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Visiting 461 Ocean Boulevard: the house that Eric Clapton and the Bee Gees called home

“I thought those guys were really an R&B band that hadn’t really worked that out yet, and I thought, man, this would be so good if they could pick up on what’s going on in America.” — Eric Clapton

Slowhand himself Eric Clapton and assorted luminaries can be seen in a teaser clip for the new Bee Gees documentary, How Can You Mend A Broken Heart, which premieres December 12 on HBO Max in the US and Sky TV in Britain, while on-demand and home-video versions will undoubtedly follow. 

The 111 minute bio is billed as the first-ever feature film on the singing siblings whose sui generis talent made an extraordinary impact across five continents over five decades. Naturally, it’s been authorised by Barry Gibb and the families of the late Robin & Maurice Gibb. 

The docu details the triumphs and hurdles of the iconic trio, who went from the Isle of Man and Manchester to Miami via Australia, finding fame as a Beatles-esque outfit in the 1960s and going on to write over a thousand songs in their storied career —including 20 No.1 hits for themselves, Frankie Valli, Barbra Streisand, Dolly Parton, Dionne Warwick, Diana Ross et al — transcending more than five decades of changing tastes and styles. 

The particular scene trailed online at YouTube (above) focuses on a period where the Bee Gees’ string of pop and rock hits had come to a halt, and they desperately needed to shake things up. 

The man they went with: Eric Clapton. It’s not as inexplicable as it sounds. The Gibbs and Clapton had known each other since the early ’70s, and there was overlap among managers, record labels, and backing musicians. In fact, Clapton was somewhat responsible for the Bee Gees’ massive success in the latter part of the decade, making them the most famous band in the world that weren’t ABBA while also propelling John Travolta’s career to Face Off levels of fame.

In 1974, Clapton scored a hit with 461 Ocean Boulevard, named after the house in Florida where he’d recorded the LP. It revitalised him, and he recommended his labelmates move to Miami, too. Keen to try and replicate Eric’s comeback success, the brothers rented the same Golden beach property and while there recorded Jive Talkin’ and parent album Main Course, a “turning point” in the boys’ career which reinvented the trio as ostensibly a funk-disco band.

Years later, Barry Gibb recalled Slowhand’s suggestion:

“Eric said, ‘I’ve just made an album called 461 Ocean Boulevard in Miami. Why don’t you guys go to America and do the same and maybe the change of environment will do something for you?’ I think it was really good advice.”

Mr Lulu, Maurice Gibb, on the other hand, cited manager and RSO Records head Robert Stigwood as the first to suggest Miami as the best place to record new songs. “He showed us the picture on the cover [of 461 Ocean Boulevard] and said, ‘You can rent that place and live there and record and get a sun tan.’ We decided that it was our big chance to get serious about our music again so we went out there and did Main Course.” 

Both Eric Clapton and the Bee Gees took themselves out of their usual scenery and planted themselves in fresh surroundings. The palatial home worked its magic again. The Bee Gees found a place where the vibe suited their mood and allowed their creativity to flourish. Crucially, the trio also began to experiment with the black-inspired falsetto vocals that became their signature sound, later on, augmenting their exploration of funk music in the process. 

But it wasn’t just the beach, sea, and sun that motivated the band. The hypnotic rhythmic sound that their car tires made as they crossed the Julia Tuttle Causeway bridge on the way to the studio each day became the rhythm of Jive Talkin’, an influential chart-topper that ushered in the disco era that would dominate the late 1970s. 

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th the success of other early dance tunes such as Nights On Broadway and You Should Be Dancing, the Bee Gees broke into the club scene. “It was a discovery, and we discovered a new audience,” Barry said. 

Though they acknowledged they weren’t the first to use a falsetto sound to augment a dance track. “Disco started in the gay and the black community,” Nicky Siano, former Studio 54 DJ, said. “This billion-dollar industry was being built way before the Bee Gees.” 

“[Producer] Arif [Mardin] brought it out of us, you know we weren’t the first to sing in falsetto,” Maurice Gibb said. “We loved The Stylistics, The Spinners, The Delfonics. They were all falsetto lead singers,” he said, referencing top black ensembles of the day.

In the film, Maurice and Barry also talk about the fragrant Fanny (Be Tender With My Love) and how its parent album, 1975’s Main Course, became a pivotal piece in the group’s career that returned them to fame and set them on the road to Saturday Night Fever.

To this day, Barry still lives in Miami with his family. Evidently, he felt at home at the time, and still does.

Clapton then appears, slightly astonished with his influence on the trajectory, exclaiming 

“If that was something that was initiated by me, [it’s] one of the great things I’ve done in my life!” 

Indeed Eric. Certainly better than mouthing off about racism or COVID, eh? 

Sharp scratch.

Steve Pafford

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