Pop stars are often made, manufactured by managers and PR efforts, the right songs, along with luck. The road of fame is littered with the careers, and lives, of those who made and then lost it. Some manage to hold on to reemerge, even as tragic lessons, courtesy of the Internet and reality television. Others fade away.
I liked Andy Gibb. Let me be clear. He was a sweet kid that was in over his head.
In a short decade, Gibb reached the heights and depths of fame. The youngest Gibb brother, his star rocketed him to fame and fell tragically to Earth as it slipped away. His story gets even sadder.
While the Bees Gees were busy with their recording and performing career in the early 1970’s, younger brother Andy Gibb, worked in Australia to develop his songwriting and performing. He dropped out of school at an early age, played in a few bands, recorded demos, sort of The Bee Gees minor league system.
With their brothers support, he was signed to a recording contract in 1976 by RSO Records, the record label of The Bee Gees. Andy Gibb was ready for The Show. Or was he?
Gibb had the boyish looks of his brother Barry, and the publicity machine geared up for another Gibb superstar.
His first album was made by the same production team of The Bee Gees hits, and included brother Barry at the controls. Nine of the ten songs on Flowing River were written or co-written by Andy Gibb. The first single, “I Just Want to Be Your Everything” was written by Barry. That song along with “(Love is) Thicker Than Water” went to number one on the chart.
Gibb had a pleasant voice, much like his brothers, but his songs seemed rather light-weight next to The Bee Gees. Gibb lacked the musical chops of his brothers, yet he was attempting to swim in the same waters at them. Brother Barry oversaw his career, providing songwriting and production help to bolster the quality of his songs.
Gibb fit into the pop-groove of the time, and his recordings were shaped to highlight his strengths. He was a media darling, another Gibb brother, young and charming, perfect for the teen magazines of the times.
The album was professionally done with top session musicians, and a few guests like Joe Walsh, peaked at number 19 on Billboard. The album release was delayed to stay clear of Bee Gee albums on the chart. Overall, Gibb’s debut was considered a rousing success. The songs were earnest and likable, like pre-Saturday Night Fever Bee Gees.
Gibb was instantly famous, and his life changed forever. Soon after, his marriage to a girlfriend from Australia, collapsed, and his daughter was born after their split.
Gibb would record two more albums. Shadow Dancing (1978) and After Dark (1980). Shadow Dancing provided three top ten hits, while After Dark yielded two top 20 songs. I felt these albums were weaker and had too much polish. They felt like generic pop, constructed in the studio rather than written. Going forward, Gibb would have less involvement in the writing of songs for his albums, deferring to brother Barry.
By the time of After Dark, Gibb’s career arc was already heading downward. RSO released a Greatest Hits package, puffed out by two additional songs that would make the top 40, but the label was wiping their hands of him.
Drug (cocaine), alcohol and behavioral issues led to the end of his record contract.
In the early 1980’s, Gibb was a co-host of Solid Gold, a syndicated television program of popular songs. He also performed on Broadway in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. He was fired from both jobs, due to not showing up for performances.
His well-publicized relationship with Victoria Principal also ended, reportedly by his drug problems.
He would support himself by performing, although he was not considered a hot act any longer, and by an allowance from his brothers. He also did several stints in rehab to battle his addictions.
In the late 1980’s, he worked on new music with his brothers, but didn’t have a recording contract. Brother Barry was working to make that happen; a deal with Island Records was supposedly lined up. It wasn’t just a comeback, it was his comeback, and the stakes were high, it was probably his last chance.
It was also rumored that Gibb would become a member of The Bee Gees, and join the album and tour they had lined up. But it wasn’t to be. Just after his 30th birthday, he was dead. The autopsy showed he died of an enlarged heart, suspected as a result of his years of years of drug use. His mother, who spent his birthday with him was concerned over his amount of drinking. He had emerged from rehab, had a recording contract in front of him, and a future as part of his brothers’ group.
When he signed his big recording contract with RSO in 1976, he was still a teenager. Articles of the time talked about his battle depression and how it, and the drugs, impaired his behavior and decision making. For a young man with the world on a string, the string was a heavy burden, and the demands and expectations of fame perhaps overpowered him. Cocaine and alcohol were his medications, but also unleashed his demons.
It’s easy to look from the outside and say, what a waste, the guy had everything. He did and he didn’t. The bar was set very high for him. His brothers were very supportive of him, but he had to live up to the Gibb musical legacy.
“Superstars usually have a tough hide from having doors slammed in their face and hustling. Andy never built up those layers because he never had to, said Freddie Gershon, a former president of Stigwood’s record label RSO. “Andy grew older but he didn’t grow up. He froze in time at about age 17.”
What do we realize from Andy Gibb’s short life? All the opportunity and success are beautiful flowers that come with sharp thorns.