The Everly Brothers

The Everly Brothers

 Phil Everly – circa 1959

“I’ve been cheated / Been mistreated / When will I be loved?” – ‘When Will I Be Loved’ (Phil Everly)

Boudleaux Bryant is a professional songwriter.  Sometimes he co-writes with his wife, Felice.  The Bryants are contracted to the Acuff-Rose stable of artists in Nashville, Tennessee, in the United States of America.  On this day in 1957, Boudleaux Bryant is trotting out his wares for his latest clients, two young men.  One of the songs he offers them is a number co-written with his wife, a song that has already been rejected by thirty acts.  Despite this, Bryant’s new clients are insistent that this is the one they want to record.  Released on April Fool’s Day, 1 April 1957, ‘Bye Bye Love’ becomes the first hit for The Everly Brothers.

Don Everly is born Isaac Donald Everly on 1 February 1937 in Brownie, Kentucky.  His younger brother, Phil Everly (19 January 1939 – 3 January 2014), is born in Chicago, Illinois.  They are the sons of Ike and Margaret Everly.  Their parents have their own radio show in Knoxville, Tennessee, and tour the countryside playing ‘hillbilly gospel’ music and country and western tunes.  Don and Phil first appear on Ike and Margaret’s radio program when Don is 9 and Phil is 7.

Don and Phil both sing and play acoustic guitars.  Family friend Chet Atkins is a famed guitarist.  He encourages the boys and secures a recording contract for them with Columbia Records in 1955.  They record a single ‘The Sun Keeps Shining’ (a ‘flop’) backed with ‘Keep A-Lovin’ Me’.  Don places one of his compositions, ‘Thou Shalt Not Steal’, with singer Kitty Wells.  It is fair to say ‘the Everlys had little to show for their two years in Nashville’.

In 1957, Archie Bleyer is the President of Cadence Records.  This is a ‘small independent label’, best known as the home of family-friendly pop singer Andy Williams.  Bleyer comes to Nashville to meet with Wesley Rose.  His intent is to create a country and western music division to improve Cadence’s ‘flagging sales’.  Country star Roy Acuff and Wesley Rose have their own Acuff-Rose business, one of ‘the industry’s most prestigious publishing house – management’ companies.  Acuff-Rose owns the publishing rights to The Everly Brothers as songwriters and, seeing their potential as a country act, Wesley Rose suggests Archie Bleyer buy their recording contract and bring them to Cadence Records.  Bleyer does so and Rose introduces the Everlys to Boudleaux Bryant, another Acuff-Rose songwriter.  The Everly Brothers convince Bleyer to allow them to record ‘Bye Bye Love’ (US no. 2, UK no. 6, AUS no. 14) and their career takes off.

Consider ‘Bye Bye Love’ for a moment.  In one verse, Don Everly sings, ‘There goes my baby / With someone new / She sure looks happy / I sure am blue / She was my baby / Until he stepped in / Goodbye to romance that might have been.”  On paper, it looks like a mournful dirge.  Perhaps that’s why Boudleaux Bryant’s thirty other clients rejected it.  It seems like just another lachrymose ballad.  Yet The Everly Brothers attack the song with great verve, singing strongly and offering a showy extra acoustic strum after singing the words of the title.  The lead guitar punctures the song with a kind of jaunty irreverence.  In the hands of the Everlys, yes, it is sad to lose this girl, but there seems no doubt that the narrator will carry on and remains capable of rebounding from misfortune.  It is that attitude and treatment that makes ‘Bye Bye Love’ work.

Although Archie Bleyer is shopping for country and western acts, he gets a rock ‘n’ roll act in The Everly Brothers.  It is important to remember that, in April 1957, when ‘Bye Bye Love’ is released, rock ‘n’ roll is still quite new.  Rock ‘n’ roll mixes (white) country and western with (black) rhythm and blues (R & B).  In these early days, the dividing line between country and rock (or R & B and rock for that matter) is very thin.  The Everly Brothers place ‘greater emphasis on the drums and electric guitar’ than country and western acts of the same vintage.

