The Everly Brothers - Biography
By J Poet
The Everly Brothers were the most successful pre-Beatles group, and between 1957 and 1962 only Elvis and Pat Boone sold more records than they did. They were the first rock act to come out of Nashville and injected a healthy dose of rock into country music and a bit of traditional country into rock with their close harmonies, guitar playing (the great Chet Atkins played lead on their early Cadence singles) and romantic vision. The Beatles based their harmonies on the Everlys, as did The Eagles and they were also the template for the early work of Simon & Garfunkle. They cut three classic albums for Cadence: The Everly Brothers: They’re off and Rolling (1958 Cadence, 1988 Rhino), Songs Our Daddy Taught Us (1958 Cadence, 1988 Rhino) and The Fabulous Style of The Everly Brothers (1960 Cadence, 1988 Rhino) before signing a decade long deal with Warner Brothers for the unheard of advance of a million dollars. They made a few good albums for the label including It’s Everly Time (1960 Warner, 2005 Collector’s Choice) and Date With The Everly Brothers (1961 Warner, 2005 Collector’s Choice.) Their career peaked in 1961, although they continued to make records for Warner Brothers until 1970. The Brothers had an uneasy relationship with one another and broke up in a famous public feud during a concert at Knott’s Berry farm in 1973. They reformed in 1983 and cut three more albums EB 84 (1984, Mercury,) Born Yesterday (1986, Mercury,) and Some Hearts (1989, Mercury,) and were getting along better than they ever had in their youth. They still perform together on the oldies circuit, but never recaptured the magic of their early hits.
By all accounts, the father of the Everly Brothers, (Isaac) Ike Everly was one of country music’s unknown greats, a fine picker and singer who had a trio with his brothers Leonard and Charlie. The original Everly boys were born in Muhlenberg County, but Ike married Margaret Embry and moved to Chicago with her and his firstborn son Donald around 1938. His brothers followed and the Everly Trio played the honky tonks of Madison and Maxwell Streets knocking people out with their musicianship and close harmonies. In 1944, after Phil was born, they moved to Waterloo, Iowa, where Ike and Maggie landed a job singing on station KASL. In 1945 the family moved to KMA and Don and Phil joined the family band. By 1950 they had their own spot, The Everly Family Show. In 1953 Cas Walker of WROL in Knoxville hired the family for his show and they relocated to Nashville.
Chet Atkins was one of the first people the Everly family met in Nashville. He encouraged Don’s songwriting and when Kitty Wells recorded Don’s “Thou Shalt Not Steal” he got a songwriting deal with Acuff Rose, one of Nashville’s most powerful music publishers. Ike encouraged his songs to strike out on their own and in 1957 Atkins helped them get signed to Cadence, a new label started by Archie Bleyer, who had been Authur Godfrey’s musical director. Their first single bombed, but the second, “Bye Bye Love,” was a million seller and topped Billboard’s Pop, Country and R&B charts. A few weeks later they sang the hit on The Grand Ol’ Opry and got a standing ovation. “Wake Up Little Susie” and “All I Have To Do Is Dream” followed and their first album, The Everly Brothers: They’re off and Rolling (1958 Cadence, 1988 Rhino) was rushed out to capitalize on their success. Unlike many rock albums of the 50s, They’re off and Rolling had 12 great tracks including “Maybe Tomorrow,” “I Wonder If I Care As Much” and “Should We Tell Him” great Everly originals. Songs Our Daddy Taught Us (1958 Cadence, 1988 Rhino) an intimate guitar and vocal album of folk and country classics raced up the charts as did The Fabulous Style of The Everly Brothers (1960 Cadence, 1988 Rhino) which included the hits “Dream,” “Til I Kissed You,” “Bird Dog” and “Let It Be Me” as well as Don’s soon to be standard “When Will I Be Loved.”
In 1960 the brothers signed a decade long deal with Warner Brothers and got an advance of a million dollars, an amazing sum at the time. “Cathy’s Clown,” written by the brothers, was another million seller, one of the first hits for the fledgling Warner label. It’s Everly Time (1960 Warner, 2005 Collector’s Choice) their first Warner album was a success, but for some unfathomable reason it failed to include “Cathy’s Clown.” The Brothers was as good in person as they were in the studio, so fans were shocked when they enlisted in the Marines in 1961 to serve two years. They stopped touring but waxed Date With The Everly Brothers (1961 Warner, 2005 Collector’s Choice) which included “Love Hurts” and, finally, “Cathy’s Clown.”
After signing with Warner The Everlys had a falling out with Boudleaux and Felice Bryant, who had written most of their hits, and then came The British Invasion and the music biz changed radically. The Everlys finished out their decade long contract with Warners, and although they stopped getting hits, they made some fine albums. Everly Brothers Sing Great Country Hits (1963 Warner, 2005 Collector’s Choice) is a solid collection that shows the duo in fine voice. Two Yanks in England (1966 Warner, 2005 Collector’s Choice) was recorded in London with backing of The Hollies (who also wrote most of the tunes) as well as Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones of The Yardbirds. Roots (1968 Warner, 2005 Collector’s Choice) is the last classic of their early years, an acoustic based country rock album with great tunes and fine picking.
The overnight success of the Everlys probably contributed to the uneasy relationship they had with one another, not helped by the drugs they were taking to cope with the stress. They broke up in a famous public feud during a concert at Knott’s Berry farm in 1973. Ten years later they reformed and cut EB 84 (1984, Mercury, 1994 Razor and Tie) and Born Yesterday (1986, Mercury) with producer Dave Edmunds. EB 84 included Paul McCartney’s “Wings of a Nightingale” which was a minor hit. The self produced Some Hearts (1989, Mercury) followed, their last studio effort so far. Today the bothers say they’re getting along better than they ever had in their youth. They still perform together on the oldies circuit, but have never recaptured the magic of their early hits. In 1997 The Everly Brothers received a Lifetime Achievement Award Grammy. Sadly, on January 3, 2014, Phil Everly died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, brought on by a lifetime of smoking. He was 74 years old.