One of the Founding Fathers of Rock & Roll passes on at 84
The Everly Brothers came from Kentucky and the folk, country, gospel and bluegrass music Don and Phil grew up on came pouring out of their mouths every time they sang.
I didn’t know what harmony was, even though I’d been hearing it on records for years, but I knew the Everlys produced a sound that made me feel things I’d never experienced. I’d never been in love, but “Bye Bye Love” had me imagining what it must be like to experience love and loss.
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Their voices came together to produce a single, super voice that was unique. Country music had a tradition of brothers singing harmonies – The Delmore Brothers and The Louvin Brothers for two – but their singing was inspired by folk music and lacked the adolescent angst, pop sheen and keening bluegrass soul that came naturally to the Everlys. They each sang a slightly different melody line that blended into one shimmering sound.
VIDEO: The Everly Brothers “All I Have To Do Is Dream”
The Everlys were the most successful pre-Beatles group. Between 1957 and 1962, only Elvis and Pat Boone sold more records. They were the first rock act from Nashville and injected a healthy dose of rock into country music, and a bit of traditional country into rock, with their close harmonies, guitar playing and romantic vision. The Beatles, Bryds, Hollies and many other bands, based their harmonies on the Everlys. (The Kingston Trio, the folk group that helped fuel the 60s folk revival, also modeled their harmonies on the Everlys. They acknowledged this when they cut Harlan Howard’s bad man ballad “Everglades.” During the song’s fade they changed the lyric “runnin’ like a dog through the Everglades” to “runnin’ through the trees from the Everlys.”)
By all accounts, the father of the brothers, Ike Everly, was one of country music’s unknown greats, a picker and singer who had a trio with his brothers Leonard and Charlie. Ike, his wife Maggie, his son Don and his brothers, moved to Chicago around 1938. The Everly Trio played the honky tonks of Madison and Maxwell Streets, knocking people out with their musicianship and close harmonies. In 1944, after Phil was born, they moved to Waterloo, Iowa, where Ike and Maggie landed a job on station KASL. In 1945, they moved on to KMA and Don and Phil joined the family band. By 1950, they had their own spot, The Everly Family Show. In 1953, Cas Walker of WROL in Knoxville hired the family for his show and they relocated to Nashville.
Chet Atkins was one of the first people the Everly family met in Nashville. He encouraged Don’s songwriting. When Kitty Wells recorded Don’s “Thou Shalt Not Steal,” he landed a songwriting deal with Acuff Rose. In 1957, Atkins helped the brothers get signed to Cadence, a new label started by Archie Bleyer, who had been Authur Godfrey’s musical director. Their second single, “Bye Bye Love,” was a million seller, topping Billboard’s Pop, Country and R&B charts. When they sang it at The Grand Ol’ Opry, they got a standing ovation. “Wake Up Little Susie” and “All I Have To Do Is Dream” followed and their first album, The Everly Brothers: They’re Off and Rolling (1958 Cadence, 1988 Rhino), was rushed out to capitalize on their success. Unlike many rock albums of the 50s, They’re Off and Rolling had 12 great tracks including Don Everly’s “Maybe Tomorrow,” “I Wonder If I Care As Much” and “Should We Tell Him.”
VIDEO: The Everly Brothers perform “Bye Bye Love” on Shindig! (1964)
Songs Our Daddy Taught Us (1958 Cadence, 1988 Rhino), an intimate guitar and vocal album of folk and country classics, also raced up the charts. It’s a bare bones acoustic effort, just two voices and two guitars, with occasional stand up bass. As usual, the harmonies are angelic, with a set list balanced between folk songs and country oldies. Next up was, The Fabulous Style of The Everly Brothers (1960 Cadence, 1988 Rhino). It included the hits “Dream,” “Til I Kissed You,” “Bird Dog” and “Let It Be Me” as well as Don’s “When Will I Be Loved.”
In 1960, the brothers signed a 10-year deal with Warner Brothers and got an advance of a million dollars. “Cathy’s Clown,” written by Don, was another million seller, one of the first hits for the fledgling Warner label. It’s Everly Time (1960 Warner, 2005 Collector’s Choice), their first Warner album, was a success. The Brothers were as good in person as they were on record, so fans were shocked when they enlisted in the Marines in 1961. They stopped touring, but waxed Date With The Everly Brothers (1961 Warner, 2005 Collector’s Choice), with the hits “Love Hurts” and “Cathy’s Clown.”
VIDEO: The Everly Brothers perform “Cathy’s Clown” during their 1983 reunion tour
After signing with Warner, The Everlys fell out with Boudleaux and Felice Bryant, who wrote most of their hits. Then, The British Invasion changed everything. The Everlys finished out their decade long contract with Warners and, although they stopped getting hits, they made some fine albums. Everly Brothers Sing Great Country Hits (1963 Warner, 2005 Collector’s Choice); Two Yanks in England (1966 Warner, 2005 Collector’s Choice) recorded in London, with backing of The Hollies (who also wrote most of the tunes), as well as future Led Zepplin guitarist Jimmy Page. Roots (1968 Warner, 2005 Collector’s Choice) is the last classic of their early years, an acoustic based country rock album with great tunes and fine picking.
The overnight success of the Everlys probably contributed to the uneasy relationship they had with one another. They broke up in a famous public feud, during a concert at Knott’s Berry farm in 1973. Before the split, Don had started cutting solo albums. Don Everly, on Lou Adler’s Ode label, came out in 1970 and got excellent reviews, although it was a commercial flop. It included songs written for the Everlys, but unrecorded, as well as laments about Don’s recently ended marriage. Sunset Towers (1974), also on Ode, shows Everly moving toward the county rock that he perfected on Brother Juke Box (1977), a solid album featuring session greats like Grady Martin, “Pig” Robbins and Reggie Young. It’s mostly covers, but includes Don’s “Since You Broke My Heart” and “Turn Those Memories Loose Again.”
AUDIO: Don Everly “Brother Juke Box”
Ten years after the breakup, they reformed and toured the oldies circuit. They made three more albums, EB 84 (1984, Mercury, 1994 Razor and Tie), which included Paul McCartney’s “Wings of a Nightingale,” a minor hit; Born Yesterday (1986, Mercury) with producer Dave Edmunds and the self-produced Some Hearts (1989, Mercury). They all include solid songwriting efforts by Don, but none of those songs have become as successful as his early efforts. Until Phil died, the brothers performed sporadically. They toured with Simon & Garfunkel in 2003 and sang backing vocals on the debut album by Don’s son Edan, Dead Flowers. The brothers reconciled in their later years, telling several interviewers that they were getting along better than ever.
Don Everly is survived by his wife Adela, his son, three daughters, his mother Margaret and six grandchildren.