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The Beatles inspired the world, but who inspired them? Before the name Rock n’ Roll was uttered for the first time, two brothers from Kentucky sang heavenly harmonies and wrote guitar riffs like Lenon & McCartney or Simon & Garfunkel would years after to enchant the world. The Everly Brothers Band History is a charming tale of how a traditional family of musicians set the stage for country and rock.
My father was born in the 50s, and luckily enough, good music of each era was always playing in the house. My first memories as a kid always had a music theme attached, either Elvis, the Beach Boys, or artists of the era. When I heard as an adult the guitar riff from The Everly Brothers’ “Wake Up Little Susie,” I clearly remember thinking I had heard it before, yet I would never have guessed that rock percussive guitar playing could be from my dad’s 50s playlist.
Nothing sounded like it before its time, but everything that happened after is a derivative of those few upbeats and close harmonies.
The Everly Brothers Quicks Facts
|Band Members||Isaac Donald “Don” Everly, Phillip “Phil” Everly|
|Genres||Rock n’ Roll; Country Rock, Rockabilly; Country|
|Years Active||1951–1973, 1983–2005|
|Origin||Knoxville, Tennessee, US|
|Most Successful Album||The best-selling album is “The Very Best of the Everly Brothers (1963).”|
|Social Media||Facebook, Instagram, YouTube|
|Awards||Inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in its first year; Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award; 2 Grammy Hall of Fame Awards; Ranked number 33 on Rolling Stone’s list of “100 Greatest Artists of All Time.” in 20011.|
|Last Updated||October 2022|
The Everly Family – A Life In Music
Don and Phil Everly were the descendants of a musical family in which everyone could be superstars if the circumstances were right. Nothing happens by accident, and as with much of the musical revolution of the 50s, its roots were grown way back or imported from an entirely different continent.
Kentucky of the early 19th century exemplifies how the working class brought about a musical revolution, just as slaves were responsible for first bending a string and creating the Blues.
The duo’s father, Isaac Milford ¨Ike¨ Everly, Jr. (1908-1975), was a local country blues guitarist with world-class skills whose style was passed down from the lesser-known Arnold Shultz to the well-known Merle Travis. If you play guitar or are into country, the first lesson you have, as I did, is the basics of Travis picking.
Mining coal during the day and performing during the night was Ike’s life until he married his neighbor Margaret Embry Everly (1919-2021) and decided to move to Chicago for a bigger musical scene. The couple sang as a duo and decided to move to Shenandoah when Don and Phil were born.
6 and 8 years old Don and Phil’s first gig was on KMA radio station in their father’s morning show. They would sing and harmonize with their parents as they were taught and, soon enough, perform in the midwest through the 40s and early 50 as the Everly Family and later as teenagers, the Everly Brothers.
If you want to succeed in music, you have to be in a music city. Ultimately the Everly family moved to Knoxville, Nashville, in the historical heart of the country scene.
The 50s music scene
To understand the Everly brother’s impact, we must first look at the music scene at the time.
The ultimate rock n’ roll act of the time was Elvis Presley, with everyone else following his lead. Rockabilly and Rock n’ Roll were at their birth, with Carl Perkins, Chuck Berry, and Little Richard just making their first moves.
On the other hand, Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra dominated the jazz scene while Johnny Cash was due to release his first album.
The duos’ challenge was getting in front of the big names, which already had brought a musical revolution. What they brought to the table was their unique and refined version of other acts at the time.
First Encounters With The Music Business.
With rhythm guitar chops in their father’s style but a rougher rock attitude and perfect pitch singing, it was long until they caught the attention of Nashville-based country pioneer Chet Atkins, a fan of Ikes playing who helped them get their first record deal with Columbia records.
Good music and talent never go unrecognized; Even the great Chet, who many considered the greatest ever fingerpicking, was a fan of the generally unknown Ike. Where musical talent suffers is dealing with the business side of things.
The music business was still new but rough, as always. The first single they released, “Keep a-Lovin’ Me,” was a commercial flop, and thus the label dropped them immediately. The first setback of many, which never stopped their father from finding ways to get them better deals.
Don had already started writing songs for another artist, a custom of the time for many singer-songwriters who’d often write songs for others. His songwriting skill was the brother’s leverage and way of getting close to the labels.
The first song he wrote was “Though Shall Not Steal” for Kitty Wells. The track picked number 1 and earned them their first check of 600$ and the attention of record companies.
A record deal for Cadence Record followed along with their first hit. “Bye Bye Love” was rejected by 30 acts, including Elvis, who refused to sing the song. Ultimately the brother released it themselves, and peace ad No.2 on the Pop charts behind Elvis and No. 1 on the country charts.
Collaborators On Success
The Everly Brothers were not alone in their journey to success. Don was a fantastic songwriter, yet they had help in some of their biggest hits.
