Phil Everly (1939–2014)

The Everly Brothers
By Bruno of Hollywood [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

We never have played much by The Everly Brothers on Hillbilly at Harvard.  Though they were certainly at the level of The Louvin Brothers as a country duet, and their roots were undeniably as country as it gets, they were playing rock ‘n’ roll.  To tell the truth, growing up I heard a lot more Everly Brothers than I did any country music.  Driving around in my dad’s red ’54 Ford convertible in Maryland, what I listened to was Bill Haley, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, and the Everly Brothers.  Were there any lyrics more titillating for teenagers than “Wake Up Little Susie” and “Bird Dog”?

That being said, country music, and all music, has suffered a great loss with the death of half of The Everly Brothers, younger brother and harmony singer Phil.

Here’s Jon Pareles in The New York Times:

Phil Everly, Half of a Pioneer Rock Duo That Inspired Generations, Dies at 74

Phil Everly, whose hits with his older brother, Don, as the Everly Brothers carried the close fraternal harmonies of country tradition into pioneering rock ‘n’ roll, died on Friday in Burbank, Calif. He was 74.

The group’s official website said he died in a hospital near his home in Southern California. His son Jason said the cause of death was complications of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
With songs like “Wake Up Little Susie,” “Bye Bye Love,” “Cathy’s Clown,” “All I Have to Do Is Dream” and “When Will I Be Loved?,” which was written by Phil Everly, the brothers were consistent hitmakers in the late 1950s and early 1960s. They won over country, pop and even R&B listeners with a combination of clean-cut vocals and the rockabilly strum and twang of their guitars. . .

Here’s Randy Lewis in The Los Angeles Times:

Phil Everly dies at 74; half of vocal duo the Everly Brothers:
The Everlys charted nearly three dozen hits in the late ’50s and early ’60s, among them ‘Bye Bye Love’ and ‘When Will I Be Loved.’ Their harmonies influenced the Beatles and Beach Boys.

Philip Everly was born Jan. 19, 1939, in Chicago, about two weeks before older brother Don turned 2. The children of two musicians, Ike and Margaret Everly, Phil and Don early on began singing on their parents’ radio show in Iowa.
The family moved through the South and Midwest, landing radio shows in different cities until the rise of television began to supplant radio as the preferred medium for entertainment.
The brothers credited Ike with teaching them all they knew about music. Ike Everly was an accomplished guitarist who reportedly influenced country guitar legends, including Merle Travis and Chet Atkins, and facilitated his sons’ recording career by introducing them to famed guitarist and talent scout Atkins when they were in their early teens.
Atkins connected them with Wesley Rose of Nashville’s famed Acuff-Rose Publishing, and Rose offered to get them a recording contract if they would sign to Acuff-Rose as songwriters. Rose introduced them to Archie Bleyer, who signed them to his New York-based Cadence Records label, and it wasn’t long before the hits began to flow.
“The Everlys took the country brother duet tradition one step farther,” historian Colin Escott wrote in the 2012 second edition of the Encyclopedia of Country Music. “They added Bo Diddley riffs, teenage anxieties and sharkskin suits, but — for all that — the core of their sound remained country brother harmony.”
A year after the family moved from Knoxville, Tenn., to Nashville in 1955, the Everly Brothers rocketed to No. 2 on the pop charts with “Bye Bye Love,” a song by Nashville husband-wife songwriting team of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, the first of many songs by the Bryants that the Everlys would record, including “Wake Up Little Susie,” “Bird Dog,” “Problems” and “All I Have to Do Is Dream.”
Those songs are now perceived as remnants of a more innocent age, but “Wake Up Little Susie” was banned from many radio stations because its story of two teenagers being out together into the wee hours was considered too racy.
“It didn’t even enter our minds that anybody could object to it,” Phil recalled in 1984. “But if we’d called a press conference to deny it, nobody would have shown up. They were all off listening to big bands.”

There are a lot of Everly Brothers videos on YouTube.  But there’s a TNN documentary film called “The Life and Times of The Everly Brothers” (42:37) that I recommend highly.  It’s very well done; the only thing missing is an interview with brother Phil—Don does all the talking for the brothers:


UPDATE: Bob Greene, on CNN’s website, recounts how he and others regarded the harmonies of The Everly Brothers: “Something not entirely of this Earth.”

“He’s so good,” Phil Everly said.

