Barry Gibb's country moment: 'It's time to do what I love and not what everyone asks me to do'
The legendary Bee Gee on recruiting Dolly Parton, Keith Urban, and more for Greenfields – The Gibb Brothers' Songbook Vol 1, an album of twangy takes on his family trio’s classics.
For Barry Gibb, it was never a matter of if he was going to make a country album, but when. Though known for his groundbreaking pop and disco work with the Bee Gees — his trio with late brothers Robin and Maurice — Gibb, now 74, is a self-described "country music freak." He's no stranger to the genre — the Bee Gees wrote Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers' landmark duet "Islands in the Stream" in 1983, which Gibb produced — but it was a recommendation from his son, musician Steve Gibb, that pushed him to dive into Americana himself. It may be a huge transformation for fans who closely associate Gibb with Saturday Night Fever and "Stayin' Alive," but for him, his love of the genre has always been there.
"I just felt that country music was really what was inside me," he says. "[Steven] played me a Chris Stapleton track, and it just destroyed me. I thought, 'This is where I belong… This is a new era, and I'm no longer that other person. I can now follow what I love the most, which is real songs, country songs, bluegrass songs — I just love 'em. It's time to do what I love and not what everyone asks me to do.'"
On January 8, Greenfields: The Gibb Brothers Songbook Vol. 1 will formally introduce the twangier side of Gibb by reimagining the music of the Bee Gees with an all-star team of collaborators including Dolly Parton, Miranda Lambert, Little Big Town, Olivia Newton-John, and more. Each artist chose which Bee Gees tune they'd record for the project: some picks were classic singles, others rarities. Below, Gibb walks through a few favorite moments from creating Greenfields.
Reminiscing with Dolly Parton
Gibb had a major fan moment when Parton joined him at Nashville's renowned RCA Studio B to record their duet. When Parton took her place at the microphone, she realized she was standing in the same spot she recorded "I Will Always Love You" and "Jolene."
"It just gave me chills!" he recalls. "It was a thrill to be there. The pure joy of working with her again after 25 years, it was like, yesterday — she was no different. She's the most down to earth, sweet person I think I've ever met with the kind of success she's had. She does not take it for granted."
Transforming "Jive Talkin"
"I knew how I wanted 'Jive Talkin' to be, which was slower than the one we did — back it down, make it feel more emotional and give it a groove," he says of the updated version, which features Miranda Lambert and Rival Sons' frontman Jay Buchanan. "I heard a version by Rufus & Chaka Khan and Rufus doing 'Jive Talkin'" much slower, so when I got to Nashville, that was fixed in my head."
Marveling at Jay Buchanan's voice
Many powerful singers have covered the Bee Gees' 1967 hit "To Love Somebody," from Janis Joplin and Nina Simone to Michael Bublé. But Buchanan was a perfect fit for the hard-rocking version that swelled in the studio (which, in addition to Parton, has hosted sessions for Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison and other musical legends).
"Doing vocals with Jay Buchanan — when he backed off the microphone, you heard the whole room in his voice," he says.
Reuniting with Olivia Newton-John
The Grease icon sang "Rest Your Love on Me" with Gibb's late brother Andy in 1980. For the version she sings on Greenfields, its romantic synths are replaced with the strains of lap steel, making for an uplifting collaboration between two old friends.
"We sort of grew up together — not really knowing each other, but doing the same television shows in Australia as children," says Gibb, who was born in England but spent his formative years Down Under. "If you grow up in a place like Australia and then leave, you never lose contact with each other. I met Olivia in Melbourne in 1966, came to England in '67, and she had already arrived there. She had a number of country records. We've always known each other without really meeting. So lately, we're much closer. That's a great thing."
Getting Soulful with Keith Urban
Gibb was thrilled to head into the studio with another Aussie, Keith Urban, when they teamed up for grand album opener "I've Got A Message To You" (the original was the Bee Gees' first top 10 record in the U.S.).
"On this album, there's a definite Australian streak, which ranges from Olivia to Keith Urban to Tommy Emmanuel, the guitarist [who features on 'How Deep Is Your Love']," says Gibb. "Keith even brought Nicole Kidman with him, which was an incredible thrill, too. It was wonderful. She was a very, very normal person, very sweet."
Revisiting "Butterfly" with Dave & Gil
The album tittle comes from a lyric off "Butterfly," an early, folky tune the Bee Gees recorded over a decade before they defined disco with "Stayin' Alive." It's breathtaking in its rustic, acoustic glory with the addition of David Rawlings and Gillian Welch — and one Gibb was pleased to include on the album for its humble place in the Bee Gees' story.
"Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch didn't want to do a song that was well-known, because that's their nature as an act; they're very pure," he says. "They leapt all over 'Butterfly,' which was out in 1966. It just worked out wonderful."
Reviving "Words of a Fool" with Jason Isbell
"Words of a Fool" is Gibb's should've-been standalone hit; he initially recorded it for a shelved solo album, and finds it fitting that Isbell's "mind-blowing" performance on the track speaks to the song's country roots.
"'Words of a Fool' was written in 1986, and it never got the treatment or attention that we could've given it, because not all three of us were into country music — it was more Maurice and I that loved it," Gibb remembers. "Robin was much more concerned about whatever's a hit. You've gotta love something, and I love this music. I love real songs, that's what it is."
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Barry Gibb's son.