“Look at the world out there.”
Barry Gibb is alluding to the several days of strife that accompanied Donald Trump’s most recent insurrection against the U.S. government. With a heavy sigh, however, the legend and last remaining Bee Gee was talking about the deaths of his brothers, Andy, Maurice and Robin, the joys and pains of brotherhood, the ups, downs and changing sounds within a long career (the Bee Gees commenced in 1958), and the newest projects in his life: an HBO documentary “The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” and a new solo (sort-of) album, “Greenfields — The Gibb Brothers’ Songbook Vol. 1.”
“With all this, I am a country singer,” he says, matter-of-factly. “Country is what I will do from here on out, as long as I can make music.”
VARIETY: It’s everyone’s understanding that you haven’t watched the HBO documentary, and yet you participated in it by doing in-depth interviews. Why and why?
GIBB: Of course. I did everything that I was supposed to do, and told everyone how I thought everything had been in our lives, mine and my brothers’ — but I can’t watch my family fade away in front of me. You know? It’s just one of those things. I made my comments and hope others enjoy it. The response has been amazing, so I’m happy about that.
Though the documentary doesn’t delve too deeply in the hows of the trio’s fall from grace post-“Saturday Night Fever” or “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” it does focus on what the filmmakers felt was latent homophobia and racism at having dance music records burned, yours included. What’s your take?
One thing to be gleaned from “Greenfields,” beyond a love of country and bluegrass, is how dedicated you are to its naturalism, and to being there now. It is a very present album.
I’m up for anything as long as I have the energy to do it. When you are 30 and younger, it’s a case of animal energy. You’ll travel as far as you have to to please the people you want to please. The greatest fun in life is writing for somebody. For something. When we wrote for Robert Stigwood, if he approved, he was going to act on it. It was a matter of people you believed in, as much as they believed in you. Those are the things I sort of miss. What I’m left with is writing for myself — to please myself, my wife, my family. I don’t look to an entity to approve or disapprove of what I’m doing. And somehow, within all this, I have become a country artist — a music I love with all my heart. It doesn’t matter what happened in the past. In my heart, this where I know I belong. The shock was that the artists who appear on “Greenfields” said yes.
Your humility is admirable, but it’s hard to imagine someone turning you down. Keith Urban killed “To Love Somebody” already (during CBS’ “Stayin’ Alive: A Grammy Salute to the Music of the Bee Gees” from 2017), and dueting with you now on “I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You”… he’s a champion of your stuff.
Keith is a perennial, already a legend. I think his voice is like Robin’s in a number of ways. He did that song perfectly.
But did you really think that you wouldn’t find collaborators?
No. I did not, Quite the opposite. This was a dream. My son played me records by guys like Chris Stapleton, and from there I became a fan of Americana. I’ve worked in and out of Nashville for a number of years, and with Ricky Skaggs. I did several (Grand Old) Oprys, and worked the Ryman a couple of times. I’m truly bitten. To be able to play a song is truly something. You know, you mentioned the eras of the ’70s and the ’80s. There’s been a lot of years gone by when it was no longer a big deal to have a great song out there. The hits go by so quickly now you barely have a chance to remember them. When I started the ‘Greenfields’ process I was looking for artists who actually liked our songs and chose one. I didn’t choose the songs, you know? My eldest son Steven went to Nashville, collaborated with Jay Landers who worked with me on the Barbra Streisand albums, and took the helm — courted country artists that I loved. With Dolly (Parton)? She and I have a longstanding friendship, but Alison Krauss. Miranda Lambert… My God. I’ve been fortunate. You can’t count on everybody. I’m delighted as to who said yes. Chris Stapleton wanted to do it but he had just come off the road.
Maybe next time. In terms of solo albums, there’s “Now Voyager.” You shelved “The Kid’s No Good,” and morphed “Moonlight Madness” into the soundtrack for “Hawkes.” Eventually, you did “In the Now” in 2016. Doing anything away from the Bee Gees — your brothers didn’t have a positive consensus on all that.
That’s where your heart is now.
Yeah. You know, you wander around this industry for years. You think one thing is right for you. Then you think that something else is next. This is where I’ve landed. And it’s right. See, I’m alone now as an artist. I can at least choose the thing that I want to do.