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Benjamin Epstein

Righteous Brothers Rouse Memories at Benefit

March 18, 1986|Benjamin Epstein

"Ciao, " said the Righteous Brothers back in 1968, breaking up after six years and a string of hits including "Unchained Melody" and "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling." Collaborations were sporadic until 1982 when they got together for their 20th anniversary and stayed together.

Friday night at the Pacific Federal Building in Costa Mesa, the Righteous Brothers said ciao again. But ciao means hello and goodby, and this was no goodby: In fact, for most of the 500 guests at "Ciao, " a party featuring Italian cuisine sponsored by the Carousel chapter of the Orange County Performing Arts Center, it meant hello to lots of fond memories of high school and college days.

Righteous Brothers Bobby Hatfield and Bill Medley, raised in Anaheim and Santa Ana respectively, both now residents of Newport Beach, donated a performance that helped generate $35,000 for the Center, according to benefit co-chairman Judy Smith.

Many of the guests are longtime fans, including Smith's co-chair, Cindy Armstrong. "I have all their records," Armstrong confided. "They just do something to me. They turn me on."

Others are not so devoted.

"Never heard of them," admitted Helen Melchior, chapter co-president. "I grew up in Indiana, and somehow I missed the Beach Boys and the Righteous Brothers. But I'm ready."

Party planners knew, wisely, that you don't listen to blue-eyed soul on an empty stomach.

Cuisine/Cuisine provided Cognac-flamed scampi and mushrooms; soubrette, in this instance a north Italian chicken and spinach lasagna; seven styles of pizza, among them "pizza Newport," with veloute sauce, Brie and smoked salmon, and for dessert, and Napoleons.

Italian pushcarts overflowing with still other dishes dotted the Mediterranean courtyard. Surprisingly, at an Italian dinner, red wine was generally unavailable. But committee members Susan Orth and Felicia Mindte were able to appropriate some from the kitchen on request. Attire was California casual: tieless as often as not for the men, pants as often as dresses for the women.

Before going on stage, Medley was asked where he got his tan. "Maui," he answered, then admitted he'd just bought a tanning machine. "I call it Maui," he explained. "So when somebody asks where I got my tan, I say Maui." Hatfield is married; Medley said he's "basically engaged."

Medley sprinkled the performance with all sorts of good-natured remarks about the passing of time.

"We started out two little boys," reflected Medley. "Here we stand two little old men. But Bobby can still hit all the high notes on 'Unchained Melody.' "

On the onset of middle-age farsightedness: "Bobby usually sits on the other side of the booth (in a restaurant) and holds the menu for me," he said.

A Sure Bet

Hatfield dedicated a song to Armstrong's grandmother, Bunty, who celebrated her 90th birthday Friday night. "At least we know somebody here tonight will remember these songs."

Hatfield also talked about the Righteous Brothers' most successful year ever, 1984.

"We did a nationwide tour, and the smallest audience we performed for was 15,000," he recalled. "It was impressive. See, we're not as ignorant as we look. We decided to take someone along to perhaps help out just a little. We took along Kenny Rogers.

"Quite a fellow. He let us go on first; he let us wax the plane. . . . "

Fountain Valley Nightclub

Band members included synthesizer player Larry Hansen of Fullerton and lead guitarist and tour manager Barry Rillera, who graduated from Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana. The Righteous Brothers sometimes perform at a night club they own in Fountain Valley called the Hop.

According to Armstrong, the Carousel chapter, with a current membership of 54, is one of the smallest Center support groups. Most members are residents of Newport Beach, though some come from Laguna Niguel. "The average age is 35; we all have children in elementary school; we all like to have fun," Armstrong said.

Among the guests was benefactor Bob Parker, who, according to decorations co-chairman Barbara Freundt, gave the chapter $75,000, of which $65,000 was passed on to the Center and $10,000 used to throw the party; Freundt's husband, Kent, is Parker's insurance agent. The chapter's donations to the Center have already amounted to more than $100,000 in 1986.

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