What The Everly Brothers bring to rock ‘n’ roll is their harmony vocals.  They are really emulating country acts like The Delmore Brothers and The Louvin Brothers, who earlier discovered the power and beauty of sibling vocals, but it is something new to rock.  Don and Phil are ‘high tenors with about a third of a note’s difference between their voices’.  Less technically, blonde younger brother Phil’s plaintive high voice is often featured, with dark-haired older brother Don’s vocals providing harmonies.  Both strum acoustic guitars and, as their fame grows, so does the popularity of their preferred instrument, the Gibson jumbo acoustic guitar.

The musicians backing The Everly Brothers on their Cadence recordings include guitarists Chet Atkins, Ray Edenton and Hank Garland, pianist Floyd Cramer, and the rhythm section of Buddy Harmon and Floyd ‘Lightnin’’ Chance.

It is not clear who is primarily responsible for the sound of The Everly Brothers.  Chet Atkins produces many of their records, but it is said that Archie Bleyer, Wesley Rose, Boudleaux Bryant, the session musicians, and, of course, The Everly Brothers themselves, all contribute suggestions.  The musicians are all well-rehearsed and capable of playing cleanly and simply.  The recordings are comparatively spartan, without any echo, effects or orchestras.  Perhaps most importantly, there is a sense of orderly restraint.

The Everly Brothers second single for Cadence Records, ‘Wake Up Little Susie’ (US no. 2, UK no. 2, AUS no. 3), is issued in late September 1957.  Again, the composers are Boudleaux and Felice Bryant.  In this fable, a boy takes Susie to a movie and, because “It didn’t have much of a plot / We fell asleep / Our goose is cooked / Our reputation shot,” since it looks like they have spent the night together (i.e. sexually, not accidentally).  Or, as the song phrases it, “What are we gonna tell your Ma? / What are we gonna tell your Pa? / What are we gonna tell our friends / When they say ‘Ooh la la’?”  Lest it should be thought this is an overreaction, the social mores of 1957 have to be recalled.  The song is even banned in some Catholic countries ‘for its suggestion of pre-marital hanky-panky.’

The first two albums by The Everly Brothers are both released in 1958: ‘The Everly Brothers’ (1958) (US no. 16) and ‘Songs Our Daddy Taught Us’ (1958).  However the strength of The Everly Brothers lies more in their singles which, in 1958, begin with ‘This Little Girl Of Mine’ (US no. 26).

‘All I Have To Do Is Dream’ (US no. 1, UK no. 1, AUS no. 3) is backed with ‘Claudette’ (US no. 30, UK no. 1).  The latter is an early work from the pen of Roy Orbison, whose own career soon takes off.  Orbison goes on to marry the real-life Claudette who is the subject of the song.  ‘All I Have To Do Is Dream’ is written by Boudleaux Bryant.  It is creamy smooth in execution, the vocals parting curtains of guitars: “When I want you / In my arms / When I want you / And all your charms / Whenever I want you / All I have to do is dream.”  The girl the singer admires may be unattainable, but all that really matters is the capacity to imagine her, this idealised woman.  Around the time of this song, The Everly Brothers visit the United Kingdom for the first time.

‘Bird Dog’ (US no. 3, UK no. 2, AUS no. 1) b/w ‘Devoted To You’ (US no. 10, AUS no. 25) is another double-A side offering, this time with both sides composed by Boudleaux Bryant.  The two songs stand in bold contrast.  ‘Bird Dog’ is one of The Everly Brothers more aggressive performances, as they sound almost (justifiably) angry with this ‘Bird Dog’, another boy who is stealing everyone else’s ‘chicks’: “Johnny kissed the teacher (He’s a bird) / He tip-toed up to reach her (He’s a bird) / Well, he’s the teacher’s pet now (He’s a dog) / What he wants he can get now (What a dog) / He even made the teacher let him sit next to my baby / (He’s a bird dog).”  The flip side, ‘Devoted To You’, is the finest Everly Brothers song.  It is unyieldingly romantic.  There are wedding vows less moving than these lyrics: “Darling, you can count on me / ‘Til the sun dries up the sea / Until then I’ll always be / Devoted to you.”  The singer goes on to promise “I’ll never hurt you / I’ll never lie / I’ll never be untrue / I’ll never give you reason to cry / I’d be unhappy if you were blue.”  It closes with a profound vision of the future: “Through the years our love will grow / Like a river, it will flow / It can’t die because I’m so / Devoted to you.”

