For The Record: The Gibb Collective
Columbus-based musician Samantha Gibb's ambitious Bee Gees tribute album is a true family affair
When I interviewed local singer-songwriter Samantha Gibb last summer, she hinted at a new recording project that would surface within the next year. In the months following, she and her longtime collaborator and close friend Lazaro Rodriguez began work on what would eventually become Please Don’t Turn Out The Lights, a full-length album tribute to the musical legacy of her father Maurice and uncles Barry and Robin, better known as the Bee Gees.
In addition to her own contributions, she committed to making the Please… a unique family affair, enlisting nearly an entire generation of younger Gibbs to record their own interpretations of the band’s (as well as youngest brother Andy’s) iconic songs. Under the moniker The Gibb Collective, the finished product was released on vinyl on May 31, and became available digitally on June 16 — appropriately arriving on Father’s Day.
Given the expanse and popularity of the Bee Gees’ catalog, it seems improbable that it hasn’t received a comprehensive studio homage since the deaths of twin brothers Maurice and Robin in 2003 and 2012, respectively. Eldest brother and lone surviving member Barry Gibb, now 71, has been involved in a limited number of re-issues of the trio’s recorded works over the past decade, and also embarked on a solo world tour in 2013-2014 to support the band’s Mythology box set, which featured songs by all four Gibb brothers.
Thus far, 2017 has been a resurgent year for the Bee Gees’ music, with two major stage salutes this year at the 59th annual Grammy Awards in February, and a highly-rated televised prime-time tribute special on CBS in April. John Legend, Stevie Wonder, Ed Sheeran, Céline Dion, Little Big Town, Demi Lovato, and Keith Urban were among the impressive slate of artists who participated.
The momentum from the latter was enough to push four separate previously-released Bee Gees compilations back onto various Billboard album charts, and resulted in a combined leap of 63,000 downloads and 10 million audio and video streams of their available digital songs. A new compilation, Timeless: The All Time Greatest Hits is presently resting firmly in the top ten on the UK album charts thanks to Barry Gibb’s acclaimed appearance at Glastonbury Festival 2017 last month.
Although Please Don’t Turn Out The Lights arrived with comparatively less fanfare than the rest of this year’s big-production homages, the intimate familial connection to the material makes it markedly special.
“I think we were all drawn to the songs we chose, ” Samantha explained during a conversation we had in May. “I don’t think it was easy picking one out the entire Gibb catalog, that’s for sure. The choices were right for each of us. I think all of the family showed such emotion in every one of them. With this project it was really about letting everyone do their own thing and find their personal take on the songs they were doing.”
The title track is a faithful reading of a relatively obscure cut from the Bee Gees’ 1972 album, To Whom It May Concern. Robin’s eldest son, Spencer, sings the first few opening lines; although his voice isn’t a copycat of his father’s, there is a familiar tone and vibrato that evokes him. By contrast, Steve Gibb — Barry’s first-born — belts out the second part of the verse with a huskiness that is almost the antithesis of the Bee Gees’ signature tonal blend. Maurice’s eldest son, Adam, Andy’s daughter, Peta, and Samantha round out the ensemble.
“I actually went through all of their songs, and when I came across this one,” said Samantha of the decision to make the track the album’s focal point, “I just kept playing it over and over again. It was an instant connection to the song. When I realized that we had each of the eldest cousins working on a track for the album, I thought it could be really amazing to have each of them sing a line for the song and harmonize together. Once I heard everyone together, it took my breath away. It sounded incredible.”
The album has many other memorable moments, especially when the artists take risks by deviating from the Gibbs’ standard ‘greatest hits’ fare. Spencer contributes a lush re-vamp of the bittersweet Robin Gibb-fronted “Don’t Fall In Love With Me,” a comparatively deep cut from the Bee Gees’ 1981 album Living Eyes. Peta covers “Fool For A Night,” a quirky ballad nestled in between the three major singles on the first side of Andy Gibb’s 1978 landmark, Shadow Dancing. The plucky guitars and strings of the original have been switched out for a heavy synth bass and ambient keys, but the impassioned lyrics her father wrote when he was just nineteen (“And when the burden ends/I will heal you, time will turn you back to me”) are universally true-hearted enough to make the transition to electronica.
