the Bee Gees and friends

     In art nothing succeeds like imitation–and one vogue (or craze) quickly follows another. So it was in the early 1960s that a scruffy Liverpool group named themselves the Beatles after a Texas band, the Crickets, whose lead singer, Buddy Holly, they admired–and rode to international fame.

     Not long after, a family of brothers named Gibb began playing Beatles tunes in the Australian outback–and writing songs of their own. Their father sent a demo tape to the Beatles manager, Brian Epstein, who passed it along to Robert Stigwood, an employee of the Epstein family record store, who then signed up the Gibb brothers: Barry and the fraternal twins, Maurice and Robin.

     A song by Barry, "New York Mining Disaster 1941," was mistaken by London DJs as a new Beatles tune and given wide air-play–and the group was off with a string of hits- "To Love Somebody," "Massachusetts," "I Started a Joke"-that was to land them on top of the charts in England and America.

     But, alas, music–or rock and roll–is a business, as well as an art, and by the 1970s heavy metal drowned out the smooth harmony of the Bee Gees–and the rest of the “British invasion;” and, like other rock groups, including the Beatles, the brothers were plagued by drugs, inflated egos, dissension. Brother Robin, who had written “I Started a Joke,” left the group, then returned. Key musicians, including drummer Colin Petersen , departed, until the boys were again playing dinner clubs in England, sometimes covering old Beatles songs.

   Barry, the eldest of the brothers, and the group’s driving force, began to sing in falsetto and experiment with a synthesizer to capture the pulsating tempo of the disco dance craze then sweeping America.

     It was at this time in 1977 that manager Stigwood (1934-2016) showed up at a recording studio in France, a converted castle, where the Bee Gees were working on a disco album, and asked them to lay down a sound track for a movie he was co-producing.

       The film was loosely based on a story that had appeared in New York, a slick weekly magazine, about an Italian kid in Brooklyn who lived to show off his Saturday night dancing, but whose mother, in the best Hollywood tradition, wanted him to be a priest. (Apparently, screenwriter Norman Wexler failed to survey Mama Cuomo in nearby Queens who was advising her son, Mario, on running for mayor.)

    The film was almost completed. John Travolta, a young television actor, had given an energetic performance as the weekend dancer, and Karen Lynn Gorney was convincing as his love-struck partner. But the soundtrack, including numbers by Stevie Wonder that Travolta had danced to, lacked the zest Stigwood needed.  


  According to most accounts, the Bee Gees didn’t bother to read the script Stigwood had brought to the chateau. Instead, they reworked the music they had been working on, including a song entitled “Saturday Night” which was turned into the movie’s title: Saturday Night Fever.

     Other tracks included “Stayin’ Alive,” “How Deep Is Your Love,” “More Than a Woman,” that were woven into the film in post-production–and, as they say in Hollywood, the rest is history.

     Following the sensational success of the soundtrack album, the brothers made their permanent base in Miami, where they had recorded the songs in a studio they had been introduced to by Eric Clapton.

    It was at that studio that Barry Gibb became friends with a talented video maker named Martin Pitts, a Tulane graduate from Nashville, who was to record many of the Bee Gees MTV videos, including “Too Much Heaven,” which continues to draw millions of viewers on YouTube today.

    Marty remained friends with the Bee Gees until he left for Los Angeles in the early eighties. Maurice died in 2003, after a long struggle with addiction. Robin died in 2012. Along the way, all three brothers were appointed Commanders in the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in a ceremony at Buckingham Palace.

    Here, in a series of conversations that took place before his own death in 2018, as edited, the late Marty Pitts recalls those years in Miami with the Bee Gees.


AL: How did you meet the Bee Gees?


MP: It was about 1977. I was working at the studio in Miami their record label used. Barry was friendly. Waiting around, we would hang out, talk about girls and drink beer. He spoke about England a lot.



In the 1960s and 1970s a lot of musicians took up social and political causes.


The Bee Gees knew they were musical artists and good at it. They were not political, not intellectual. Maurice was closest to Barry. Sometimes he would go to his house–and they would just drive around.


AL: Did you socialize with them away from the studio?
MP: I had a business relationship with them. We used to play soccer sometimes. I was terrible, but they were worse. Barry was a special guy, but Robin was remote. He was not very friendly, the guy who didn’t talk very much.



A lot has been written about the brothers’ drug problems.



Maurice did cocaine and drank a lot. He would nod out. It was bad for him. You could tell. Andy did a lot of drugs. He was the youngest brother and had a career of his own. He was just a kid having fun. Victoria Principal was his girlfriend. He wore his heart on his sleeve, like Liza Minnelli.



Miami seems an odd place for an English group to live.



Jerry Wexler, the co-founder of Atlantic Records, their label, had a house there. The city has always been a place for New Yorkers to come to and party. Singers would appear at the hotels, then go onto Vegas. Barry and his wife, Lynda, a former Miss Edinburgh, were also part of the local social scene, raising money for juvenile diabetes.


AL: Did the Bee Gees talk about their work on Saturday Night Fever?

They didn’t talk about Travolta or his acting. He was separate from the music. I was there when they were in the studio recording the final soundtrack. Karl Richardson and Albhy Galuten were engineers. Barry was wonderful. It was his baby, but everyone had input.


AL: What did they think of the movie?



As far as they were concerned, it was a phenomenon. It meant everything. They talked about how it had made them famous. I’ll never forget one morning we walked out of the studio, and there were so many fans, the North Miami police had to form a line to keep them across the street. When the album went platinum, Robert Stigwood sent them a platinum covered limo with a driver from New York. I think they got rid of the car, but the driver stayed with them for twenty years.



You shot the MTV video of “Too Much Heaven,” which the Bee Gees recorded after Saturday Night Fever



We did a day of prep, then shot it in one day. They had a whole orchestra: everybody in Miami, pop musicians, people from the symphony. I don’t think I did that many takes. They had rehearsed on tour, gotten the best feedback. You can see the emotion in their faces. It caught that moment: Disco was king. 



You left Miami in the early eighties.



It was like Dodge City. Shipments were coming in everywhere. Cops were paid to look the other way. You had bar fights between Cubans and Colombians. There was so much money, stupid money. It was another world for me. I was a straight businessman. Barry was too.


(Background material was obtained from Wikipedia and The Bee Gees by David N. Meyer, Da Capo Press, 2013.) 


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