Barry Gibb stands in the Bunker, tapping his foot.
The Bunker is Gibb's nickname for Middle Ear Studio, a stuffy, windowless recording
compound in Miami Beach. Here on a March afternoon, Gibb is sifting through a medley of
Bee Gees songs -an instrumental marathon of hits that Gibb and his younger brothers,
Maurice and Robin, will croon along to at an awards show in Monaco.
As he leans toward the mixing console, a rubbery, serpentine rhythm suddenly overtakes
the room. Gibb smiles and begins to mouth the words -quietly, almost ruefully. The song is
Then it's over. The epochal groove that once sent John Travolta strutting into history
with a can of paint segues into a ballad called "Alone," the first single from
the Bee Gees' new album, Still Waters. But... huh? Seconds later, the room starts quaking
all over again to the feverish pulse of "Stayin' Alive."
"Wait," Gibb says to engineer John Merchant. "You had 'Stayin' Alive' in
Merchant looks up with a grin. "And what's the problem with that?"
The world, apparently, couldn't agree more. Two decades after Saturday Night Fever
lured the heartland into the spangled, thumping debauchery of dance music -and 17 years
after a rallying cry of "Disco sucks!" turned the Brothers Gibb into pop
pariahs- people are ready to give the Bee Gees another chance. All the telltale signs of
rehabilitation have fallen into place: VH1 has honored the trio with a one-hour hootenanny
on its Storytellers series. Wyclef Jean of the Fugees has cut "We Trying to Stay
Alive," a hip-hop riff on the Fever anthem. Paramount Pictures is gearing up for a
Star Wars-style re-release of Fever this fall. And, in a gesture the rock elite might've
considered heresy a few years ago, the erstwhile patriarchs of polyester have just secured
a berth in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
"It's like the pinnacle of everything you've worked for," says Maurice Gibb,
48, the brother who's fond of wearing hats. (He's sporting a gray fedora during the
interview.) "It vindicates everything you've believed in."
Most Rock veterans affect a stony detachment when they talk about the Hall of Fame, but
the Bee Gees act as giddy as preteens prepping for a class trip. Even though they really
don't need to justify their impact on pop culture, they still seem desperate to prove that
they're down with the cool crowd.
It's been that way for almost 40 years. Born in England but raised in Brisbane,
Australia, the Bee Gees broke into the Sydney club circuit when the twins, Robin and
Maurice, had barely hit puberty. By 1966, they were stars at home, but nobodies north of
the equator. "The Beatles came to Australia, and it was like 'WOW!'" says
Maurice. "We wanted to be like them. We didn't know what they earned or anything - we
just wanted to get to know them.
Early in 1967 the trio caught a boat to England, met up with Robert Stigwood, and began
to lace the charts with sweet, baroque, post-Mersey beat singles like
"Massachusetts" and "Holiday." Pretty soon, the wide-eyed Aussies were
the toast of swingin' London, hanging out at the Speakeasy with the likes of Cream, the
Who, and yep - the Fab Four. John Lennon himself bought Maurice his first Scotch and Coke
on the night after the cover shoot for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. "We
ended up in his big Rolls Royce," Maurice recalls, "with [Lennon] throwing up on
Likewise, the Bee Gees' magical mystery tour soon came to a sour end - thanks to
fraternal spats, glam rock and a rash of high living (Maurice joined AA 13 years after
downing that first cocktail). The breakup didn't last long: A 1971 family reunion yielded
"Lonely Days," though another dry spell soon followed. By 1975, however, the Bee
Gees found a new groove with Main Course. It was around this time that Stigwood asked to
borrow some tunes for a movie soundtrack. "My first meeting with Robert Stigwood, he
hands me this demo and says, 'Three number ones are on this tape,'" says SNF director
John Badham. "It seems like one of the most arrogant statements that somebody could
It wasn't. Fever's funky arias - delivered in falsettos so steep they'd induce a hernia
in a weaker man - set off a chemical reaction. For a year, the charts were Gibb-locked.
There were hits from Fever Hits the Bee Gees wrote for others (Frankie Valli's
"Grease"). Even hits by baby brother, Andy.
Naturally, the Bee Gees were just begging for backlash - and they got it. "It was
easy to write them off and listen to more underground stuff," says Joe McGinty, a New
York session musician-songwriter (he recently put together a Bee Gees tribute at a hip
Manhattan club.) In the 80's disco skidded off the charts, and the Bee Gees were treated
"as if we had leprosy," says Robin.
"To have the music loved so much and then rejected out of hand within a
decade...," sighs Barry, now 50. "Your family thinks it's over for you. You're
no longer going to be a pop star. 'What are you going to do now, Dad?'"
What they did was retreat into the Bunker. Living within a stone's throw of one another
in Miami Beach, the three brothers locked themselves in the studio, producing tracks for
Barbra Streisand and Dionne Warwick. Things reached a nadir in 1988, when Andy Gibb died
of a heart ailment, perhaps aggravated by years of cocaine abuse, just after his 30th
birthday. Their father, bandleader Hughie Gibb, died soon after. "[It] was a big
soul-growth time for us," Barry says. "Once your own blood passes on, that has a
Barry's son Steve, 23, swings through the Bunker to say goodbye; he's flying to New
York this afternoon to cut a demo with a band called the Underbellies. (A number of
third-generation Gibbs have gone into the family business: Robin's son Spencer, 24, plays
guitar, while Maurice's children Adam, 21, and Samantha, 16, are shopping around for a
Like any father and son, Barry and Steve are a study in contrasts, Barry wears a
cardigan sweater and pair of wingtips; Steve sports a punkish black T-shirt and arms
slathered in tattoos.
"Keep in touch," Barry says, opening his arms for a hug.
"Okay, Dad," says Steve. "I'll call you, let you know what's going
You don't have to be a Gibb to see that a lot has changed since the days of mirror
balls and platform shoes. Even the surliest disco detractors have come to embrace what
nobody had the guts to admit in the mid-80's: The Bee Gees wrote some killer tunes. At the
Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame induction ceremony on May 6, the trio whipped through a medley
of seven of them (from "To Love Somebody" through "You Should Be
Dancing") that had industry execs boogying in their tuxes. Dress in dour black, the
Gibbs used an oft-quoted slogan to describe their decline: "We're the enigma with the
stigma," said Barry. But they seem flush with their newfound creed; a stream of
well-wishers dropped by their table for autographs and hugs.
Still, the Bee Gees have not enjoyed the kind of career resurrection that compatriot
John Travolta saw with Pulp Fiction. Their last album Size Isn't Everything petered
out at 124,000 copies. And, Still Waters, with it's bevy of languid ballads,
isn't exactly a funky relapse of the Fever. "Our biggest battle right now is to focus
people on the new Bee Gees, because it's so tempting to instantly go into flashback,"
concedes Polydor president Nich Gatfield.
But Barry Gibb has been written off before. After all, this is a man who's faced
outright ridicule. "That creates hunger," says Gibb, calm as a Tibetan monk.
"You're determined to show it's not over." "Stayin' Alive," it turns
out is now the Bee Gees' manifesto.