Stayin’ Alive: Eric Clapton’s Rebirth of the Bee Gees & the Making of John Travolta

Sometimes not doing drugs can have disastrous consequences.

This is a story of how Eric Clapton’s heroin addiction drove him to the bottom only to rise from the ashes and unknowingly reanimate disco’s bloated carcass – making the Bee Gees the most famous band in the world while also propelling John Travolta’s career to Face Off levels of fame.

Let’s start with the man responsible for all these crimes against humanity.

In the 1960s, Eric Clapton was God.

clapton-is-god
Wanna feel sad? That dog probably has been dead for over 50 years. You’re welcome.

But by the 1970s, the excesses of partying, touring, losing love and band hopping finally caught up with Clapton at the ripe old age of 28.

When asked to participate in George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh – which would become the first real rock & roll benefit, raising millions for the war-torn area – Clapton’s only request was for a steady heroin hookup while in New York.  Harrison reluctantly obliged but apparently his shit didn’t pass the Pepsi challenge for Clapton who remained in a fetal position in his hotel room during the weeklong practice, only able to make the show last minute thanks to heroin’s lil’ helper: methadone.
concert-for-bang

After the show, Clapton retreated back into a spiral of drugs and remained out of the spotlight for several years until old pal and Who guitarist, Pete Townshend, decided to put on another benefit concert.

For Eric Clapton.

rainbow-concert

Eric Clapton’s Rainbow Concert was to force him out of hiding and remind him of what he was put on this earth to do.  Townshend, Steve Winwood, Ronnie Wood and others joined Clapton on stage while ¾ of the Beatles, Jimmy Page, Elton John and more gathered in the audience for the sole purpose of asking Clapton to go to rehab.

Ironically, at the benefit concert to address his drug problem Clapton was “stoned out of his head” but it did eventually achieve the goal of getting him into treatment to kick heroin.

And where does a guy like Clapton go after his first rehab attempt?

461-ocean-blvd

In 1974, Clapton records an album at an old house on 461 Ocean Boulevard in Miami reviving his career and providing his first #1 hit.

461 Ocean Boulevard provided Clapton a comeback, but nothing near the comeback that was about to happen.

Which brings us to the Bee Gees.

Before the Brothers Gibb became the sound of the late-70s, they were making it big in the 60s music scene.  This literal band of brothers – Robin, Barry & Maurice – were the opposite of what Clapton was doing.  They were singing dreadful ballads.  They were writing their own music.   They strived constantly for commercial success while remaining (somewhat) loyal to band members.

dr-teeth

With their harmonies, numerous hit singles and well-selling records, the Bee Gees even received comparisons to the Beatles.  But by the early-70s tastes started changing, the hits started drying up and it was looking like the Bee Gees were going to ride their wave of fame into musical oblivion.

That was until the newly sober* Eric Clapton opened his big British mouth. 

*In the mid 1970’s getting “sober” meant you quit heroin but still drank all the time, shoveled pills, smoked constantly and vacuumed blow.  It was a special time in history.

Sharing the same manager and even appearing in their ghastly Cucumber Castle film with Blind Faith, Clapton befriended the Gibb brothers and invited them down to his Miami home at 461 Ocean Boulevard to record.  This recording studio is where the Bee Gees started moving away from Robin’s drab, whiny ballads and towards Barry’s piercing falsetto and rhythmic disco beats. You know where this is going…

saturday-night-fever

Saturday Night Fever was an international phenomenon, not only birthing the concept of the bestselling soundtrack, but starting one of the biggest comebacks in musical history turning the pop-balladeers into the ringmasters of disco.

Don’t believe me?

  • After a multi-year drought, various songs by the Gibb brothers were #1 on the charts for half of 1978…seriously, 25+ weeks…
  • Bee Gees are the only band in history to have written, played & produced 6 consecutive #1 hits
  • Saturday Night Fever soundtrack knocked Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours from its longstanding position at #1 and was the first soundtrack, and only disco album, to win Record of the Year at the Grammys…beating out Some Girls, which honestly wasn’t the Stones’ stiffest competition…

Not enough?

  • When the Bee Gees were introduced to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (yeah, that happened) only Elvis, the Beatles, Garth Brooks, Michael Jackson & Paul McCartney had sold more records

This music became a cultural staple.  For Christ’s sake, Minions are teaching the newest generation that “disco” is ‘Stayin’ Alive.’

Which brings us to JT.  No, not that JT.  This JT…

4-horseman 

John Travolta, with minor TV fame looking to break on to the big screen, was unknowingly stuffed inside the tight pants of the recently revived Bee Gees and over the next few years the foursome would own pop culture.

The young triple threat was working on a “little disco film” as the first part of a three picture deal with Clapton & the Bee Gees manager.

With a little bit of dancing, a whole lot of machismo and a glaringly blind eye toward rape, Saturday Night Fever had the perfect pitchman to bring disco to the masses.

Though actually dancing to Boz Scaggs during his iconic scenes, the Bee Gees’ volcanic hits were edited in and the combination was all the world needed to get a crippling case of:

travolta-fever

Travolta’s next role also became a cultural sensation, though it wasn’t JT’s songs propelling Grease to the top of the charts; the title-track, sung by former Four Season Frankie Valli was written by…you’re goddamn right, the muthafuckin’ Bee Gees!  (In the late-70s the only way to defeat a Bee Gee was with a Bee Gee and Grease came up short for Record of the Year in the aforementioned 1979 Grammys.)

After America sweated out “the fever,” Travolta was again paired with the Bee Gees along with some help from other famous brothers – Sylvester & Frank Stallone in the Sly written & directed Saturday Night Fever sequel:

stayin-alive

With the movie critically and universally panned, it would take a full decade before Travolta could regain his dignity….

look-whos-talking

Who knows what the butterfly effect would have been had Eric Clapton not have had the will power to get off heroin but we’re pretty sure it wouldn’t have ended like this…

sgt-bee-gees

 This has been Rock ‘N’ Roll Storytime

PS- For this extra-long storytime, which spanned several decades and cultural moments we’ve created two separate playlists.

The first shows the juxtaposition b/t Eric Clapton & the Bee Gees leading up to their comeback albums.  This also showcases the influence the Bee Gees had on various artists from Janis Joplin to Al Green, Kenny Rogers to Destiny’s Child and yes, even Big Baby Jesus himself, ODB. https://open.spotify.com/user/1237741119/playlist/4kJnMKsQCqYjNzmolVMGXa

The second is all about the Soundtrack.  Not just SNF, Stayin’ Alive or Grease, this features Clapton’s work on Rush, Color of Money and Phenomenon.  But hands down the best track is Frank Stallone’s ‘Far From Over.’ https://open.spotify.com/user/1237741119/playlist/44sA7QgWYErsdJ6aSjLwHB

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