The death earlier this month of Phil Everly brought back all sorts of memories of one of the landmark duos in popular music.
The Everly Brothers, Don and Phil, were headliners in my late teen years when pop, rock-n-roll and country were defining the music scene. And nobody defined it more prominently than the sibling duo who produced such numbers as “Devoted to You,” “Wake up Little Susie,” “Bird Dog,” “Problems,” “Till I Kissed You” and “All I Have to Do Is Dream.”
As college freshmen, my cousin and I were into music, both pop and gospel. We couldn’t manage to assemble four guys and a pianist to make up a quartet, but we briefly toyed with the idea of an Everly Brothers sound. It didn’t work out; we couldn’t get the sound or the harmonies right.
And no wonder. The way the Everlys put together diatonic triads where each line can stand on its own as a melody line, we just weren’t able to get the notes to sound right.
Phil Everly died January 3 at 74. The chronic obstructive pulmonary disease that took him stemmed from a lifetime of smoking. Ironically, the COPD did not affect his voice. “He sang like an angel,” his son Jason Everly was quoted as saying. “It was pretty surprising how he could still get those notes. We would still talk about it and sing together.”
The Everlys were trend-setting, and some of the top names in the pop and country fields emulated them. The Beatles once referred to themselves as “the English Everly Brothers.” They, the Beach Boys and Simon & Garfunkel developed their early singing styles by performing Everly covers. And Bob Dylan once said, “We owe these guys everything. They started it all.”
The Everly Brothers hit the big time in 1957 with their recording of “Bye Bye Love” for the Cadence label. Though the song had been rejected by 30 other acts, their version rose to No. 2 on the charts behind Elvis Presley’s “Teddy Bear.”
They remained prominent as a duo into the 1970s, both as singers and songwriters. The biggest number Phil wrote is probably “When Will I Be Loved.” They also co-wrote “Cathy’s Clown.”
The brothers toured extensively with Buddy Holly in 1957 and 1958. When Holly was killed in a plane crash in 1959, Phil Everly was one of his pallbearers. Brother Don, however, did not attend the funeral. “I couldn’t go to the funeral,” he explained. “I couldn’t go anywhere. I just took to my bed.”
Gradually they drifted more into a country-rock mode. They broke up as a duo in 1973, continuing solo careers with little fanfare. Eventually they got back together for Simon & Garfunkel’s Old Friends Reunion Tour in 2003-2004.
For pop fans of the 1950s and ’60s, the Everly Brothers were the epitome.
Jim Bailey’s reflections on Anderson’s past appear on Sunday. His regular column appears on Thursday. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.