The Everly Brothers (Contemporary Musicians)
Singers, songwriters, guitarists
The Everly Brothers, Phil and Don, have been summed up as "two primordial presences from the dawn of rock history, without whose precise vocal harmonics . . . there would have been no McCartney and Lennon, no Simon and Garfunkel, no California country-rock sound" by Jim Jerome of People magazine. Singers on their parents' country radio show since childhood, the Everly Brothers crossed over to the field of popular music with their 1957 smash, "Bye, Bye, Love." Soon renowned for the harmonious blending of their voices, they had a string of hits in the late 1950s and early 1960s that included "Wake Up, Little Susie," "Bird Dog," "Cathy's Clown," and "I'll Do My Crying in the Rain." Though the popularity of British groups and psychedelic rock in the later 1960s diminished the demand for the Everly Brothers' music, they continued to play small concerts and release recordings together until 1973. At that time, they separated for ten years, not speaking to each other. In 1983, however, they reunited, garnering much critical acclaim for their new albums, and for their concert performances.
Don, the eldest, was born in 1937 in Brownie, Kentucky; Phil was born in 1939 in Chicago, Illinois. Their parents, Ike and Margaret Everly, landed a country music radio show in Shenandoah, Iowa, in 1945. Don was the first brother to join the show, featured in his own spot, "The Little Donnie Show." As he revealed to Kurt Loder in Rolling Stone, "I'd sing three or four songs, read a commercial, and go home." When Don was eight and Phil was six, the youngest brother was brought into the act, and they sang as a duo. Both brothers agree that their father, Ike, taught them everything they know about singing and guitar playing, and that his style influenced them deeply. Don Everly told Loder that "Country's not the right word for what [Ike Everly] played. It was more uptown, more honky-tonk. I'll tell you the right word for it: blues. White blues."
By the 1950s, however, live radio music shows were on the way out and the brothers knew that recordings, concerts, and television appearances had become the way to establish a musical career. Ike brought his sons to the attention of guitarist Chet Atkins, who placed songs that Don had written with country stars Kitty Wells and Anita Carter. With the royalty money this provided, Don and Phil set off for Nashville to audition for a recording contract. There, they cut a record for Columbia in 1956 called "Keep A' Lovin' Me," but it did not catch on with the public. Finally, the Everlys met up with Wesley Rose, who was the president of Acuff-Rose, a music publishing company. Rose told the brothers he would get them a record deal if they would sign on with Acuff-Rose as songwriters. Phil and Don agreed, and Rose introduced them to Archie Bleyer, who owned Cadence, a New York-based record label. Bleyer was looking to branch out into the field of country music at the time, and eagerly signed the Everly Brothers. He liked the material that Phil and Don had written themselves, but he offered them a song written by the husband and wife team Boudleaux and Felice Bryant, "Bye, Bye, Love."
Thus began a long and profitable association. Though the Bryants' song had already been turned down by several country artists, the Everly Brother's 1957 recording of it not only became a country smash but reached number two on the pop music charts. Phil and Don followed "Bye, Bye, Love" with another Bryant composition, "Wake Up, Little Susie." "Susie" quickly shot up the charts, but was soon banned in Boston and other United States cities because it was deemed too suggestive. Ironically, the song's lyrics describe an innocent episode in which two teenagers on a date fall asleep watching a boring movie at the drive-in, and fear parental and peer suspicions about why they broke their curfew. Undaunted by their brush with notoriety, the Everly Brothers continued to put out hit records for the Cadence label, including the 1958 efforts "All I Have to Do Is Dream," "Bird Dog," and "Problems"; and the 1959 singles "Poor Jenny" and "Till I Kissed You."
In 1960, the Everly Brothers left Cadence for Warner Brothers, and had their biggest hit, "Cathy's Clown," a song that they wrote themselves. But, though Phil and Don had many more hits in the early 1960s, like "Walk Right Back," "Ebony Eyes," and "That's Old-Fashioned," their days in the upper part of the charts were numbered. The change of style that took place in the mid-1960s (ironically vanguarded by the Beatles, who were deeply influenced by the Everly Brothers' use of harmony) decreased the demand for traditional American rock and roll. Though they continued to perform and cut records into the 1970s, tensions began to develop between the brothersheir business keeping them so constantly togethernd in their individual personal lives. Both brothers suffered from drug abuse problems, but Don's dependence on the then-legitimate Ritalin drug therapy led him into deeper trouble than Phil experienced. After twice attempting suicide, Don was committed to a mental hospital and given electroshock therapy. Both brothers experienced multiple divorces; Don, three, and Phil, two. Finally, Don told Phil that their performances at Knott's Berry Farm near Los Angeles, California, in July, 1973, would be their last. Though Don had conquered his Ritalin dependence, according to Loder he showed up for one of the shows so drunk that "a Knott's manager stopped the show midway through the second of three scheduled sets. Phil, furious, stormed offstage, smashing his guitar to the floor before disappearing."
