PHIL EVERLY, ‘50s rock'n'roll hero and half of one of the most influential vocal pairings in popular music – died yesterday at the age of 74. His wife Patti told The Los Angeles Times that he had passed away following complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Born in the mining village of Brownie, Kentucky, Phil and older brother Don grew up with songs all around them. Their upbringing was coloured by country music, the spirituals of the church and family sing-a-alongs and by the age of six and eight respectively, the pair could be heard singing on local radio, primarily via the shows hosted by their parents, Ike and Margaret.
After a one-song stint on Columbia, the teenage brothers headed to Nashville and to the door of Archie Bleyer’s short-lived Cadence label. Chet Atkins - a family friend - supervised these early sessions and Felice and Boudleaux Bryant provided the songs, most notably Bye Bye Love which began to scale the charts in the summer of 1957.
“We owe everything to these guys – they started it all”.
The rocking Wake Up, Little Susie followed, hitting the US Number 1 spot in the Autumn, while All I Have To Do Is Dream was a sleepy country song with a rock'n'roll back-beat and seductive twanging guitar licks that cemented their star status. It was these earthy, down-home arrangements and tear-soaked ballads coupled with their wholesome look and alchemic vocal blend (Phil provided the higher, sweeter lines) that ensured the Everlys’ music found a huge audience across Europe and the US, from teenagers to the older, easy-listening generation.
Their move to the Warner Brothers label in 1960 generated continued success - the magnificent Cathy’s Clown sold millions - but an increasing tension between the pair matched by Don's erratic behaviour forced Phil to complete an October 1962 UK tour on his own. “I don't know what I was thinking on that first night,” Phil remembered. “I was too mixed up. But that second night, at Hull, was one of the most wonderful experiences. The audience was really with me and this, more than anything, made me grab hold of myself and determine that I wouldn't pull out.”
The same month, Love Me Do, the first single by a new group called The Beatles (John and Paul once called themselves The Foreverly Brothers) entered the UK charts, in the process ushering in a new era of pop that would have sounded very, very different if it hadn't been for the immeasurable influence of Phil and Don’s soft, precise harmonies. Other groups that soon appeared – Simon & Garfunkel, The Mamas And The Papas, Crosby, Stills & Nash, The Byrds (to name but a few) – crafted Everlys-indebted sounds while super-fan Bob Dylan, who wrote Wanted Man for the pair and included Take A Message To Mary and Let It Be Me on 1970’s Self Portrait, once declared, “We owe everything to these guys – they started it all”.
After a difficult mid-‘60s where they were viewed in certain circles as relics of an America long gone, the brothers entered a fertile period of recording that would arguably see them make their greatest music. Those angelic voices had always been the best at hinting at a deep-seated sadness and it was this steadfast commitment to the melancholic soul of country music that informed the recording of the astonishing Roots in 1968 and Stories We Could Tell in 1972 – the latter featuring contributions from various Byrds, Lovin Spoonfuls and Flying Burritos.
In 1973, their sibling rivalry reached breaking point when Phil smashed his guitar and walked offstage. They would spend the next ten years pursuing solo careers (see 1974 gem Phil’s Diner and 1975’s Mystic Line) before reuniting in 1983. More than 50 years after their first hit, the strange magic of their music continues to inspire with recent Everlys tribute albums by Billie Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones (Foreverly) and Dawn McCarthy and Bonnie 'Prince' Billy (What The Brothers Sang) surefire indications of their continuing influence on songwriters today.
MOJO’s thoughts are with Phil’s family and friends.
Sing him back home with Andrew Male’s playlist of Everlys’ hidden gems below: