Phil Everly, Half of a Pioneer Rock Duo That Inspired Generations, Dies at 74

January 4, 2014


By JON PARELES |  Published 1/4/14 in NYTIMES.COM

Phil Everly, whose hits with his older brother, Don, as the Everly Brothers carried the close fraternal harmonies of country tradition into pioneering rock ’n’ roll, died on Friday in Burbank, Calif. He was 74.

The group’s official website said he died in a hospital near his home in Southern California. His son Jason said the cause of death was complications of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

With songs like “Wake Up Little Susie,” “Bye Bye Love,” “Cathy’s Clown,” “All I Have to Do Is Dream” and “When Will I Be Loved?,” which was written by Phil Everly, the brothers were consistent hitmakers in the late 1950s and early 1960s. They won over country, pop and even R&B listeners with a combination of clean-cut vocals and the rockabilly strum and twang of their guitars.

They were also models for the next generations of rock vocal harmonies for the Beatles, Linda Ronstadt, Simon and Garfunkel and many others who recorded their songs and tried to emulate their precise, ringing vocal alchemy. The Everly Brothers were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in its first year, 1986.

The Everlys brought tradition, not rebellion, to their rock ’n’ roll. Their pop songs reached teenagers with Appalachian harmonies rooted in gospel and bluegrass. Their first full-length album, “The Everly Brothers” in 1958, held their first hits, but the follow-up that same year, “Songs Our Daddy Taught Us,” was a quiet collection of traditional and traditional-sounding songs.

They often sang in close tandem, with Phil Everly on the higher note and the brothers’ two voices virtually inseparable. That sound was part of a long lineage of country “brother acts” like the Delmore Brothers, the Monroe Brothers and the Louvin Brothers. In an interview in November, Phil Everly said: “We’d grown up together, so we’d pronounce the words the same, with the same accent. All of that comes into play when you’re singing in harmony.”

Paul Simon, whose song “Graceland” includes vocals by Phil and Don Everly, said in an email on Saturday morning: “Phil and Don were the most beautiful sounding duo I ever heard. Both voices pristine and soulful. The Everlys were there at the crossroads of country and R&B. They witnessed and were part of the birth of rock and roll.”

The Everly Brothers’ music grew out of a childhood spent singing. Phillip Everly was born in Chicago on Jan. 19, 1939, the son of a Kentucky coal miner turned musician, Ike Everly, and his wife, Margaret. The family had left Kentucky, where Don Everly was born in 1937, for musical opportunities in Chicago. They soon moved on to Iowa, where Ike Everly found steady work playing country music on live radio. In Shenandoah, Iowa, Ike Everly got his own show — at 6 a.m. on the radio station KMA — and in 1945, “Little Donnie” and the 6-year-old “Baby Boy Phil” started harmonizing with their parents on the air. They went to school after they performed.

The Everly family moved on to radio shows in Indiana and Tennessee. In 1955 the teenage brothers settled in Nashville, where they were hired as songwriters before starting the Everly Brothers’ recording career.

They had a blockbuster in 1957: “Bye Bye Love,” a song written by the husband-and-wife team Felice and Boudleaux Bryant. It reached No. 1 on the country chart, No. 2 on the pop chart and No. 5 on the rhythm and blues chart, selling over a million copies. They followed it with another Bryants song, “Wake Up Little Susie,” that was a No. 1 pop hit and another million-seller. For the next few years, they were rarely without a Top 10 pop hit. Among them were “All I Have to Do Is Dream” in 1957, “Bird Dog” and “Devoted to You” in 1958, “(Till) I Kissed You” in 1959, and, in 1960 “Let It Be Me,” “Cathy’s Clown” (written by Don and Phil Everly) and “When Will I Be Loved.”

Their hitmaking streak ended in the United States in the early 1960s, lasting slightly longer in Britain. But they continued to tour and make albums, notably the 1968 “Roots,” a thoughtful foray into country-rock that included a snippet of a 1952 Everly family radio show. They had a summer variety series on CBS in 1970.

But the brothers were growing estranged. In 1973, at a concert in California, Phil Everly smashed his guitar and walked offstage, and Don Everly announced the duo’s breakup. They recorded solo albums for the next decade before reuniting in 1983, with a concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London that was filmed as a documentary. They returned to the studio for a 1984 album, “EB84,” that was produced by the British pub-rocker Dave Edmunds and included a song written for the Everlys by Paul McCartney; they made two more studio albums in the 1980s.

Among musicians the Everlys had generations of admirers. The Beatles included Everly Brothers songs in their live sets and modeled the vocal harmonies of “Please Please Me” on “Cathy’s Clown.” The Beach Boys recorded the Everlys song “Devoted to You.” Linda Ronstadt had a Top 10 hit with “When Will I Be Loved” in 1975. On his four-album set “These Days” in 2006, the country songwriter Vince Gill recorded a duet with Phil Everly, “Sweet Little Corinna,” that paid homage to the early Everlys sound.

Simon and Garfunkel included “Bye Bye Love” on their “Bridge Over Troubled Water” album, and years later brought together the Everly Brothers to be their opening act for their 2003 “Old Friends” tour. The brothers reportedly had not spoken to each other for three years before that.

“Personally I loved them both,” Mr. Simon wrote. “Phil was outgoing, gregarious and very funny. Don is quiet and introspective. When Simon and Garfunkel toured with the Everlys in 2003, Art and I would take the opportunity to learn about the roots of Rock and Roll from these two great historians. It was a pleasure to spend time in their company.”

The Everly Brothers played their last headlining tour in 2005 in Britain. They were also heard together on a 2010 album by Don’s son, Edan Everly, in a dark song about child stardom called “Old Hollywood.”

Phil Everly is survived by his brother and by their mother, Margaret Everly; his wife, Patti; his sons, Jason and Chris; and two granddaughters.

In 2013, younger musicians released two albums of Everly Brothers songs: “What the Brothers Sang” by Dawn McCarthy and Bonnie Prince Billy (the indie rocker Will Oldham), and “Foreverly” by Norah Jones and Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day, a remake of every song on “Songs Our Daddy Taught Us.”

The Everly Brothers are “such a mainstay,” Mr. Armstrong said in November. “You either consciously grew up with them, or you subconsciously grew up with the Everly Brothers.”

Rest In Peace.

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