image courtesy of counterpunch
Phil Everly, left, with brother Don Photograph: ITV/REX ITV/REX/ITV/REX
With his older brother Don, Phil Everly, who has died of pulmonary disease aged 74, formed one of pop music's greatest vocal partnerships. If it was Elvis Presley who became the most spectacular icon of 1950s rock'n'roll, the Everly Brothers created a musical legacy which was every bit as influential. Their unique vocal harmonies, coupled with ingenious guitar arrangements and timeless material, had a revolutionary impact on the Beatles, the Hollies, Simon & Garfunkel, the Beach Boys, the Byrds and Crosby Stills & Nash.
The Everly Brothers' breakthrough hit was Bye Bye Love (1957), still regarded as one of their most impressive creations. Up to that point, Don and Phil had been chipping away at the country music scene in Nashville, Tennessee, with limited success. Bye Bye Love topped the country charts, but more significantly soared to No 2 on the pop charts, just behind Elvis's Let Me Be Your Teddy Bear.
It was the Everlys' first million seller and it was the making of them. In his recent autobiography, Wild Tales, Graham Nash – of the Hollies and Crosby Stills & Nash – recalled the effect the song had on him when he heard it at a school dance in Salford: "It was like the opening of a giant door in my soul, the striking of a chord... from which I've never recovered … From the time when I first heard the Everly Brothers, I knew I wanted to make music that affected people the way the Everlys affected me." Nash would get to know the Everlys well, not least during the making of the 1966 album Two Yanks in England, on which the brothers recorded a batch of Hollies songs.
Bye Bye Love was written by the husband and wife team of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, who then penned a string of hits for the Everlys that lasted until the end of the 50s, and included Wake Up Little Susie and All I Have to Do Is Dream (which both topped the US pop chart) as well as Bird Dog and Problems. Meanwhile, Don Everly was exhibiting songwriting skills of his own, and wrote the top 10 hit (Till) I Kissed You.
They switched from the Cadence label to Warner Brothers in 1960, for a deal that gave them $50,000 a year over a 10-year term – supposedly the biggest-ever recording contract at that time. Their hot streak continued with Cathy's Clown, written by Don with some input from Phil and their biggest-ever hit, as well as the first single to top the US and UK charts simultaneously. But problems began when they suffered an ill-tempered split from their manager, Wesley Rose. This resulted in a lawsuit and the brothers being cut off from the stable of songwriters for his music publishing firm of Acuff-Rose, which included the Bryants.
In 1962, after a six-month stint in the marine corps, (as an alternative to being drafted separately for two-year periods in the army), Don and Phil found that their career in the US was on the wane. Their number nine placing on the US pop chart with That's Old Fashioned (1962) drew a line under their great hit-making streak, with subsequent releases rarely making the top 100 and never reaching the top 30. There were personal problems, too. Later that year Don had to return from a UK tour after overdosing on amphetamines, leaving Phil to complete the engagements alone. Don was also addicted to Ritalin, which had been prescribed for his nerves. This led to him being hospitalised after a nervous breakdown. Their chartbusting heyday had passed.
Phil was born in Chicago, the son of Ike and Margaret Everly; Don was two years his senior. Ike had grown up in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, and was a gifted guitar-picker whose playing helped to shape the playing of such country greats as Merle Travis and Chet Atkins. Don and Phil cut their performing teeth alongside their parents in a band called the Everly Family, and the combo performed live on radio station KVA in Shenandoah, Iowa, while touring in the south and the midwest. It was here that the brothers began to develop their unmistakable harmonies, though they owed a debt to other notable sibling acts in country music such as the Monroe Brothers, the Delmore Brothers, and their contemporaries the Louvin Brothers. Linda Ronstadt, who had a hit with the Everlys' classic When Will I Be Loved in 1975, commented: "They had that sibling sound. The information of your DNA is carried in your voice, and you can get a sound that you never get with someone who's not blood-related to you."
The Everly Family's fortunes faded as the live radio market died, and the group dissolved in 1953. Encouraged by Atkins, to whom Ike had enthused about his two talented sons, Don and Phil branched out as a duo. Atkins had a music publishing company, Athens Music, to which he signed Don. He pitched Don's song Thou Shalt Not Steal to Kitty Wells, who had a country hit with it in December 1954. Through Atkins's connections the duo then cut four tracks for Columbia records. A single, The Sun Keeps Shining, was released in February 1956, but went nowhere. It was a meeting with Rose that pushed the Everlys towards their big break. He promised them a record deal if they signed their music publishing with him, which they duly did, and Rose (also their manager) lined them up with Cascade Records.