A broad swath of the tracks on Please Don’t Turn Out The Lights actually dip into EDM territory. The Bee Gees’ “Morning Of My Life” (originally penned by Barry Gibb in 1965 and first released on the band’s 1970 Inception/Nostalgia compilation) still retains its gentle lilt nudged by Samantha and Adam’s feather-soft vocals. Barry’s son Travis, with some of Samantha’s assistance, turns in a more abstract version of the band’s 1968 standard “I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You” from their sophomore album Idea, and a similar feel carries over to “I Can’t See Nobody,” the soulful 1967 ballad from Bee Gees 1st re-envisioned by the four brothers’ younger sister, Berry Gibb-Rhoades. According to Samantha, the stylistic choices were less important than feeling.
“Everyone has their own unique take on the tracks. Stephen and Spencer were also able to show their abilities in not just vocals but, also on guitar. Travis’ production on the track he does really brings a classic Bee Gees song and EDM together flawlessly,” Samantha said. “Adam, my brother, brought such a beautiful tone and warmth on vocals and piano. Peta’s vocal and style showed such a cool transformation of her father’s song. I think all of the family involved have an incredible way of showing their emotion when they sing.“
Steve Gibb takes on the rarer Maurice Gibb lead with “On Time,” dirtying up the guitar-driven swamp rocker that also lived on To Whom It May Concern. It sounds as though it could have been swiped from one of the de facto hard rock bands on Steve’s résumé, but it’s probably the strongest testament on the entire project to the Bee Gees’ absolute versatility.
Also here is a new recording of “Angel Of Mercy,” a song written by Barry, Robin, and Maurice in 1995 that Samantha would eventually record with her father a few years later (remaining unreleased until it was included on Mythology). That collaborative relationship was foundational to her career.
“Writing with my father was one of the greatest experiences I have ever had in my life,” she recalls. “He was so versatile as a songwriter and musician and was so open to ideas we had. He believed in us. I actually had the pleasure of writing and recording with him right up until he passed away. Lazaro and I were in the studio almost every day with him.”
Samantha also freshly reworked “New York Mining Disaster 1941,” the song that ushered in the Bee Gees’ international début fifty years ago. Her version is nearly a cappella and conjures a slightly different, but still eerie, soundscape compared to the original, which was allegedly composed in a darkened stairwell at Polydor Records during a power outage.
“It was a really intimate experience to record it,” she said. “Lazaro and I talked about the idea, the atmosphere we were going for, and then he created the track and recorded it in our studio in Florida. He then sent it over to me and I recorded my vocals in my little studio in Ohio. The room was dark, with my headphones on. I was in my own world. I felt a major connection to the song and to my Dad.”
Please Don’t Turn Out The Lights is an album that demonstrates the possibility of producing a consistent, cohesive project regardless of global boundaries, as some of its contributors live continents away from Samantha’s home studio. Although technology can transcend some boundaries, it can’t always conquer other bumps in the road.
“Oh, there were many (laughs),” Samantha reflected. “I think it was more about each person’s individual schedules and the time difference that were the biggest challenges. Everyone really pulled through and made it happen though. Communication was a key component in this project.”
Having a visionary to connect the dots doesn’t hurt, either. “With this project it was really about letting everyone do their own thing and find their personal take on the songs they were doing. Although some tracks were completed on their own, it was Lazaro, my music partner and a main producer on this, whom was really able to bring them all together onto one album.”
Closing the set is Robin Gibb’s youngest son, Robin-John, who pays his own respects to his father’s hallmark ballad “I Started A Joke.” Much like Spencer, Robin-John has inherited some of Dad’s distinctive vocal qualities. It’s an equally uplifting and heartbreaking eulogy. The beautifully sad lyrics and ethereal melody are case in point of the Bee Gees’ endurance as one of the most influential and revered bands in history — few of their contemporaries or successors have generated a catalog of songs that are so universally compelling and well-crafted.
Please Don’t Turn Out The Lights is a loving devotional to a brilliant musical legacy. Samantha believes the Bee Gees’ prevalence after six decades lies in the brothers’ innate ability to appeal to audiences irrespective of their differences.
“Honestly, I think the majority of their music is timeless. They were so good at creating songs that spoke to you. All the songs speak of love, loss, reaching out and connecting, which are very meaningful even in this present time.”