PHIL EVERLY (1939-2014)
The tradition of sibling singers is embedded within the body of Country Music. Maybe it has something to do with its Appalachian roots, in families that weathered hard times and found escape through singing songs and hymns whose authorship was even then lost to history. Whatever the reason, its hallmark was uncanny synchronicity, as if two or more voices rose from a single source.
The Everly Brothers exemplified this tradition, in the purity and perfect fusion of their singing. But they also went beyond the great duos that had preceded them by reaching out to the broader pop audience. In so doing, they exerted a definitive influence on American music and also set the stage for Country Music’s transition from serving a single demographic to becoming a dominant genre.
There were long periods of time when the brothers feuded, sometimes bitterly. In July 1973, Phil interrupted their show at Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, Calif., by smashing his guitar and stalking off the stage. They wouldn’t play together again until 10 years later, when they reunited at London’s Royal Albert Hall. But even after that relations between them were difficult.
Yet, shortly after Phil’s death in Burbank, Calif., on Jan. 3 from complications attributed to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, his brother issued a statement to AP that said much about their bond. “I was listening to one of my favorite songs that Phil wrote and had an extreme emotional moment just before I got the news of his passing,” said Don. “I took that as a special spiritual message from Phil saying goodbye. Our love was and will always be deeper than any earthly differences we might have had.”
Phil and his older brother Don were on the road with the parents, Ike and Margaret Everly, as very young children. In 1955, Chet Atkins, a good friend of Ike’s, introduced them to Fred Rose, who became their manager. Signed initially to Cadence Records in 1957, they rose quickly to stardom. They wrote some of their biggest hits, including “Cathy’s Clown” and “When Will I Be Loved”; many others were written by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, including “Bird Dog,” “Bye Bye Love,” “Devoted to You” and “Wake Up Little Susie.” While at Cadence, before signing in 1970 with Warner Bros., they averaged on Top 10 hit every four months. No other duo has matched their record of 35 career Top 100 singles.
When their popularity in the United States diminished as the British Invasion stormed the mid-’60s charts, the Everly Brothers continued to draw huge crowds in England. The music there had already absorbed and incorporated the Everly influence; as far back as 1958, “All I Have to Do Is Dream” inspired John Lennon and Paul McCartney as they took their first steps in writing and performing together. McCartney later returned the favor by writing “On the Wings of a Nightingale” for the duo and name-checking them in “Let ‘Em In.”
“The Everlys have had such a far-reaching influence on music,” said Sarah Trahern, CEO, CMA. “Their hits, the songs they wrote together and most of all their harmonies have inspired generations of artists. Their impact on Nashville and the Country community in particularly is immense. I worked with Phil and Don on a TV show in the late ’90s. I remember sitting in the house at the Ryman Auditorium during rehearsals and being mesmerized by their distinctive harmonies even then, after 40 years onstage. Phil’s voice being forever silenced is a tragic loss.”