And then he brought them Bye Bye Love after it had been turned down by a list of other acts. The brothers applied their magic vocal blend to the song – Don took the baritone part while Phil sang tenor – and added a four-guitar arrangement featuring a variety of subtle tuning tricks that left many seasoned guitar players dumbfounded when they heard it. The record's success changed everything, earning the brothers slots on the Ed Sullivan Show and the Grand Ole Opry, plus a tour with Johnny Cash. In 1957-58 they toured regularly with Buddy Holly.
The Everlys' early-60s career slump, inevitable after they had enjoyed such an incandescent run of success, coincided with the arrival of the raunchier, rockier Beatles and the Rolling Stones, with the British invasion of the US coming along in 1964. Suddenly the brothers' mix of pop and country was outmoded, even if their influence would be glaringly obvious in a Beatles song such as Please Please Me, closely modelled on Cathy's Clown.
However, although their stateside appeal declined they retained a faithful following in countries including Canada, Australia and Britain. They scored nine top 40 hits in the UK between 1963 and 1965, including The Price of Love and Love I Strange. Their affinity for Britain, and an eagerly reciprocated fondness for the harmony-pop of the Hollies, prompted the Two Yanks in England album, and it was at the urging of Warner Bros records in London that they cut their classic country album Roots in 1968.
By the early 70s, Don and Phil were touring with a band that featured star-in-the-making Wrren Zevon and ace guitarist Waddy Wachtel, and their albums, Stories We Could Tell and Pass the Chicken and Listen (both 1972, on RCA), contain some excellent material, albeit marred by over-slick production.
However, the pair had always been very different personalities, and the years of close proximity on the road and in the studio had taken their toll. Don's composition I'm Tired of Singing My Song in Las Vegas (from Stories We Could Tell) spoke volumes about their state of mind, and the Everly Brothers abruptly ended their partnership in 1973 after a gig in Buena Park, California, at which Phil smashed his guitar and stormed off the stage.
They would not reunite until 1983, when they appeared at the Royal Albert Hall, London. The resulting live album, The Everly Brothers Reunion Concert, entered the UK top 50 chart. In the interim, Phil cut the solo albums Star Spangled Springer (1973), Phil's Diner (1974) and Mystic Line (1975), and appeared on Roy Wood's album Mustard and on Zevon's debut album in 1976. He wrote Don't Say You Don't Love Me No More for Clint Eastwood's 1978 film Every Which Way But Loose (and also performed it on screen with the actor Sondra Locke). Eastwood invited him back for the sequel, Any Which Way You Can (1980), for which he wrote One Too Many Women in Your Life and was seen playing in Locke's backing band. His 1983 solo album Phil Everly, mostly recorded in London and featuring British musicians including Mark Knopfler, gave him a UK top 10 hit with She Means Nothing to Me, on which Cliff Richard shared lead vocals.
In 1984 the re-formed Everly Brothers released the album EB 84, and had a minor US and UK hit single with On the Wings of a Nightingale, written by Paul McCartney. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, the same year that they scored a top 20 country hit with the title track from the album Born Yesterday. Both brothers sang on the title track of Graceland, at the invitation of their long-time admirer Paul Simon. Simon & Garfunkel had recorded the Everlys' Bye Bye Love and Little Susie, and they invited the brothers on their Old Friends reunion tour in 2003-04.
Phil set up his own Everly Music Company, which sold musical instrument accessories designed by Phil and his eldest son, Jason. In November 2013, Norah Jones and Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong released Foreverly, a track-by-track recreation of the Everlys' 1958 album Songs Our Daddy Taught Us. Phil Everly died of complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, apparently caused by decades of smoking. Phil is survived by his wife, Patti, sons, Jason and Chris, Don, his mother and two granddaughters.
Phil (Philip) Everly, singer and songwriter, born 19 January 1939; died 3 January 2014
Telegraph Obituary here
CNN tribute here
Brother Don's Tribute here
Independent tribute here
Daily Mail Tribute here
A Life In Pictures here