IN THE BEGINNING (1937-1957)
It all started in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky (USA), Isaac Donald Everly (b.2/1/1937) born in Brownie, KY and Phillip Everly (b.1/19/1939) in Chicago, IL were raised in a musical family, steeped in one of the oldest musical traditions in America. The atmosphere of the coal mining towns of Kentucky and the songs which are the voice of the culture formed The Everly Brothers sound which has endured for more than six decades. Don and Phil are the sons of Ike and Margaret Everly, who, like their parents before them, were folk and country singers from central Kentucky. Their late father was one of the few "authentic" guitarists in American music. The influence of his thumb picking style can be heard in the music of guitar players such as Merle Travis, Chet Atkins and Mark Knopfler.
Soon after Don was born, Ike decided to leave the coal region and move to Chicago to pursue a career in music and find a better life for his young family. After he had established himself as a professional entertainer, Phil was born, and Ike decided to take a job in Iowa where he could raise his boys in a healthier rural environment.
He joined KMA, a powerful radio station in Shenandoah, Iowa, where he was a staff artist until 1951. It was during this time that Don and Phil began working with their mother and father on radio and on stage.
In 1953 the family moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, where they worked on WROL radio performing two shows per day and getting paid $ 90 per week. When the money ran out, Ike got in touch with Chet Atkins in Nashville. Chet took the boys under his wings and had one of Don's songs, "Thou Shalt Not Steal", recorded by Kitty Wells. It was a hit and the decision was made to split up the family act and send the brothers to Nashville.
THE ROAD TO STARDOM, THE CADENCE YEARS (1957-1960)
The going was rough for the first two years. Ike worked as a barber and Margaret as a beautician to help support the boys while they made the rounds of the record companies. Don and Phil (bar a one-off deal with Columbia Records) suffered repeated rejections by record executives who didn't know what to do with them.
Finally, in February 1957, the Everly Brothers signed with Cadence Records, released "Bye Bye Love" which sold over two million records and began a career that established them as the most influential duo in the history of recorded music. As Bob Dylan said regarding Don and Phil, "We owe these guys everything. They started it all."
In June of 1957 they made their first appearance as regulars on the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. They brought more than their innovative acoustic guitar rhythm and vocal blends to the stage of the old Ryman Auditorium. That night, Don and Phil were the first act to use drums on the Grand Ole Opry and to this day are given credit for introducing and developing the use of drums in Nashville. The traditional country audience loved them, but right from the beginning, the uniqueness of their sound made them popular on an international scale with a wide spectrum of fans.
Over the years their blend of country, rock & roll, bluegrass and rockabilly has remained popular with pop, rock, country and R & B listeners simultaneously. After "Bye Bye Love", the brothers turned out an incredible string of classic records, often having several in the charts at the same time.
On Cadence their phenomenal output in the period 1957-1960 included hits like Wake Up Little Susie, Claudette, Bird Dog, Devoted To You, Problems, Take A Message To Mary, ('Til) I Kissed You, Let It Be Me and When Will I Be Loved. For most of these titles Don and Phil received a gold record award.
During their stay at Cadence they also released three albums amongst which the album ‘Songs Our Daddy Taught Us’ still holds a special spot for many Everly fans up to this day. Just recently (2013), the album which contains 12 country/folk standards sung by Don & Phil with a minimum of accompaniment, was lovingly recreated by Billie Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones.
THE STORY CONTINUES, FROM NASHVILLE TO HOLLYWOOD
By 1960 The Everly Brothers were about the most bankable act in the business and ready to make the transfer to a bigger label which would give them more opportunities and more financial security.
In 1960 Warner Brothers was big in movies but had a fledgling record label that needed a big boost in order to secure it’s future. The match was quickly made and Don & Phil left Cadence in early 1960 for Warners at a -for the time- phenomonal amount of money. The Everlys were guaranteed a yearly income of 100.000 for seven years with an option to renew for another three years.