Don decided it was time to reunite and make a come-back in 1983. Phil, having as little success as his brother had as a solo artist, agreed. Ten months later they gave a much-publicized reunion concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London, England, which was video-taped and shown on the Home Box Office cable network. The critics raved. "Once the Everlys buried the hatchet... it was as if they had never been away. Their fusion of sweet Appalachian harmonies, rock arrangements and lyrical sentiment .. . seemed, indeed, as powerful as ever," announced Jerome.
After the reunion concert, the brothers recorded their first studio album in ten years, EB '84, which also met with enthusiastic critical response. EB '84 featured a song donated to the Everlys by Paul McCartney, "On the Wings of a Nightingale," which Loder in a Rolling Stone review lauded as "almost impossibly perfect." Loder went on to declare that on EB '84 the Everlys "truly never have sounded better," and concluded that "these are voices so rich, and so symbiotically attuned to each other, that their effect seems to go beyond simple artistry and to resonate instead on a cellular level."
In 1986, the Everlys told Jay Cocks of Time that they were now settled and comfortable in their new performing relationship. Phil explained: "Don and I are infamous for our split, but we're closer than most brothers. Harmony singing requires that you enlarge yourself, not use any kind of suppression. Harmony is the ultimate love." As Cocks concluded from their 1986 album Born Yesterday, "The Everlys are back. They are back to stay. Back, and as good as ever. And rock 'n' roll just doesn't get any better than that."
Major single releases
"Keep A' Lovin' Me," Columbia, 1956.
"Bye, Bye, Love," Cadence, 1957.
"Wake Up, Little Susie," Cadence, 1957.
"This Little Girl of Mine," Cadence, 1958.
"All I Have to Do Is Dream," Cadence, 1958.
"Claudette," Cadence, 1958.
"Bird Dog," Cadence, 1958.
"Devoted to You," Cadence, 1958.
"Problems," Cadence, 1958.
"Love of My Life," Cadence, 1958.
"Take a Message to Mary," Cadence, 1959.
"Poor Jenny," Cadence, 1959.
"Till I Kissed You," Cadence, 1959.
"Let It Be Me," Cadence, 1960.
"Be-Bop-a-Lula," Cadence, 1960.
"Like Strangers," Cadence, 1960.
"Cathy's Clown," Warner Brothers, 1960.
"Always It's You," Warner Brothers, 1960.
"So Sad," Warner Brothers, 1960.
"Lucille," Warner Brothers, 1960.
"Walk Right Back," Warner Brothers, 1961.
"Ebony Eyes," Warner Brothers, 1961.
"Temptation," Warner Brothers, 1961.
"Stick With Me, Baby," Warner Brothers, 1961.
"Don't Blame Me," Warner Brothers, 1961.
"Muskrat," Warner Brothers, 1961.
"I'm Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail," Cadence, 1962.
"Crying in the Rain," Warner Brothers, 1962.
"That's Old-Fashioned," Warner Brothers, 1962.
The Everly Brothers, Cadence, 1958.
Songs Our Daddy Taught Us, Cadence, 1958.
The Everly Brothers: Their Best, Cadence, 1959.
The Fabulous Style of the Everly Brothers, Cadence, 1960.
It's Everly Time, Warner Brothers, 1960.
A Date With the Everly Brothers, Warner Brothers, 1960.
Both Sides of an Evening, Warner Brothers, 1961.
Instant Party, Warner Brothers, 1962.
Golden Hits, Warner Brothers, 1962.
Christmas With the Everly Brothers, Warner Brothers, 1962.
The Everly Brothers Sing Great Country Hits, Warner Brothers, 1963.
Very Best of the Everly Brothers, Warner Brothers, 1965.
Rock'n' Soul, Warner Brothers, 1965.
Gone, Gone, Gone, Warner Brothers, 1965.
Beat and Soul, Warner Brothers, 1965.
In Our Image, Warner Brothers, 1965.
Two Yanks in England, Warner Brothers, 1965.
The Everly Brothers Sing, Warner Brothers, 1967. Roots, Warner Brothers, 1968.
The Everly Brothers Show, Warner Brothers, 1970. Stories We Could Tell, RCA, 1972.
Pass the Chicken, RCA, 1973.
EB '84, Polydor, 1984.
Born Yesterday, Polydor, 1986.
Don Everly, Ode, 1971.
Sunset Towers, Ode, 1974.
Brother Juke Box, Hickory, 1977.
Star Spangled Springer, RCA, 1973. Phil's Diner, Pye, 1974.
Mystic Line, Pye, 1975.
Phil Everly, Elektra, 1979.
Busnar, Gene, It's Rock'n'Roll, Messner, 1979.
People, January 23, 1984.
Rolling Stone, September 13, 1984; May 8, 1986.
Time, March 17, 1986.