Felice Bryant and Diadorius Boudleaux Bryant are credited for writing “Love Hurts,” “All I Have To Do Is Dream,” my favorite, “Wake Up Little Susie,” and at least 15 other tracks for the brothers in their most successful period. Later in their career, other top writers would help them achieve charting hits.
The Everly Brothers Essential Records
The duo recorded 21 studio albums, two live albums, and 75 singles, out of which 11 peaked at #1. With this much material, I’d like to introduce you to their timeless classic albums.
I won’t go into their many compilation albums, but if you want a quick listen to all their greatest hits, consider streaming any of the newly remastered versions. My take on compilation albums is that the original records are unbeatable, and a listen back-to-back to all of them is the best history lesson for any band.
The Everly Brothers (1957)
The debut album from the Everly Brothers is the culmination of the duo’s and their family’s efforts to get them a record deal. Musically it shows all that makes them unique, but I don’t find it as mature as their other records.
The album opener, a Ray Charles cover of “This Little Girl Of Mine,” might have been a good surprise to first-time listeners of the album who are immediately introduced to the close harmony singing. “Wake Up Little Susie,” written by the Bryants, will forever be my favorite and, I think, the most achieved song of the album. It even earned Don the first Iconic Riff Award for the song’s guitar riff. What impressed me the most on the record was the guitar work. It’s not inferior to any of the guitar greats of the time on any standard.
The album peaked at No. 1 on the country charts putting their name in front of everyone in the scene. The 1958 tour with Buddy Holly & The Crickets was their big hit with the general public. The Rock’ n’Roll legend’s friendship with the brothers was critical to their career, with his death in a plane crash impacting them.
Phil met Holly’s parents during the funeral, while Don would not leave his bed for days.
Songs Our Daddy Taught Us (1958)
This one is my favorite among the groundbreaking Everly Brothers’ 50s records. The way they brought back traditional tunes like “Barbara Allen” and “Long Time Gone” in dual guitar and harmony style is beyond making them justice.
The album has an unlikely contract; there’s a dark undertone to the album that theoretically would clash with the brother pursuit look, but somehow it just works. Murder ballads mixed with love songs and angelic harmonies that are as fresh as half a decade ago make the album timeless.
If you like traditional folk songs, you’re in for a treat with the whole record.
It’s Everly Time (1960)
The first record with Warner Bros. Records turned out as great as expected by their new label. The duo could hire the best session musicians and use the latest multi-track recording equipment with bigger budgets.
The album opener, written by Don, “So Sad,” features one of my favorite vocal performances. The song’s high register makes the singing angelic while the electric guitar fills give it an almost surf rock feel. This blend of popular style characterizes the entire record
“I want you to know” is my favorite rock n’ roll tune of their career so far. The better recording quality gives the song a groove and quite an impressive drum sound for the time.
A Date With The Everly Brothers (1960)
The fourth album continues where the previous left, with both ranking at No. 9 in the states. If you have ever heard a song from this album or the Everly Brothers, it’s “Love Hurst,” written by Boudreaux Bryant. The song has been covered so much that it reached legendary status, and most don’t even realize The Everly brothers sang it first, let alone who wrote it.
The duo’s most successful single, ‘Cathy’s Clown,’ written by Don, topping at #1 on all major charts. Even though the sweet pop tune about romantic bitterness caught the attention of the mainstream audience, I don’t find it as timeless as “Love Hurts.”
One thing about the Everly Brothers during their peak period is that Don’s writing at the time was more ‘efficient’ rather than deep. He figured out how to write a song that would top the chart and would only later add more layers of emotion into the lyrics.
Both Sides Of An Evening (1961)
This album features the legendary Chet Atkins on guitar but still didn’t manage to be a commercial success at the time. In retrospect, I find it to be one of the most influential records of the duo, as it’s the most mature to date.
Cutting off from their label deal and the Acuff-Rose publishing firm team of writers gave them more freedom to write personal lyrics and go beyond the pop love song.
The arrangements are especially great in this album. I believe that is both the reason why it’s timeless and also the reason why it flopped at the time. Considering that The Everly Brothers’ main audience was teenagers, the sophisticated nature of the album, even though it still was rock n’ roll, might have been too much for them.
The Everly Brothers Sing Great Country Hits (1963)
I have fond memories of some of the songs from this album. Most were a Christmas staple for my family, along with the mighty Frank Sinatra. It’s just a beautiful record to play back-to-back of classic tunes.
I never considered the Everly Brothers a pure country act, even though that’s how it started and first got their mainstream success. The Everly Brothers’ delivery of classic tunes is special in their mainstream endeavors, as you know immediately it’s Don and Phil singing.