Recording wise they certainly delivered in the first two years. They started their next phase with Cathy’s Clown a song written by Don (with a little help from Phil) that would become their biggest selling 45 of their career. They followed this million seller with many more hits like So Sad, Lucille, Walk Right Back, Ebony Eyes, Temptation, Crying In The Rain and That’s Old Fashioned.
By 1962 however the brothers career was slowing down a bit due to a dispute with their long standing manager Wesley Rose, who only wanted them to record Acuff-Rose related songs. This effectively cut them off of songs written by Boudleaux & Felice Bryant who had penned many of their Cadence classics. Ironically Don & Phil couldn’t even record their own songs as they also were owned by Acuff-Rose.
Next to that they joined the Marines in late 1961 for a 6 months stint in order to avoid being drafted into the army (which would have stalled their careers for 2 years) and also were starting to feel the rigors of relentless touring and recording. In the fall of 1962 this resulted in the collapse of the older brother during a UK tour. Fortunately Don made a full recovery although their career would never reach the dizzying heights of the period 1957-1962 ever again……………………...
In the period 1963-1970 The Everly Brothers were still perfectly capable of releasing fantastic 45s and albums that were in tune with the times but commercially less successful than in their heyday.
Warner Brothers albums worth mentioning here are It’s Everly Time (their first release for Warners), A Date With The Everly Brothers, The Everly Brothers Sing Great Country Hits, Two Yanks In England (containing 8 Hollies songs and which members were also present in the studio as session musicians) and of course the country rock standard Roots.
Notable singles from this era are Gone, Gone, Gone (recorded in 2007 by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss), The Price Of Love (a big hit in Europe), Love Is Strange and Bowling Green (their final Top 40 hit in the USA).
By the end of their contract with Warners the brothers were at an all-time low. Even though they were still a popular live draw their recordings failed to reach an audience. Next to that in early 1970 Don suffered his second divorce and Phil his first.
Not everything was doom and gloom however for the Everlys……………….
THE FINAL CHAPTER OF THE FIRST ERA, THE RCA YEARS
Although the late sixties had brought a steady -commercial-
decline the early 70s saw a renewed interest in their Cadence recordings due to a couple of successful re-releases through the Barnaby Records label, owned by their one-time Cadence label mate Andy Williams. Also at that time The Everly Brothers secured their own Johnny Cash Summer Replacement Show on CBS in 1970. It gave them a lot of exposure to a whole new audience and an opportunity to perform again with their father Ike who the previous year had joined them at the Newport Folk festival and also briefly toured with them in the fall of 1971.
In August 1971, after a ten-years residency at Warner Bros, the brothers signed with RCA Records to give their recording career a much needed boost. The contract allowed the brothers to produce Everly Brothers records but also gave them the opportunity to record solo albums (more about that later).
The first outing on their new label was an album titled ‘Stories We Could Tell’. The title song was written by John Sebastian and parts of the album were recorded in his home studio. The album featured a plethora of famous recording artists and session musicians (e.g. Clarence White, Ry Cooder, Delaney & Bonnie, Spooner Oldham, Warren Zevon and Buddy Emmons) and was produced by Paul Rothchild famous for his work with The Doors and Janis Joplin. Although the album was a critical success once again the public showed little to no interest and after recording one more album (the Chet Atkins produced Pass The Chicken And Listen) the first part of their career came abruptly to an end.
After having spent countless hours on the road and having to deal with diminishing record sales, the brothers found it increasingly difficult to continue with the brother act and in the summer of 1973 it all came to a halt.
On July 14th 1973 Phil dropped his guitar and walked of stage during one of their scheduled performances at the Knott’s Berry Farm amusement park in Buena Park, California leaving behind a bewildered Don who sometimes was singing off key and behaving erratically. Before their stint at the park the brothers already had decided to call it quits but the emotional impact of having to break up a family act that had been together since childhood proved somewhat more difficult than both brothers anticipated.
