Today marks eight years since Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees died while on the operating table in Miami after suffering from a twisted intestine. He was only 53 and as a lifelong fan of the brothers Gibb, I remember feeling extremely sad but also privileged that I was on the radio and could do a tribute for him that I felt fitting. I’d found out about 7pm NZ time that he’d died and I drove straight into the station where I worked through the night with colleagues Andy Turley and John Budge in producing a 30 minute tribute documentary to be ready by the next morning.
We played that documentary five times across the day on two different stations, Classic Hits and Easy Listening i and on the breakfast show that morning I played every second song a Bee Gees song. If only I was allowed to do that all the time!
Maurice Gibb was one third of the greatest family act in popular music, was part of one of the top five biggest selling artists of all time (with record sales topping 200 million)
and was an integral member in a songwriting team who put 21 different songs at US or UK number one.
From beneath his iconic black Fedora, he was an expert harmonist with few peers and a multi-instrumentalist just as comfortable playing the bass as he was the guitar, drums, mellotron, piano or even moog synthesizer. He was also a husband, a father and the most gregarious of the Gibbs. He didn’t always take the limelight, but was as crucial to the success of the extraordinary band the Bee Gees as his brothers Barry and Robin were.
Born in the Isle of Man on December 22 1949 with an early childhood in Manchester, it was Australia in the 60s where the Bee Gees first earned their stripes as songwriters and local television stars before returning to England in 1967.
A millionaire before he was 20, Maurice and his brothers took on the world in 1967 with international hits like Spicks and Specks, New York Mining Disaster and Massachusetts. From the outset Maurice, or “Mo” as his family and friends always called him, was able to blend the ideas of the more dominant personalities of his brothers into a final product that would ultimately lead to one of the most hit-filled catalogues in songwriting history.
Starting with their Beatle-esque phase in the late 60s and early 70s, culminating with their astonishing R&B peak in the late 70s and continuing through the 80s and 90s as songsmiths for themselves as well as countless others (including Barbra Streisand, Dionne Warwick, Kenny Rogers and Diana Ross), Barry, Robin and Maurice dominated pop music until Maurice’s tragic death eight years ago in 2003.
As a co-writer of songs as diverse as Lonely Days, Stayin’ Alive, How Deep Is Your Love, Heartbreaker, Islands In The Stream, Chain Reaction, You Win Again and Alone, Maurice is an inductee with his brothers into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame and has received lifetime achievement awards from the American Music Awards, the Brits and the Grammys amongst dozens of others.
For a band so identified with the late 70s, I always love introducing people to lesser known Bee Gees songs from before and after the Saturday Night Fever years. The song featured here is one of those favourites and I had the pleasure of telling Maurice to his face when I met him, Barry and Robin backstage in New Zealand in March, 1999. My exact words: “Maurice, I always told myself if I ever got to meet you that I’d tell you that Railroad is one of my all time favourite songs.” Maurice: “I’m glad somebody liked it!”