Two Yanks in England (1966)
All the duo’s albums featured top studio musicians and songwriters; this one, however, went beyond that. The future Led Zeppelin members Jimmi Page, John Paul Jones, and Hollies are some of the names that made the brother’s field trip to England a masterpiece.
What I like about this album is that the songs are new to the public and the Everly Brothers. Their many albums covering traditional tuners might be a success in the US; however, on the other side of the ocean, they could experiment with more raw rock in the style of British invasion bands.
The two songs by the Holies, “So Lonely” and “Hard Hard Year,” are my favorite as the blend of British pop-rock and close harmony singing turns the song from good to great.
I find the album musically to be achieved; however, the brothers had built a fan base around their love ballads and pop country tunes, the direction in which they would ultimately go back.
Breakup and Epic Fall Out
Don and Phil Everly were not known for having many arguments; however, as Phil put it, “We only ever had one argument. It’s been lasting for 25 years.”
Leaving for the military in 1961 had them out of the charts for some years and back with a Methamphetamine addiction and a struggling relationship.
Music had changed in the late 60s and early 70s, and commercial success was something of the past. There were no hits, no big shows, and no teenagers to attract to their generational look. Instead, the rock rebellion had started. They tried to fit into the new generation by having the future Fleetwood mac start Lindsey Buckingham on stage for a tour, but even that didn’t get far.
Ultimately they announced the final show on July 14, 1974, to start their solo careers. Their father, Ike Everly, who was their main supporter and, in many ways, the ‘glue’ of the band, died the following year.
Things were supposed to end smoothly, but the complete opposite happened. On the very last show, Phil delivered one of the most spectacular guitar smashes on stage and left the show for Don to finish. It was epic, as it was probably the only famous guitar smash to come out of anger and not from wanting to give a show.
Reunion and Late Career
The brothers would reunite in 1983 for a show in the Royal Albert Hall. Things seemed to be going well as new albums arose and a top charting single.
EB ’84 (1984)
Ten years of not speaking to each had them packed with material to record from their solo work, which never was quite the same without the brotherly harmonies.
This time, McCartney wrote the hit song “On The Wings Of A Nightingale” from their reunion.
The last commercial success was the 1986 album and single with the same “Born Yesterday”, after which their careers primarily include guest appearances and live shows with few impactful original materials.
The Everly Brother’s Harmony Singing
Don Everly once said about singing with his brother, “we could read each other” minds when we were singing.”
Being born into the same family and singing together makes them, in my opinion, the best-ever harmony duo. For instance, the difference between them and Lenon and McCartney is that the Brothers would never need rehearsals nor discuss what each would sing. The knit-sounding, buttery singing of Don, who always sang the lead, and Phil, who mostly sang upper harmonies, became, in Don” words, “just the way that it was.”
The blend of voices is so perfect, yet natural, making it feel like at least three voices are singing.
From their reunion concert in the Royal Albert Hall
Don and Phil at the top of their fame in National TV
Perfect harmony singing along with what I consider the closest follow-up to their style, Simon & Garfunkel
Answer: Don and Phil both had a similar net worth of 20$ million at the time of their deaths.
Answer: The main writer and lead singer was always Don, while Phill added the fine touch and extra guitar work.
Answer: Gibson built a signature model for the brothers in the 60, the Gibson J-180. Today the closest model you can buy if you’re a guitar player is the Gibson J200.
The Everly Brothers’ Legacy
Paul McCartney said he preferred the Everly Brothers to the Beatles. In his words:
‘But just two guys, two good-looking guys? So we idolized them. We wanted to be them,’
If you can make the Beatles humble before you, there’s not much more you can contribute to music.
All the big 60s rock acts credit The Everly Brothers for their harmonizing and guitar work. They had a purist look and unique harmonies that every neighborhood boy would try with their friends, out of which a few legendary bands like the Beach Boys and Beatles were born. Even later on, harmonizing duos like Extreme would credit big hits such as “more than words” to the Everly Brothers’ legacy.
Most of what classic bands brought to music, Don, and Phil had done first. In simple words, They were the heroes of everyone’s rock heroes.
Phil died on Jan. 3, 2014, from pulmonary disease, and Don died on Aug. 21, 2021, from old age in what would be the modern Don McClean version of the lines “The Day The Music Died,” dedicated at the time to their best friend, Buddy Holly.
- ‘They’re the greatest: Paul McCartney admits he prefers The Everly Brothers to The Beatles | Daily Mail Online
- How The Everly Brothers repaired their broken relationship after breaking up during a live concert
- The Everly Brothers – Wikipedia
- Everly Brothers
- The Everly Brothers music, videos, stats, and photos | Last.fm
- The Everly Brothers: 12 Essential Tracks
- The Everly Brothers – Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
- Proper Music The Everly Brothers Story
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