The Everly Brothers were (for now) no more…………………………
OUT ON THEIR OWN, THE SOLO YEARS (1973-1983)
Even though the split was mourned by many Everly fans, the time apart also presented the brothers with the opportunity to explore something they never had done before………….their own lives. Ever since childhood they had always been very closely linked together and this was the first time they had a life on their own away from each other. During the split which lasted 10 years they only spoke once and that was at their fathers funeral in 1975. In that period Don lived in Nashville and Phil in L.A. Both brothers also explored musical avenues as solo artists.
Don had already recorded a solo album in 1970 on Lou Adler’s Ode label (titled Don Everly) which gave food for speculation for the media that The Everly Brothers had split. In 1974 Don recorded his 2nd outing ‘Sunset Towers’ also on the Ode label with the help of UK band Heads Hands & Feet featuring master guitarist Albert Lee who would later join Don & Phil for all of their (post) reunion concerts from 1983-2005. In 1976 Don recorded his final solo work on the Hickory label (reuniting with Wesley Rose) entitled Brother Jukebox.
On the road Don made several successful tours of Europe in the late 70s and early 80s with his band The Dead Cowboys featuring Philip Donnelly, Tony Newman, Lamar Hill and (former wife of John Prine) Rachel Peer.
In the meantime on the West Coast Phil was also keeping himself busy while at the same time relaxing a bit and enjoying the good life at home. In the 10 years apart he recorded 5 solo albums, a couple of 45s and hosted one season of the tv series ‘In Session’ in 1974. His first solo outing (entitled Star Spangled Springer) was released in 1973 as part of the RCA deal made a couple of years earlier. The album is notable for two things. First of all it contained a song that could have put Phil on the map as a solo artist. It didn’t but The Air That I Breathe became a big worldwide hit for the Hollies even though it was first recorded by Phil.
Next to that the album’s back cover contained a somewhat cryptic letter to Everly Brothers International (then already the official fan club of The Everly Brothers and still going strong in the 21st century !) declaring that this solo album didn’t mean the end of The Everly Brothers. However by the time the album was released ironically fate already had intervened………………….
In the mid-70s Phil released two albums on the UK based Pye Records label and in 1979 another album for Elektra. None of those met with commercial success. By 1983 Phil released his final solo album simply titled ‘Phil Everly’ and featured guitar work from none other than Mark Knopfler and two duets with UK star Cliff Richard. One of those songs -She Means Nothing To Me-even entered the top ten in the UK in early 1983 giving Phil his first major hit since 1965’s Love Is Strange (!) By that time, however, old wounds between the brothers had healed and it was time for a comeback……………….
BACK TOGETHER AGAIN – THE REUNION CONCERT AND BEYOND (1983-2005)
By 1983 the brothers had been apart for 10 years. Times had changed and after a call from Don in late ’82
they decided to get back together again. Both wanted it to become a memorable event and didn’t want to rush it.
So after many months of intensive rehearsals two shows were planned in September 1983 at London’s famous Royal Albert Hall. A venue both of them had fond memories of due to a special performance at that venue with their father in the previous decade. The shows were a big success and signalled a renewed interest in the brothers who had been so pivotal in the formative years of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
In 1984 they decided to tour again and -just as importantly- to record new material. In the years following their reunion concert a 2LP set and a videocassette were released, both commercially very successful, as well as three brand new studio albums. The first two albums were produced by famous roots rocker Dave Edmunds of which the first one, EB84, brought the brothers back to the pop charts again (in some European countries even to the Top 10) and the second one Born Yesterday did well in the country charts. Singles wise the Paul McCartney original On The Wings Of A Nightingale and the Don Everly penned Born Yesterday performed nicely on the charts worldwide.
Recording success unfortunately didn’t last and after one more album, the disappointingly low selling 1988 release Some Hearts, the brothers would, except for a one-off song in 1998 for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Whistle Down The Wind, never enter the studio again.
