The death of Don Everly at the age of 84 brings the curtain down on the Everly Brothers, the vocal duo that defined the rock ‘n’ roll duo and the sound of teenage angst. Their unmistakable harmonies are inspired by 700 years of Scottish Borders misery, taken via the Appalachians to express the adolescent confusion of the late 1950s. Resurrected on annual tours for more than half a century, these sounds have been stopped in concert by the death of Phil, the younger brother, in 2014.
Like Elvis and Chuck Berry, the Everly Brothers came up with the plan for the way things would be, and later they were bitter to receive less credit for it than great rock ‘n’ roll solos. This characterized their talent for wringing the bitterness from the jaws of sweetness.
They couldn’t complain about their initial success. After a difficult session for Columbia, producing the rare 1956 single Keep A’Lovin ‘Me / The Sun Keeps Shining, they signed with New York label Cadence, then moved to the new label Warner Bros Records. From 1957 to 1965 they had 28 hits in the UK Top 30 and comparable success in the United States.
Their first Cadence single, Bye Bye Love, sold a million copies and No. 2 in the United States. Wake Up Little Susie, their second hit, was # 1 in the US; All I have to do is dream of another one, also topping the UK charts. Bird Dog and Problems were US No 2s, and (‘Til) I Kissed You, written by Don, a UK No 2. Other hits included Let It Be Me, Take a Message to Mary, Like Strangers, Crying in the Rain and the UK No 1 Walk back.
Don, born in Brownie, Kentucky, and Phil, born two years later, to Margaret (née Embry) and Ike Everly, were a duet long before rock ‘n’ roll, on their parents’ radio show on KMA in Shenandoah, Ohio. They had attended Longfellow Elementary School in Waterloo, Iowa, where Ike was a coal miner, before in 1944 the family moved to Shenandoah, and the brothers were completing their education at West High, Knoxville, Tennessee, where the family s ‘was installed in 1953.
The boys were seasoned pros as they poured their magical vocals onto a series of hits that married the harmonies of hillbilly and Nashville us, their chord-filled acoustic guitars embracing the exotic rhythms of Bo Diddley to create rock’n ‘roll end of country the rich and commercial sounds of music.
Many of their hits, including Bye Bye Love, were written by another duo, Boudleaux and Felice Bryant, but the brothers wrote many themselves. The two wrote the phenomenally successful debut single on Warner Bros. Cathy’s Clown, which reached almost unprecedented nine weeks at No.1 in Britain in 1960 and was another US No.1. Phil wrote When Will I Be Loved; as well as (‘Til) I Kissed You, Don wrote Since You Broke My Heart, and So Sad (to Watch Good Love Go Bad).
They had the seriousness to cover the crucial songs of other artists, from Little Richard’s Lucille, with a vocal drop in slow motion, to the blues classics Trouble in Mind and Step It Up and Go, and Mickey & Sylvia’s Love Is Strange. Don, taken by his father to the Maxwell Street Market in Chicago when he was young, has always been acquainted with gospel and blues. In an era of pretty pop, the Everlys were looking for a harsher sound on records like The Price of Love (1965) and their extraordinary cover of the standard Temptation (1961), which foreshadowed Phil Spector’s “sound barrier”. But, like Spector’s River Deep, Mountain High, the Everlys’ Temptation was (by their standards) a flop in the US, and The Price of Love a bigger one.
Then there was the Beatles, whose “new” harmonies made the Everlys go out of style overnight. Licensed before the age of 30, Don and Phil mistakenly felt that the Beatles stole them without acknowledging him – John and Paul admitted that they were inspired by the harmonies of Please Please Me by Cathy’s Clown.
Sidelined by progressive rock, Don and Phil first tried to sound like Simon and Garfunkel, then their influential 1968 album Roots which, along with the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo, marked a step towards emergence of “country rock”.
Don went on to write songs: Human Race (1970), the cry of the heart I’m Tired of Singing My Song in Las Vegas on the album Stories We Could Tell (1972), and most of the magnificent ignored solo album Don. Everly (1971).
These have been perilous decades, especially for Don, the more temperamental and creative of the couple, whose drug-related adventures have likely loosened an already fragile grip on reality. After a childhood flaunted as a pretty novelty, dressed like he was a twin, in cowboy attire, his only sample of “normal life” was a spell in the Marines (of which he was proud) in the midst of ‘to be half of a pair of teen idols: one of the most influential, beloved, and successful bands in the world – and then, all of a sudden, one of the most overwhelmed.
The Everly Brothers broke up in public acrimony, their last performance together on July 14, 1973, in Buena Park, Calif., In which Phil threw his guitar and stormed off the stage, leaving Don to finish the concert on his own. .
On two other occasions, Phil was successful without Don. In 1962, while touring Britain, a drug-fueled Don attempted to jump out of a hotel window and Phil had to perform solo on the remaining dates. And then, recording a solo album in 1983, just at the end of the dark 10 years of separation from the brothers, Phil brought in Cliff Richard, and on one track they duo played as if Don could somehow. or another to be replaced. Phil and Cliff’s She Means Nothing to Me was in the UK Top 10, just to compound the enormity of the ‘betrayal’. Don saw it as nothing less, even though it was he who had actually dissolved the brothers’ long-standing professional partnership.
It was further trauma for the two to discover that apart, no one really cared about either of them. But in 1983, they put on a touching reunion concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London.
They always sang exquisitely, and a small segment of their shows featured songs they had learned from their father, whom they adored, and Kentucky guitarist Mose Rager: authentic old-fashioned country material. Don played the guitar intensely and affectionately, albeit sparingly in modern performances. Lead song, he lived in the spontaneity of the moment, his phrasing inspired, warm and free. He was an artist. But they hardly dared to step away from their teenage hits. Besides, having done it would have meant having to rehearse together.
Off the stage, Don was a lifelong glutton and a connoisseur. He had always seen the last movie; he read a lot; he is interested in modern art and, on a small scale, collects it. An avid restaurant explorer, he enjoyed talking about and cooking food. On tour, the anglophile rock star would get up early and roam the towns he was in. These explorations made his professional duties tolerable, as he skillfully conceded. At the time of the show in the 90s in Croydon, he realized that he had forgotten to put on his stage clothes. Said he looked good, he replied, “No, I’d better change. This costume knows words.
In 1957, Don married Mary Sue Ingraham. Their first daughter, Mary, died in infancy; their second, Venetia, shared a name with Hollywood starlet Venetia Stevenson, who in 1962 became Don’s second wife, following a divorce. He and Venetia had two daughters, Stacy and Erin, and a son, Edan, and divorced in 1970. In 1975 he married Karen Prettyman and they divorced eight years later. His fourth wife was Adela Garza, a member of a group of singing twins from Nashville. When they married in 1997, he was 60 and she was 28.
His friends included writers Garrison Keillor and Lucinda Lambton, painter Peter Blake and his wife Chrissie, and Nashville guitarist and producer Chet Atkins, who had been a family friend throughout the brothers’ lives and had helped them. to get recording contracts early. of their career.
Cranky and irresponsible, Don could be ruthless, rude and self-centered, warm, generous, very charming and excitable. He had indeed “many qualities of child”, as Chrissie puts it, qualities which contributed to make of him one of the formative voices of rock’n’roll.
Shocked by Phil’s death in 2014, Don told the LA Times: “I always assumed I would go first, because I was the oldest. It was a shock to find out that he was so sick.
In 2016, he campaigned for Hillary Clinton in the presidential election.
He is survived by Adela, his children Venetia, Stacy, Erin and Edan, and his mother.