‘Problems’ (US no. 2, UK no. 6, AUS no. 12) is the final Everly Brothers single for 1958.

Both Phil and Don Everly get married in 1959.  Phil weds Jackie Ertel, the daughter of one of the bosses of Cadence Records.  Don marries his childhood sweetheart, Sue Ingraham.

‘The Fabulous Style Of The Everly Brothers’ (1959) is the title of their next album.  This year brings the double A-side single ‘Take A Message To Mary’ (US no. 16, UK no. 20, AUS no. 2) b/w ‘Poor Jenny’ (US no. 22, UK no. 14, AUS no. 22).  However, their best effort for 1959 is ‘(Til) I Kissed You’ (US no. 4, UK no. 2, AUS no. 2).  This song is written by Don Everly.  “Never felt like this until I kissed ya,” he sings, “How did I exist until I kissed ya? / Never had you on my mind / Now you’re there all the time.”  Listening to the song and its jaunty piano, it is easy to picture a dance hall full of youngsters, the girls being twirled by their partners, full skirts and starchy petticoats blossoming like mushrooms.

On 26 October 1959, The Everly Brothers announce they are thinking of leaving Cadence Records and are in talks with RCA and Warner Brothers.  Ultimately, it is Warner Brothers who win the contest.  This move is significant because it removes The Everly Brothers from not only Archie Bleyer, but also Wesley Rose and Boudleaux Bryant.

On 15 December 1959 The Everly Brothers record outside of Nashville for the first time.  They cut ‘Let It Be Me’ (US no. 7, UK no. 15, AUS no. 24) in New York City.  It is not released until 1960.  It is the first Everly Brothers record to use a string section to augment the sound.

The Everly Brothers first tour of the U.K. kicks off in London on 3 April 1960.

If there are any doubts about the wisdom of The Everly Brothers move to Warner Brothers Records, they seem to be allayed by the success of ‘Cathy’s Clown’ (US no. 1, UK no. 1, AUS no. 3), a song written by Don & Phil Everly.  The bulk of the song features an odd, skipping drumbeat that contrasts, in the alternating passages, with a pretty piano.  In their rich harmonies the duo proclaim: “Don’t want your love anymore / Don’t want your kisses, that’s for sure / I die inside each time I hear this sound: / ‘Here he comes, that’s Cathy’s clown.’”

Phil Everly’s ‘When Will I Be Loved’ (US no. 8, UK no. 4, AUS no. 3) is a stirring call-to-arms.  Don Everly composes ‘So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad)’ (US no. 7, UK no. 4, AUS no. 19).  Over a heartbeat drum, a guitar stings like the tears in Don’s eyes as he sings, “We used to have good times together / But now I feel them slip away / It makes me cry / To see love die / So sad to watch good love go bad.”  The flipside of ‘So Sad’ is a cover version of Little Richard’s ‘Lucille’ (US no. 21, UK no. 4, AUS no. 19).  Although inevitably The Everly Brothers rendition is more mannered than the raucous original, it still shows them in a more forceful mode than usual.  The last of The Everly Brothers singles for 1960 is ‘Like Strangers’ (US no. 22, UK no. 11, AUS no. 39).

The duo’s first albums for Warner Brothers are ‘It’s Everly Time’ (1960) (US no. 22, UK no. 11, AUS no. 39) and ‘Date With The Everly Brothers’ (1960) (US no. 9, UK no. 3).

The Everly Brothers enter 1961 with ‘Walk Right Back’ (US no. 7, UK no. 1, AUS no. 8) b/w ‘Ebony Eyes’ (US no. 8, UK no. 1, AUS no. 8).  The former is written by Sonny Curtis and strolls forth with gentle self-assurance, requesting “I want you to tell me why you walked out on me,” and working up to asserting, “Walk right back to me this minute / Bring your love to me, don’t send it.”  John D. Loudermilk’s ‘Ebony Eyes’ is correctly characterised as a ‘tearjerker’.