We were sitting in a corner booth at a rural cafeteria in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky.
Phil was talking about his older brother, Don. Having spent time with the Everly Brothers on the rock-and-roll road over the years, I had long noticed something:

Whenever they were performing, Phil fastened his eyes right on Don’s. As they were creating their heartbreaking harmonies, he seldom looked away. I didn’t want to ask him about that in front of his brother, but, with just the two of us there, I did.
“I have to pay attention every second with my harmonies,” Phil said. “It’s like playing tennis with someone who is really great. You can’t let your mind wander for even a microsecond, or you’ll be left behind.”

When Phil died this month at the age of 74, I recalled that conversation. I first met him and Don during my years on tour with Jan and Dean; there were occasions when we found ourselves as part of shows at the same venues, sharing the same backstage areas, dining at the same pre-concert buffets. There are a lot of unlikely things that I managed to become used to during those years, but one thing I could never get over — one thing that never ceased to feel like a dream — was knowing the Everly Brothers. Their talent, the beauty of their voices, was something not entirely of this Earth. They were a miracle. . .

Much more here: Two voices the Beatles envied

Hat-tip: haikuman on the MacResource Forum.

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2 Responses to Phil Everly (1939–2014)

  1. Rachel says:

    I was glad to be able to read this reminiscence from Rodney Crowell on Facebook.
    Rodney Crowell (Official) January 4:

    I first met Don Everly in the late seventies when he and I were singing backing vocals on a Guy Clark album. When I gushingly informed him that he was one of my favorite singers and that I was convinced John Lennon’s no-vibrato, vocal style was undeniably inspired by his performance of “Cathy’s Clown,” and, by the way, my natural vibrato was not something I was proud of, the older Everly said, “Want to get rid of your vibrato? Try singing with my little brother Philip. Singing with him is like singing with a laser-beam.”
    Thirty-five years later, with this exchange etched in the back of my mind, I asked Phil to sing harmony on a tune I hadn’t yet recorded called “Truth Decay.” I’d discovered while writing the song that, to perform this one properly, even the slightest amount of vibrato would undermine the integrity of the composition. What I needed, I surmised, was the laser-beam to keep me in line.
    To say that I was elated when Phil agreed to come out of retirement for the purpose of singing on my record would be an understatement. There was, however, one small problem: Phil was, at that time, living in Tennessee and the “Sex & Gasoline” sessions were taking place out in California. Which meant he’d have to overdub his vocal and, alas, I’d have to face my vibrato alone.
    On the day of the recording, after struggling for what seemed like hours with nothing to show for my effort, I began imagining Phil there in the vocal booth with me, and after a couple of takes I delivered a performance that to this day I’m very proud of. And yes,there is a bit of involuntary wobble to be found in my rendering of “Truth Decay” but less than a fraction of what might have gone on tape had I not envisioned the sound of Phil Everly’s voice with mine.
    Back in Tennessee, the overdub session went beautifully, with Phil, a bit rusty due to retirement, working more diligently toward the perfection of his harmony part than I’d have ever asked him to. Claudia filmed the session, his charm and sincerity enchanting the lens of her camera—and, she’d later admit, herself as well. Halfway through the session, recording engineer, Steve Marcantonio, turned to me and said, “Thanks for calling me, man. I’ll never in a million years forget this.” “Nor will I,” was my genuine reply.
    All through the session I couldn’t help noticing just how much like my mother’s younger brother Phil looked. Leaving the studio, I summoned the nerve to advise him that he was pretty much the spitting image of my Uncle Porter. “Well, you know what they say,” he drawled, “we’re all, in one way or another, related.” He and I had but one brief conversation after that, during which he cracked a joke about me looking like a relative of his.
    Phil Everly was one of the most understated and supremely inspired performers I’ve ever known. We can all be thankful that his time on earth is so well documented in song. Rodney

  2. Thanks, Rachel— That’s a great addition, heartfelt and definitely worth reading. Vince Gill reports a similar experience in the LA Times:

    “Through these guys I had the opportunity to meet him. Then the greatest thrill of all was having Phil sing on my ‘These Days’ record,” he said, referring to his 2006 four-CD box set of all new material. “He sang on ‘Sweet Little Corrina,’ a sweet song I’d written about my daughter. I had my favorite harmony singer in the world singing the harmony part with me on my song about her. It was unlike anything I’d ever known.

    “When I heard the news, I went and listened to that and I dropped a couple a of tears. All these years later, I finally get to feel what that feels like when I sing with my daughter Jenny. I finally get to experience that blood blend of harmony that happens with family.”

    Linda Ronstadt and others remember Phil Everly (1939-2014)

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