MURFREESBORO — Music icon Barry Gibb easily traced the genealogy of the Bee Gees classic “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?” for more than 900 fans and friends at MTSU’s Tucker Theatre Monday night.
Poignantly recalling his and his late brothers’ love for country music from their Australian childhood, the singer-songwriter-producer gently began picking out a Hank Locklin country classic on his acoustic guitar while talking with Beverly Keel, chair of MTSU’s Department of Recording Industry.
“The first country song I ever recall hearing was Johnny Tillotson’s [cover of] ‘Send Me the Pillow That You Dream On,’” Gibb said. “We only got the one radio station in Australia, and the people we heard classified as ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ were Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash.
“‘Crying’ was the first record I ever bought. … We love country. It all comes from the pathos. We always loved a sad story,” he continued, segueing smoothly into “How Can You Mend,” the brothers Gibb’s first U.S. No. 1 single.
The audience, which almost filled the 1,000-seat venue, rose and applauded Gibb for one of several standing ovations offered throughout the evening. Many spent the pre-show time singing along with Bee Gees hits on the PA system, and several called out happily to Gibb as he related family tales, career recollections and music history and played a handful of his hundreds of hits.
“What a fantastic, happy crowd!” Gibb said with a wide smile.
Gibb, one of the world’s most successful songwriters, has a career spanning more than 50 years. He recently concluded the European leg of his first solo tour, “Mythology,” which commemorates his late brothers Robin and Maurice and features performances by the next generation of Gibb musicians.
Monday night’s visit to MTSU, part of the Department of Recording Industry Chair’s Speakers Series, was the first time Gibb has ever sat down for a public conversation and solo performance. John Merchant, a recording industry assistant professor who toured with Gibb for years as part of his concert sound production team, invited his former boss to MTSU.
Before the Tucker Theatre event, professor Merchant’s colleagues Michael Fleming and Matthew O’Brien introduced Gibb to several MTSU students who work on the student record label, Match Records. Fleming also showed Gibb’s son and touring partner, Stephen, and musical director Doug Emery one of the university’s state-of-the-art recording studios inside the Bragg Mass Communication Building.
Gibb and his family and friends also toured the Center for Popular Music in the Bragg building before the show, paying special attention to a colorful display of Bee Gees and Gibb memorabilia prepared by cataloging librarian Rachel Morris.
“That is GREAT!” Gibb said as he peered into the display case, grinning at several unexpected items. “There are lots of memories right there for me, oh yeah!”
The artist also was fascinated by the Center for Popular Music's compact-shelving storage system, a customized archive that stretches more than 10.5 feet high to house the center’s extensive collection.
In a surprise announcement just a few minutes later in Tucker Theatre, the university recognized Gibb as the inaugural Fellow of the Center for Popular Music. You can read full details of that announcement at http://mtsunews.com/gibb-named-inaugural-cpm-fellow.
Gibb and his brothers have been topping the charts since the 1960s, becoming the only group in pop history to write, produce and record six straight No.1 hits. The Bee Gees had 16 Grammy nominations and nine Grammy wins.
Gibb also has had No. 1 songs in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s 1990s and 2000s and is the only songwriter in history to write four successive U.S. No.1 hits.
“It's obviously not possible for us to cover your entire career in one night, so the only solution is for you to come back again,” Keel said to the broadly smiling Gibb after that presentation.
“You’re a singer, a songwriter, a producer — most people would kill to have your level of success in just one of those fields. You’re a triple-threat icon.”
“Well, Maurice and Robin should be here tonight, too, but it’s just myself …” Gibb said softly.
He began smiling again as he launched into a list of artists he’d just seen inaugurated into the Country Music Hall of Fame the night before and how much he enjoyed their work.
“I love to be around people whose work I admire. … And I love being here.”