On 19 May 1961, The Everly Brothers announce they are launching their own record label, Calliope, which intends “to discover and develop new talent.”  If it did, those acts are unremembered.  The Everly Brothers own recordings, such as the singles ‘Temptation’ (US no. 27, UK no. 1, AUS no. 4), ‘Don’t Blame Me’ (US no. 20, UK no. 20, AUS no. 26) b/w ‘Muskrat’ (US no. 82, UK no. 20, AUS no. 26), and the albums ‘Both Sides Of An Evening’ (1961) and ‘Instant Party’ (1961) (UK no. 20), continue to be issued on Warner Brothers.

‘Crying In The Rain’ (US no. 6, UK no. 6, AUS no. 7) does well in 1962.  It is written by two of the most famed employees of the songwriting factory at New York’s Brill Building, lyricist Howard Greenfield, who normally works with Neil Sedaka, and Carole King, whose lyrics are usually supplied by her husband, Gerry Goffin.  They come up with a piece that suits The Everly Brothers, a song that they imbue with sad nobility: “I’ll never let you see / The way my broken heart is hurting me / I’ve got my pride and I know how to hide / All my sorrow and pain / I’ll do my crying in the rain.”

‘That’s Old Fashioned’ (US no. 9, AUS no. 8) b/w ‘How Can I Meet Her’ (US no. 75, UK no. 12, AUS no. 8) is, arguably, the release that ‘signals the end.’  Certainly, the fortunes of The Everly Brothers hit some turbulence at this time.  Both Don and Phil Everly ‘do a stint in the marines, and their career begins to lose momentum.’  His first marriage over, Don Everly marries his second wife, a model named Venetia Stevenson.  The Everly Brothers release another couple of singles, ‘Don’t Ask Me To Be Friends’ (US no. 48, AUS no. 59) and ‘No One Can Make My Sunshine Smile’ (US no. 48, AUS no. 59) and one album, a seasonal offering, ‘Christmas With The Everly Brothers’ (1962).

Starting on 29 September 1963, The Everly Brothers tour the British Isles again, this time with Bo Diddley, and, from 5 October, Little Richard, sharing the bill.  More interesting is their British support act, The Rolling Stones, who are doing their first national tour.  During this ill-fated excursion, Don Everly has a nervous breakdown and Phil Everly is forced to perform alone on some dates.  It is ‘a real turning point.  From here on they are hindered by misfortune and personal disagreement.’  Their only album this year is ‘The Everly Brothers Sing Great Country Hits’ (1963).

‘Gone, Gone, Gone’ (1964) follows, and the title track, ‘Gone, Gone, Gone’ (US no. 31, UK no. 36, AUS no. 30), is released as a single.  They record a pair of rhythm and blues albums, ‘Rock ‘N’ Soul’ (1964) and ‘Beat ‘N’ Soul’ (1965) (US no. 141).  Two singles also gain attention in 1965, ‘The Price Of Love’ (US no. 104, UK no. 2) and ‘Love Is Strange’ (US no. 128, UK no. 11).  The lyrics to the florid ‘The Price Of Love’ observe that “Wine is sweet, gin is bitter / Drink all you can, but you won’t forget her.”  ‘In Our Image’ (1966) is joined by an album recorded in Great Britain, ‘Two Yanks In England’ (1966).

In the background to all this, both Everly Brothers are taking ‘vitamin’ treatments from a New York doctor.  Phil recovers reasonably well, but Don becomes ‘hooked on speed [amphetamines]’, attempts suicide and is ‘in and out of sanatoriums’ over these years (1963-1966).  During this period, both Don and Phil are divorced from their wives.  Don ‘finally cures himself in 1966.’

The Everly Brothers find themselves playing in Las Vegas, becoming ‘youthful oldies, biding their time for a possible revival.’  They issue the albums ‘Hit Sounds Of The Everly Brothers’ (1967) and ‘Everly Brothers Sing’ (1967) and the single ‘Bowling Green’ (US no. 40).

‘Roots’ (1968) seems to be generally acknowledged as their finest album.  It is a collection of traditional songs like ‘Shady Grove’ and ‘T For Texas’, snippets of songs they recorded as children for their parents’ radio show, and a re-working of ‘I Wonder If I Care As Much’, the second song they recorded for Cadence.  The album is characterised as ‘their last magnificent hurrah.’  Shortly after this disc, The Everly Brothers leave Warner Brothers for RCA Records, ‘where they do no better.’

