The Everly Brothers Biography

Don (Isaac Donald Everly, 1 February 1937, Brownie, Kentucky, USA) and Phil (b. Phillip Everly, 19 January 1939, Chicago, Illinois, USA), the world’s most famous rock ‘n’ roll duo, had already experienced a full career before their first record, ‘Bye Bye Love’, was released. As sons of popular country artists Ike and Margaret, they were pushed into the limelight from an early age. They regularly appeared on their parents’ radio shows throughout the 40s and accompanied them on many tours. In the mid-50s, as rockabilly was evolving into rock ‘n’ roll, the boys moved to Nashville, the mecca for such music. Don had a minor hit when Kitty Wells recorded his composition ‘Thou Shalt Not Steal’ in 1954. In 1957 they were given a Felice and Boudleaux Bryant song that was finding difficulty being placed. They took ‘Bye Bye Love’ and made it their own; it narrowly missed the US number 1 position and reached number 6 in the UK. The brothers then embarked on a career that made them second only to Elvis Presley in the rock ‘n’ roll popularity stakes. Their blend of country and folk did much to sanitize and make respectable a phenomenon towards which many parents still showed hostility. America, then a racially segregated country, was not ready for its white teenagers to listen to black-based rock music. The brothers’ clean looks and even cleaner harmonies did much to change people’s attitudes.

They quickly followed this initial success with more irresistible Bryant songs, ‘Wake Up Little Susie’, ‘All I Have To Do Is Dream’, ‘Bird Dog’, ‘Problems’, ‘So Sad’ and the beautiful ‘Devoted To You’. The brothers were supremely confident live performers, both with their trademark Gibson Dove and later, black J50 guitars. By the end of the 50s they were the world’s number 1 vocal group. Amazingly, their career gained further momentum when, after signing with the newly formed Warner Brothers Records for $1 million, they delivered a song that was catalogued WB1. This historical debut was the superlative ‘Cathy’s Clown’, written by Don. No Everly record had sounded like this before; the echo-laden production and the treble-loaded harmonies ensured that it stayed at number 1 in the USA for five weeks. In the UK it stayed on top for over two months, selling several million and making it one of the most successful records of all time. The brothers continued to release immaculate records; many of them reached the US Top 10, although in England their success was even greater, with two further number 1 hits during 1961. Again the echo and treble dominated in two more classics, ‘Walk Right Back’ and a fast-paced reworking of the former Bing Crosby hit ‘Temptation’. At the end of 1961 they were drafted into the US Marines, albeit for only six months, and resumed by embarking on a European tour. Don became dependent on drugs, and the pressures from constant touring and recording began to show; during one historic night at London’s East Ham Granada, England, a nervous Phil performed solo. The standard ‘food poisoning/exhaustion’ excuse was used. What was not known by the doting fans was that Don had attempted a suicidal drug overdose twice in 48 hours. Phil completed the tour solo. Don’s addiction continued for another three years, although they were able to work during part of this time.

The advent of the beat boom pushed the brothers out of the spotlight and while they continued to make hit records, none approached their previous achievements. The decline was briefly halted in 1965 with two excellent major UK hits, ‘The Price Of Love’ and ‘Love Is Strange’. The former, a striking chart-topper, recalled their early Warner sound, while the latter harked back even earlier, with a naïve but infectious call-and-answer spoken segment. In 1966 they released Two Yanks In England, a strong album that contained eight songs by Nash/Clarke/Hicks of the Hollies; surprisingly, the album failed to chart. The duo were recognized only for their superb singles, and many of their albums were less well-received, unfairly so in the case of the excellent 1968 country rock outing Roots. 1972’s Stories We Could Tell, recorded with an array of guest players, threatened to extend their market into the rock mainstream, but it was not to be.

After a few years of declining fortunes and arrival at the supper-club circuit, the brothers parted acrimoniously. Following a show at Knotts Berry Farm, California, on 14 July 1973, during which a drunken Don had insulted Phil, the latter walked off, smashed one of his beloved Gibsons and vowed, ‘I will never get on a stage with that man again’. The only time they met over the next 10 years was at their father’s funeral. Both embarked on solo careers with varying degrees of accomplishment. Their country-flavoured albums found more favour with the Nashville audience of their roots. Don and his band, the Dead Cowboys, regularly played in Nashville, while Phil released the critically acclaimed Star Spangled Springer. Inexplicably, the album was a relatively poor seller, as were several follow-ups Phil made a cameo appearance in the movie Every Which Way But Lose, performing with actress Sondra Locke. While Don maintained a steady career, playing with ex-Heads, Hands And Feet maestro Albert Lee, Phil concentrated on writing songs. ‘She Means Nothing To Me’ was a striking duet with Cliff Richard which put the Everly name back in the UK Top 10.

Rumours began to circulate of a reunion, which was further fuelled by an UK television advertisement for an Everly Brothers compilation. In June 1983 they hugged and made up and their emotional reconciliation was made before an ecstatic, wet-eyed audience at London’s Royal Albert Hall. The following year EB84 was released and gave them another major hit with Paul McCartney’s ‘Wings Of A Nightingale’. In 1986 they were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, and the following year Phil gave Don a pound of gold and a handmade guitar for his 50th birthday. They now perform regularly together, with no pressure from record companies. Don lives quietly in Nashville and tours with his brother for a few months every year. They still have a loyal following in Europe. A major reissue programme, with alternative takes, was undertaken by Warners in 2001, the same year the duo was inducted into the Country Music Hall Of Fame and the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.

The Everly Brothers’ influence on a generation of pop and rock artists is inestimable; they set a standard for close harmony singing that has rarely been bettered, and, consciously or unconsciously, it is still used as a blueprint for many of today’s harmony vocalists and groups. Their catalogue of hit singles remains one of the most emotional and uplifting in the entire history of popular music. No decent record collection should be without it.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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