THE EVERLY BROTHERS
Don Everly, born Isaac Donald Everly, 1 February 1937, Brownie, Kentucky
Phil Everly, born Phillip Everly, 19 January 1939, Chicago, Illinois
The Everly Brothers are arguably the most successful and influential vocal duo in the history of rock and roll. Their unique vocal harmonies, coupled with ingenious guitar arrangements and timeless material, had a revolutionary impact on the Beatles, the Hollies, Simon & Garfunkel, the Beach Boys, the Byrds and Crosby, Stills and Nash. When they scored their first hit record in 1957, they had already experienced a full career in music. Throughout their childhood they sang together (on the radio and at home), developing the closest of harmonies.
As sons of popular country artists Ike and Margaret Everly, the brothers were pushed into the limelight from an early age. Ike Everly (1908-1975) was a virtuoso country guitar picker, who influenced Merle Travis who in his turn was the main inspiration for Chet Atkins. Ike had a live radio show in Shenandoah, Iowa, during 1945-1953. He encouraged his sons to sing and taught them to play guitar. At the young ages of 8 and 6, Don and Phil began to perform on their parents' radio show, whenever the programme didn't interfere with their school duties. By 1950 it was known as the Everly Family Show (on KMA Radio).
Don began to write songs around 1952 ; Kitty Wells had a # 14 country hit in late 1954 with Don's composition "Thou Shalt Not Steal". In 1955 the Everly brothers abandoned the family and moved to Nashville, where Chet Atkins took them under his wing. Chet placed them with Don Law at Columbia. The Everlys had their first session on November 9, 1955, recording four country numbers in twenty minutes. The single "The Sun Keeps Shinin'"/"Keep A Lovin' Me" came out in February 1956 and sank without a trace. Don Law didn't exercise his option on the Everly brothers, and in truth, there was little on that first session to convince him to do so.
The brothers kept hustling, but they didn't find a new record deal until early 1957, with the help of Wesley Rose (president of Acuff-Rose publishing), who became their manager. Cadence was a pop label, but its owner, Archie Bleyer, was interested in getting into country music. One of the songs that Rose offered the Everlys was Boudleaux and Felice Bryant's "Bye Bye Love", a song that several acts had already turned down. In spite of a cover by Webb Pierce (the best selling country artist of the 1950s), "Bye Bye Love" was a big international hit, reaching # 2 on the pop charts, # 1 on the country charts (for 7 weeks) and # 6 in the UK. The brothers embarked on a career that made them second only to Elvis Presley in the rock and roll popularity stakes. They followed their initial hit with more irresistible Bryant songs, "Wake Up Little Susie", "All I Have To Do Is Dream", Bird Dog (all three # 1 hits), "Devoted To You" (# 10), "Problems (# 2) and "Take A Message To Mary" (# 16). "('Til) I Kissed You" (# 4) was Don's own composition and "Let It Be Me" (# 7, with strings) was an English-language version of a Gilbert Bécaud song. By the end of the 1950s they were the world's number 1 vocal group.
The last Cadence session took place in February 1960 and yielded one of their best songs, "When Will I Be Loved", written by Phil. The next month the brothers started recording for Warner Bros, after signing a 10-year contract, with a financial guarantee of $50,000 a year). Their career gained even further momentum with their first single for Warner, the superlative "Cathy's Clown" (written by Don and Phil), which became the biggest hit of their career (5 weeks at # 1 in the US, 7 weeks in the UK). "So Sad" and "Walk Right Back" were both # 7 hits, but then trouble began when the Everlys wanted to record the standard "Temptation". Acuff-Rose did not own the publishing of that song. Wesley Rose wanted every A- and B-side of every Everly single to be an Acuff-Rose song. The Everly brothers terminated their management contract with Rose prematurely and recorded "Temptation" anyway (a # 27 hit in the US, but # 1 in the UK), but the consequence was that they no longer had access to the songs of the Acuff-Rose writers, like Boudleaux and Felice Bryant and John D. Loudermilk. Finding good new material became a problem.
Moreover, Don was engaged in a painful divorce and at the end of 1961 the brothers were drafted into the US Marines, albeit for only six months. "Crying in the Rain" and "That's Old-Fashioned still went Top 10 in the first half of 1962, but then things went sour. Their day had passed, it seemed. But Europe in general and England in particular kept faith with the Everly Brothers. In October 1962, Don and Phil left for England to tour with Frank Ifield and Ketty Lester. It was in London that Don's drug problems became so serious that he had to return to the USA. The standard "food poisoning/exhaustion" excuse was used to keep Don's overdose out of the media. Phil finished the tour alone. Don's addiction continued for another three years, although they were able to tour and record during most of this time.
The British Invasion pushed the brothers further out of the spotlight. "Gone, Gone, Gone" (# 31, 1964) and "Bowling Green" (# 40, 1967) were their only US Top 40 hits after "That's Old-Fashioned". In the UK it was a different story, though. In 1965 they made a strong comeback there with "The Price of Love" (# 2), soon followed by "Love Is Strange" (# 11, the old Mickey and Sylvia hit). The Everlys made several good albums in the 1960s, especially "Roots" (1968), but the duo's reputation was based on their superb singles, and many of their albums were less well-received.
After their Warner contract expired in 1970, they recorded for RCA where they were reunited with their old mentor Chet Atkins. Their two RCA albums ("Stories We Could Tell" and "Pass the Chicken and Listen") were as consistent and innovative as anything they had recorded, but the only publicity they got during their RCA contract was when they split up. In July 1973, while performing at Knott's Berry Farm in California, the brothers had a falling out on stage and parted acrimoniously. The only time they met over the next ten years was at their father's funeral in 1975.
They worked apart for a decade, cutting solo albums. Phil's solo career gained him some UK success, most notably with "She Means Nothing To Me", a duet with Cliff Richard (# 9, 1982, produced by Stuart Colman). In September 1983 they hugged and made up and their emotional reconciliation was made before an ecstatic audience at London's Royal Albert Hall. The following year the album "EB84" (produced by Dave Edmunds) was released on Mercury. It peaked at # 44 on the album charts and the single drawn from it, Paul McCartney's "Wings Of A Nightingale" returned them to the pop charts for the last time (# 50 US, # 41 UK). In 1986 they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and in 2001 into the Country Hall of Fame. After a lengthy battle with lung disease, Phil Everly died on January 3, 2014, aged 74.
Useful websites :
Book : Roger White, The Everly Brothers - Walk Right Back. 2nd edition. London : Plexus, 1998. 192 pages. (First edition 1984.)
DVD : The Everly Brothers Reunion Concert (Delilah Films, 2002). 19 tracks.
Acknowledgements : Colin Escott, Andrew Sandoval, Roger White.
Dik, August 2016
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