Grammy Is Another Steppingstone in Long Road Back for Bill Medley
For the moment, Bill Medley is still a Grammy Award winner without a record deal.
But the Orange County resident has known for months that his singing career was on a sharp upswing, courtesy of his chart-topping duet with Jennifer Warnes on "(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” the love theme from the hit movie, “Dirty Dancing.”
Winning the Grammy for best pop vocal performance by a duo or group came as a reaffirmation for Medley, rather than as a breakthrough in itself. The victory Wednesday night at Radio City Music Hall in New York was one more gratifying moment in a resurgent career that voice problems had put in limbo for more than a decade between 1974 and 1984.
“It’s been a long way to come back, and I’m very grateful,” Medley, 47, said over the phone from New York early Thursday morning, after a round of post-Grammy social stops with his wife, Paula.
Medley said it is hard to tell how much gloss the Grammy will add to the success he has already enjoyed with the million-selling “Time of My Life.”
“If I was a new kid, if this was my first hit record, it would be real dramatic,” said Medley, who, as half of the Righteous Brothers duo with Bobby Hatfield, scored 10 Top 40 hits, including two No. 1 hits, between 1964 and 1974. (Their 1964 song, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” lost out to Petula Clark’s “Downtown” for a Grammy in 1965). “But the dramatic things that can happen for this record have already been going on.”
For one thing, Medley said, he is on the verge of signing a recording contract, and soon he will begin work on his first album since a 1985 country release for RCA.
“We’ve nailed it down to a couple of record labels. It’ll all come down in the next week, hopefully, because it’s driven me crazy.”
Medley said he has been making plans for the record for the past two months. It will be titled “I’ve Had the Time of My Life” and will include the same performance with Warnes--who also hails originally from Orange County--that just won the Grammy.
(Another Orange County Grammy contender, surf guitar pioneer Dick Dale, lost his bid for the best instrumental of the year to Frank Zappa, who won in an upset over category front-runner Bruce Springsteen. Singer-songwriter Steve Goodman, who was living in Seal Beach at the time of his death in 1984, won a posthumous Grammy in the best contemporary folk recording for his “Unfinished Business” album.)
Among those contributing to Medley’s new album, he said, will be Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill, the songwriting team that supplied both of the Righteous Brothers’ No. 1 hits (“Lovin’ Feelin”’ and "(You’re My) Soul and Inspiration”). Mann and Weill also won a Grammy on Wednesday for “Somewhere Out There,” which was named song of the year.
Medley said that Mann and Michael Lloyd, producer of “Time of My Life,” both will be involved in producing his new album and that the three-man songwriting team that wrote the “Dirty Dancing” theme has written a song for his solo project.
While the album will include songs in the romantic pop ballad mode that won him a Grammy, Medley said he also wants to return to the musical roots he established with the Righteous Brothers.
“I’m hoping to do some rock ‘n’ roll and rhythm and blues, get back to that.” It’s unlikely, though, that Medley’s solo record will feature Hatfield’s voice. “Probably not at this point,” he said. “I would love for Bobby to record and have me guest on his album, and vice versa. But right now, I’d like to establish it on my own.”
Medley and Hatfield continue to perform live as the Righteous Brothers. They will be in concert Sunday night at the Hop, a Fountain Valley nightclub that they own an interest in.
Warnes didn’t attend the Grammy ceremony, and Medley’s award acceptance wasn’t part of the telecast. But the two singers and their song will get saturation exposure on April 11 when they sing "(I’ve Had) “The Time of My Life” at the Academy Awards ceremony. The song is also up for an Oscar as best original song in a motion picture.
A sure sign of the career impact of Medley’s “Dirty Dancing” duet is that corporate America has come calling, seeking to enlist his distinctive bass voice to push its products.
“I’m getting a lotta, lotta, lotta offers to do commercials,” he said. “That’s when you know they’re aware of you out there.” Coca-Cola and McDonald’s made offers, Medley said, but the ad he chose to do was for a brewer. At the last minute, it fell through because of his involvement with the Hop clubs: “We saw some small print in the contract that said I couldn’t own a liquor license” and do the commercial. “I had to turn it down.”
More than once, Medley also turned down the chance to sing “Time of My Life.” When Jimmy Ienner, musical consultant for “Dirty Dancing,” first approached him with the song, Medley said, he was still nursing his disappointment from the commercial failure of a duet he had sung with Gladys Knight on the sound-track album of Sylvester Stallone’s disastrous movie “Cobra.” Also, Medley wanted to devote his time to his wife, who was about to give birth to their daughter, McKenna (she arrived last February).
“But Jimmy Ienner was on me so much, I just couldn’t deny this guy. He called two or three times a week; he would send me tapes, then he sent me the film, the part where the song was (going to be). He stayed with it so well, I almost did it as a favor.” Medley said he went to New York not expecting to win a Grammy in a category that also included Los Lobos (“La Bamba”), Heart (“Alone”), Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram (“Somewhere Out There”) and Swing Out Sister (“Breakout”).
“I wasn’t going to get excited, but when it came to my category, my heart got up in my throat and it wouldn’t stop.”
Medley said he has no big victory celebration in the works when he returns home to Corona del Mar.
“I don’t have anything planned except to go home and hug and kiss my daughter. Maybe at the Hop they’ll buy me a beer or something.”