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Robin Gibb remembered in South Florida

von Ben Crandell, Sun Sentinel, 22. Mai 2012

Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Away from the spotlight, longtime Miami Beach residents Robin and Barry Gibb, opposites in temperament and creative impulses, had a relationship that was extraordinary even for two brothers. “They had a magical connection,” said John Merchant, veteran producer and engineer at the brothers' Middle Ear Inc. recording studio in Miami Beach.Robin Gibb, who with Barry and twin Maurice was one-third of the global pop superstar trio the Bee Gees, died on Sunday of complications from cancer at age 62.

Merchant began at Middle Ear as an intern in 1988, and through 2004 worked on many late-career Bee Gees albums, including “One,” “Size Isn't Everything,” several live recordings and projects produced by the brothers for the likes of Celine Dion, Michael Jackson, Barbra Streisand. The brothers were competitive and approached songwriting from very different angles, Merchant said from his home in Nashville. Robin wanted a pop groove, Maurice was interested in sophisticated textures, and Barry focused on the message in the lyrics. Their fights were legendary. “Sometimes Barry would go off left of center and Robin would go: ‘That's not a hit.' And I'd say ‘Oh, dear,'” Merchant recalled, with a laugh. “But they always found a way to work it out. They had an expression they learned from their father: ‘Let's put a kettle on.'”

Also legendary was Robin's wicked sense of humor, which often came in the form of “shockingly filthy” jokes, Merchant said. Robin was also a prolific doodler, again usually working in a profane motif, with the brothers' record company bosses a frequent target. “I still have to smile when I think about it,” Merchant said.

Fort Lauderdale singer Beth Cohen hooked up with the Bee Gees when she sang backup on their Streisand album “Guilty Pleasures,” and performed with the brothers at the 2009 Love and Hope Ball for diabetes research at the Westin Diplomat Hotel in Hollywood. She described a “very interesting dynamic” at rehearsals between a subdued Robin and the more boisterous Barry. “Most of the time they got along really well, and sometimes they'd look like two people just standing next to each other in a room.” Cohen, 41, said she wasn't very familiar with the pre-disco work of the Bee Gees, but nevertheless found herself caught up in the emotion when she joined Robin and Barry on “To Love Somebody,” filling the void left by Maurice's 2003 death. “Blending with these two guys, essentially taking the role of the third brother, was very meaningful,” Cohen said.

Fernando Perdomo of the Miami-based band Dreaming in Stereo and head of Forward Motion Records, got his start in the industry working with the Gibb brothers at Middle Ear. Just 31, Perdomo still finds the music of the Bee Gees relevant. He and buddy Vic Kingsley recently recorded a country-style version of “Staying Alive,” with banjo and a more reverential pace. “I always loved that song,” Perdomo said. “It's incredibly well-written … If you listen to the lyrics, it's not all that happy. It's about the struggle of surviving in the modern culture in a tough city.”

Merchant said that in later years Robin grew more reluctant to handle the lead vocal role, even on songs that Barry had arranged specifically as a showcase for "that wonderful, clear falsetto." "I'm not sure why. It was a shame, because, vocally, he was always great," Merchant said. "When he would step up to do a song like "I Started a Joke," it brought the house down every time in every city. It was haunting." Merchant said he had spoken frequently in the last several weeks with Barry, whom he described as “very sad but realistic.” Their last conversation, on Saturday, hours before Robin's death, kept to a more upbeat focus: production work on a recording of Barry's February concert at the Hard Rock in Hollywood, his first solo concert ever and a show Merchant called “amazing.”

Merchant recounted how Barry was haunted by the acrimonious final “tough love” phone conversation he had with youngest brother Andy just before Andy's 1988 death after years of alcohol and drug abuse. When Robin was hospitalized in England in November, Barry immediately flew to London. “Barry hates to fly,” Merchant said. “When you see Barry on a plane, you know he's motivated.” Merchant said the brothers were able to share some laughs over old times in the hospital. Their ability to reconnect, to “put a kettle on,” was instrumental to the Bee Gees' longevity, Merchant said. “They had a connection beyond what any of us are used to.”


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