From 8 July to 16 September 1970, the U.S. ABC TV network screens a weekly variety show hosted by The Everly Brothers.  This produces the live album ‘The Everly Brothers Show’ (1970).

Two more albums are released on RCA, ‘Stories We Could Tell’ (1971) (US no. 208) and ‘Pass The Chicken And Listen’ (1972).  In 1971 Phil Everly marries his second wife, Patricia Mickey, while in 1972, Don Everly weds his third wife, Karen Prettyman.

On 13 July 1973 Don Everly announces he intends to leave The Everly Brothers for a solo career.  The next night, their farewell show at Knott’s Berry Farm is interrupted by the venue’s entertainment director, Bill Hollingshead, because of ‘what he feels is a poor performance by Don.’  Phil Everly smashes his guitar on the stage and walks off.  Don Everly says, “The Everly Brothers died ten years ago.”

A decade of solo records ensues.  Don lives in Nashville, Phil in Hollywood.  The two brothers only speak to each other once during this time, and that is at their father’s funeral.  By 1983, Don Everly’s third marriage is over and he has begun a relationship with Dianne Craig.

On 30 June 1983, Don and Phil announce they will reunite as The Everly Brothers.  “We settled it in a family kind of way,” claims Phil.  “A big hug did it.”  The reunion concert is at London’s Royal Albert Hall and it is aired on the U.S. cable television channel, HBO.

Their first new album ‘EB ‘84’ (1984) (US no. 44, UK no. 36) features ‘On The Wings Of A Nightingale’ (US no. 50, UK no. 41, AUS no. 78), a song written for them by Paul McCartney, whose harmonies with John Lennon in The Beatles were inspired by the work of Don and Phil.  The Everly Brothers cut two more albums of new material, ‘Born Yesterday’ (1986) (US no.83) and ‘Some Hearts’ (1988), before settling into semi-retirement.

Over the course of their marriages, Phil Everly has two sons and Don Everly has one son and three daughters.  One of these girls, Erin Everly, goes on to be briefly involved with Axl Rose, lead singer of Guns N’ Roses.  She is allegedly the subject of ‘Sweet Child Of Mine’, one of the biggest hits for Guns N’ Roses.

Phil Everly passes away on 3 January 2014 as a result of complications attributed to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (a combination of emphysema and bronchitis), a result of smoking cigarettes.

The Everly Brothers best work is usually claimed to be the songs they issued on the Cadence label.  However, at least some of their work on Warner Brothers is too good to casually dismiss.  It seems more accurate to say that from the late 1950s through to the early 1960s, The Everly Brothers were at the height of their powers.  They brought from country music to rock ‘n’ roll such virtues as close harmonies, tidy arrangements and clean production.  ‘The Everly Brothers sang about love, always love, and always with ingenuous passion and conviction.’ ‘Their unique sound will remain one of the most enduring in rock music, as well as one of the most influential.’

Sources:

  1. ‘The Rolling Stone Illustrated History Of Rock ‘N’ Roll’, ‘The Everly Brothers’ by Kit Rachlis (Plexus Publishing, 1992), p. 80, 81, 82, 83, 84
  2. ‘Rolling Stone Rock Almanac’ by the Editors of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (Papermac, 1984) p. 29, 48, 49, 53, 62, 80, 174, 216, 365
  3. ‘The Illustrated Rock Handbook’ edited by Roxanne Streeter, Ray Bonds (Salamander Books, 1983) p. 78
  4. ‘Friday On My Mind’ by Ed Nimmervoll (Five Mile Press, 2004) p. 30
  5. ‘The Very Best Of The Everly Brothers’ – Anonymous sleeve notes (Warner Brothers Records Inc., 1964) p. 3
  6. ‘The Illustrated New Musical Express Encyclopedia of Rock’ by Nick Logan, Bob Woffinden (Salamander Books, 1978) p. 76
  7. wikipedia.org as at 28 January 2013, 5 January 2014

Song lyrics copyright Acuff-Rose Pub., Inc – BMI with the exceptions of ‘Walk Right Back’ (Cricket Music, Inc. – BMI) and ‘Crying In The Rain’ (Aldon Music, Inc. – BMI)

Last revised 19 August 2014

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