The Bee Gees may have been born in England, but they clearly picked up a key character trait during their childhood years in Australia--these guys come back more often than a boomerang.
This weekend they share the stage at KIIS-FM’s Wango Tango 2001 with such hot young pop acts as Ricky Martin, the Backstreet Boys, Jessica Simpson and host Britney Spears--performers who weren’t born when the Bee Gees got their first taste of success. Or, in some cases, their third.
Brothers Barry, Maurice and Robin Gibb, however, simply refuse to stay down for the count.
After an initial blast of seven Top 10 pop hits in 1967 and ’68, Robin quit and, shortly thereafter, Barry left. The trio reunited in 1970 and came back with “Lonely Days,” followed by their first No. 1 record, “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart.” That was six months before Ricky Martin was born.
Another career downturn followed, as did another revival, this time to stratospheric heights. “Saturday Night Fever” so dominated late ‘70s pop that it seemed impossible to turn on a radio without hearing Barry Gibb’s falsetto riding atop the signature harmonies and disco beats.
Now they’re back again, with a new album, “This Is Where I Came In,” which entered Billboard’s Top 200 chart at No. 16 in April.
That makes five decades running the group has posted hit albums. At the same time, their music is featured in the stage version of “Saturday Night Fever--The Musical,” now playing in Southern California as part of a national tour.
As for the group’s presence at Wango Tango, the Bee Gees find that, like Tom Jones and Tony Bennett, they’re hip once more.
“I never played a Beatles record in my house, yet my kids got turned on to them all by themselves when they were very young,” says Maurice, 51. “It’s really hard to predict when things will come around again.”
Certainly “Saturday Night Fever” has, giving the last laugh to John Travolta and the Bee Gees, both written off two decades back by the death-to-disco crowd.
“We just love what we’re doing, so we keep doing it,” says Maurice, who with twin brother Robin is two years younger than Barry. “Some people said after ‘Fever,’ ‘Why are you making another album?’
“This is what we love to do. If you’re a writer and you win a Pulitzer Prize, you don’t stop writing. If you’re a scientist and you win the Nobel Prize, you don’t say, ‘Now I don’t have to science anymore.’ It’s born in us, we’ve done it all our lives.”
They haven’t made records the same way all their lives, but for “This Is Where I Came In” they revisited the way they worked back when they started singing in the mid-1950s and made their first records in the ‘60s.
Instead of relying on studio technology, they largely used acoustic instruments and sang with all three clustered around a single microphone.
“We like to approach every album differently,” Maurice says. “We started with the [title] track, and we did it the way the Beatles did ‘You’re Gonna Lose That Girl’ in the movie ‘Help.’ I also was using the guitar I was given by John Lennon for my 21st birthday, so that was inspirational too.
“What I loved about it was the simplicity,” he adds. “Honestly, it was the most energizing thing I’ve ever experienced.... It was a lot more creative because we had total freedom.”
The Gibbs settled in Miami Beach after recording there on the recommendation of Eric Clapton, and Gibb finds it ironic that they’re living in what has become the boy-band capital of the world.
He’s a little worried, though, given his own bouts with alcohol abuse and the death of younger brother Andy Gibb in 1988 of heart failure after many years of hard living.
“I think it’s great fun for them,” Maurice says, “but I feel a little nervous for them. If the buzz of first fame is removed, where do they go? “My advice is just don’t take [fame] for granted, because it can be taken away as quickly as you got it.”
That, strangely, may have helped the Bee Gees hang onto theirs for close to 35 years.
“That’s one reason I admire the Stones,” he says. “They’re still a band, and they love to play. They can’t stay off the road. That’s like us. We love to play.
“As long as we’ve got an audience, we’ll keep doing it. To go out now and still have respectability, it’s beyond our wildest dreams. That’s why we’ve never taken it for granted since the first time.”
* Wango Tango 2001, Saturday, Backstreet Boys, Ricky Martin, others; Sunday, the Bee Gees, Aerosmith, others; Dodger Stadium, 1000 Elysian Park Ave., L.A., 3 p.m. $35 to $95. (323) 224-1448.
* “Saturday Night Fever--The Broadway Musical,” Shubert Theatre, 2020 Avenue of the Stars, Century City, Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays, 2 p.m., through June 24. $40 to $70. (800) 447-7400. Also at Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, June 26-July 8, playing Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays, 2 p.m. Dark July 4. Ends July 8. $28.50 to $62.50. (714) 740-7878, (213) 365-3500.