody. The Bee Gees released their Top 20 hit version of the song on Bee Gees' 1st later that year and it eventually became one of the most covered songs in pop music history.

Robin was the quieter one, not given to spontaneous sing-a-longs on strummed guitars as Barry and Maurice were wont to do behind the scenes. During a time of familial discord, Robin even struck out on his own in 1969, released the downbeat Robin's Reign album, and for 15 months the Bee Gees carried on as a duo without him to little notice. When Robin returned, How Can You Mend a Broken Heart, featuring Robin and Barry's lead vocals, became the Bee Gees' first No. 1 single in 1971.

Gibb had a mostly unerring ear to what worked for the marketplace. The melodies and performances took care of themselves. The sound of those records, however, came in great part thanks to Gibb's role in the studio. He was at home in that creative, often isolated environment, challenging the possibilities of making music.

"He was always interested in new vocal sounds, very open to experimentation as far as the recording process goes," said Dennis Hetzendorfer, a freelance sound engineer from Cooper City who worked alongside Gibb as an engineer in the '70s and '80s at North Miami's Criteria Studios. "We'd record his vocals in every different part of the studio and set up in the control room to do vocals, which was unusual. We'd have to be quiet in there and everyone would stay in their headphones. As far as being an artist, his ideas were so right-on and always so pop-ish. His musical ideas always lent themselves real well to current musical trends and to radio."

That doesn't necessarily mean Gibb, a member, with his brothers Barry and Maurice, of the Songwriters Hall of Fame and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, aimed to fit the trends of the day. Rather, he had hoped to lead by example.

Throughout the '60s, '70s and '80s, the Gibbs produced hit after pop culture hit: Massachusettes, How Deep Is Your Love, Tragedy, Woman in Love and Islands in the Stream.

No one wrote like the Brothers Gibb and seemingly everyone wanted their sound on their own records.

Robin and Barry Gibb composed the majority of the songs on Barbra Streisand's Guilty in 1980. In addition, the Gibbs wrote full albums for Dionne Warwick, Kenny Rogers, Diana Ross and Swedish pop star Carola. In addition pop, R&B, jazz, blues and hip-hop acts like Celine Dion, Rod Stewart, Janis Joplin, Nina Simone, Al Green, Michael Buble, Wyclef Jean and Destiny's Child recorded Gibb songs.

Their dance music from 1977's Saturday Night Fever epitomized an entire decade. And the music endures -- the television show Glee recently devoted an episode to the movie's music.

After Maurice's passing, Gibb never reteamed with brother Barry to carry on in the Bee Gees pop music mold and, instead, ventured into classical waters. He wanted to mark the 100th anniversary of Titanic's sinking and to pay musical homage to the souls who traveled upon the ship toward new lives in America. And he wanted to do so by composing music that could have been written 300 years ago, he said.

The Titanic Requiem, a grand, stirring, mournful work, is a mostly orchestral performance by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with a choir singing parts from the Latin Mass for the Dead. The recording also features what will now stand as Gibb's final vocal work, the melancholic English pop ballad Don't Cry Alone.

The song, recorded when he thought he'd beaten the intestinal problems and cancers that plagued his latter years, could stand as an epitaph for its singer, both lyrically and in familiar tone.

Gibb said the song is about a husband taken by the sea after the great ship's sinking in 1912. "With all the power of his soul, he calls out to his wife not to cry alone," Gibb wrote in the album's liner notes. "He reassures her that his spirit will always guide her and their children, and begs that she never doubt him."

Surely as the sun sets

New suns are rising

As winter heralds spring's horizon

Don't cry alone.

Gibb's survivors include his wife Dwina, his children Melissa, 37, Spencer, 39, RJ, 29, Snow, 3, and sister Lesley. His brother Barry and mother Barbara, who lives in South Florida, also survive him.



Source: (c)2012 The Miami Herald


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