Phil Everly of the Everly Brothers died January 3, 2014, at the age of 74; but his influence on generations of songwriters and singers lives on.
Born in Chicago, Illinois on January 19, 1939, Phil was the younger brother to Don, who was born two years earlier. The boys were surrounded by music their entire lives, since their parents were country western singers Ike and Margaret Everly. Phil’s father had a radio show in Shenandoah, Iowa in the 1940s, which gave the brothers their first chance at singing together. The family performed in the area as the Everly Family.
When Phil was in high school, the family moved to Knoxville, Tennessee. The brothers developed a sound based on folk music from their Kentucky roots, country music and early rock ‘n roll and attempted to venture out as a duo. The most distinctive aspect of their sound was their angelic harmonies, with Phil taking the higher register to Don’s lower. Chet Atkins, a friend of their father, noticed the talent of the brothers and got them a record deal with Columbia Records. The brothers released a single that flopped, and were dropped by Columbia, but Atkins encouraged them to continue. In late 1956, Atkins introduced them to Wesley Rose of Acuff-Rose music publishers. Impressed with their songwriting talent, he assured the brothers that if they signed on with him, he could get them a recording deal. In February 1957 the brothers signed with Cadence Records and recorded Bye Bye Love. It became their first million-selling record, hitting no. 2 on the pop charts (second only to Elvis Presley’s Let Me Be Your Teddy Bear). It also hit no. 1 on the country charts and no. 5 on the R&B charts, exhibiting the popularity of the duo across musical genres. This skyrocketed the Everly Brothers to a standing on par with their chart-topping contemporaries, Pat Boone and Elvis Presley.
The Everly Brothers toured with Buddy Holly from 1957 to 1958. Phil and his brother Don were well on their way to becoming legends. From the start they recorded a mix of tunes penned by themselves and other songwriters. The majority of their earliest hits had been written by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, husband and wife songwriters assigned to Acuff-Rose, including Bye Bye Love (1957), Wake Up Little Susie (1957), All I Have to Do Is Dream (1958) and Bird Dog (1958). In 1960 the brothers signed with Warner Brothers. After a falling out with Wesley Rose, who had become their manager, the duo was cut off from their earliest source of hit-song material, yet they had written great tunes as songwriters for Acuff-Rose, including Phil’s When Will I Be Loved (1959).
Ironically, the Beatles’ star was rising when the brothers’ popularity had begun to fade with British Invasion of 1964. Paul McCartney has said the Everly Brothers were a huge influence on the band. He and Lennon once referred to Beatles as the “English Everlys.” When he first heard All I Have To Do is Dream in 1958, he immediately took it to John Lennon. He said the two fashioned their harmonies after the Everly Brothers, and even patterned the harmonies on Please Please Me (1963) after Cathy’s Clown (1960).
The list of bands that have named the Everly Brothers as inspiration and influence reads like a Who’s Who of music in the 1960s and ’70s, including the Beatles, the Byrds and the Beach Boys — and that’s just the “B” bands! Add Simon & Garfunkel, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt and many more to the list.
Phil famously walked offstage on July 14, 1973, when the brothers were performing at Knotts Berry Farm in California. For the next ten years Phil and Don would be solo acts. They reunited in 1983, recording new music until 1998. Even after they stopped releasing records, they continued to perform together and with some of the very acts that been influenced by them, including Simon & Garfunkel in 2003.
The brothers were among the first ten people inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, and were given a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997.
Mister Boomer’s connection to Phil and the Everly Brothers is a personal one. Too young to hear their earliest recordings when they were first released, he does recall hearing their hits played on the radio in the mid-60s, including Cathy’s Clown, Bird Dog, Let It Be Me (1960) and Devoted to You (1958). The one song that Mister B will forever remember as his favorite Everly Brothers song, however, is All I Have to Do Is Dream. While in high school, he dated a young lady from a neighboring town. It seemed like every time he dropped by her house, her older brother was playing the Everly Brothers records. She became a big fan of the music from her brother’s records. One night, sitting in the car after a pleasant date, she decided to teach Mister B a few things about kissing. The radio played All I Have to Do Is Dream. A partnership was never meant to be, but the memory was forever etched in Mister B’s mind.
What memories of Phil Everly and the Everly Brothers do you cherish, boomers?