On the live circuit however the Everlys remained worldwide an ever popular draw. They were supported by talented musicians, several of them famous in their own right, like master guitarist and their musical director Albert Lee, keyboard virtuoso Pete Wingfield, Phil Cranham on bass and the great (late) Larrie Londin on drums. In the mid 80s Don’s fellow Dead Cowboy Philip Donnelly joined the ranks for a short tenure on guitar.
Next to that from 1987 onwards their live sound was enriched with the superb playing of pedal steel guitar maestro Buddy Emmons and from 1992 till 2005 with another Dead Cowboy, Tony Newman, who took over from Larrie Londin after his untimely passing.
The live shows proved how loved and respected Don & Phil still were. Their popularity didn’t go unnoticed in their hometown(s) either. In 1986 the city of Shenandoah, Iowa in which they spent most of their childhood honored them with a homecoming parade, concert and other festivities.
But there was more. In 1988 Don Everly heard a cry for help on the radio from the Central City police department in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky (Don’s birthplace) for donations in order to replace some old equipment.
Don called Phil and both of them made without hesitation the necessary contributions to help out their old hometown in which they actually only had lived for a couple of years but was home to both sides of their father and mother’s families. All of this however led to an unexpected turn of events when the town of Central City decided to honor their local heroes with a special homecoming concert. Ultimately this turned out to become an annual event lasting all the way up to 2001 with attendance rates as high as 20.000 people in the early 90s.
In 2001 the brothers, then already 62 and 64, decided to take life a bit slower and stop performing for a while. This hiatus lasted 2 ½ years when another unexpected event coaxed them out of (semi) retirement. In late 2003 Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel had decided to get back together again for a worldwide tour (dubbed ‘Old Friends’) and asked Don & Phil to join them on the road. Paul & Art had always been very avid Everly Brothers fans and in contrast with normal proceedings suggested that the Everlys wouldn’t open for them but appear in mid-show as special guests. The tour would eventually take up almost a year and was a huge success.
Inspired by previous year’s success Don & Phil decided to go out on the road again themselves. In the fall of 2005 they engaged in a short tour of the UK and had the intention to do some more shows in the USA the following year. Unfortunately the latter dates never materialized and November 28th 2005 would go down in history books as the last time The Everly Brothers would perform on stage (in Ipswich to be precise).
Although they had been performing, on and off touring became harder and harder for Phil who, as it turned out, was suffering from the lung disease COPD due to a life time of excessive smoking. In the following years his health declined further and on January 3rd 2014 (just 3 weeks shy of his 75th birthday) Phil Everly succumbed to this horrendous disease. In the same year Patti Everly, Phil’s widow, established the Phil Everly Memorial COPD Foundation in 2014. Phil's last public appearance was in 2011, at Buddy Holly's induction to Hollywood Boulevard's Star Walk of Fame.
As of 2019 Don Everly still makes occasional appearances and resides in Nashville together with his fourth wife Adela. Remarkably enough their mother Margaret, who also lives in Nashville, celebrated her 100th (!) birthday that year and is for her age still in quite good health.
In their lifetime both brothers were married several times and had children. Don had three girls and one boy of which his third child, Erin, made big splashes in the media in the early 90s being married to Guns and Roses frontman Axl Rose which ended in a highly publicized and messy divorce. Phil had two boys and eldest son Jason rose to fame in the Phillipines as a well known singer and actor.
Outside of their musical activities Don always had had a keen interest in architecture and loved good food and wine. In the 70s he even joined Les Amis du Vin, a wine society in Nashville. Phil loved vintage cars and during his life he collected many old classics. Probably unbeknownst to the general public (and probably to many fans as well) Phil had a passion for inventing and tinkering which eventually led him to start Everly Music and later Cleartone Strings with eldest son Jason running the business as president.
As recording artists the Everlys were a phenomenon selling in excess of more than 50 million records worldwide and received multiple gold awards for their record releases. Of all the albums The Golden Hits from 1962 and The Very Best Of from 1964 were their most successful and each sold more than half a million copies.