Phillip Everly, singer and songwriter: born Chicago Illinois 19 January 1939; married three times, 2 sons, died Burbank, California 3 January 2014
The main influences on post-war popular music are Elvis Presley and the Beatles, but the Everly Brothers are not too far behind. Many have tried to emulate their soaring harmonies, which they had brought from country music to rock’n’roll, but they were never bettered. With “Bye Bye Love”, “Cathy’s Clown”, “All I Have To Do Is Dream” and several others, they created perfect pop, perfect country and perfect rock’n’roll records. As Phil Everly acknowledged, “We were the best there was and we were right at the front for a long time. Nobody can take that away from us. Everybody told us that rock’n’roll would die but it didn’t happen. I haven’t had to work at the car-wash.”
Their parents, Ike and Margaret Everly, were country musicians who entertained listeners to regional radio stations with songs and homespun stories. Their first son, Don, was born in Brownie, Kentucky in 1937 and Phil followed in 1939, being born in Chicago as his father was working there. Their first appearance was singing on their parents’ show from Shenandoah, Iowa in 1945 and they went to the same school in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Their parents knew Chet Atkins who produced a session for Columbia Records in Nashville in 1956. As nothing commercially viable emerged, Columbia let them go but Chet Atkins knew they had something special.
Atkins told the music publisher, Wesley Rose, about them and he, in turn, recommended Archie Bleyer with his own label, Cadence. Cadence was having hits with Andy Williams and the Chordettes, which featured Bleyer’s wife, Janet Ertel. A husband and wife songwriting team, Boudleaux and Felice Bryant, had been trying to place “Bye Bye Love” but finding no takers. Both Rose and Bleyer thought it would suit the Everly Brothers. It became their first million-seller, soaring up the charts in both Britain and America.
The Everly Brothers acknowledged their influences – the Blue Sky Boys, the Delmore Brothers and the Louvin Brothers – but as these groups were unknown outside the southern states, what the Everly Brothers were presenting was new and different. And how different it was. The country bands hadn’t been singing about teenage problems. Their second hit and first US charttopper, “Wake Up Little Suzie”, again written by the Bryants, was about falling asleep with your girlfriend at the movies and everyone wondering what they’d been doing.
The Everly Brothers always looked right – very handsome with magnificent, Brylcreemed quiffs and immaculately groomed: they took Buddy Holly shopping for clothes to strengthen his image. They became famous for their black acoustic J-200 Gibson guitars. Being brothers helped their harmonies and they took great pride in getting everything right. Typically Don took the lead and Phil sang harmony and as time progressed and Don’s phrasing became less predictable, you can see Phil watching carefully to ensure they were spot on.
It was a beautiful sound in the raucous world of rock’n’roll, their defining moment being Boudleaux Bryant’s plaintive “All I Have To Do Is Dream”, a number 1 in both Britain and America and amongst the biggest-selling records of all-time.. The B-side, “Claudette”, had been given to them by Roy Orbison and could have been a hit in its own right, but they frequently had two good sides. The B-side of the jokey “Bird Dog”, was the dreamy “Devoted To You” in which they continuously swapped lead and harmony vocals in a seamless performance. Don wrote several songs including ‘(Til) I Kissed You’ and Phil wrote ‘When Will I Be Loved’, later a million-seller for Linda Ronstadt, as well as Pat Boone’s ‘Gee But It’s Lonely’ (1958).