Posted on March 31, 2016
The Everly Brothers –
“We owe these guys everything. They started it all.” Bob Dylan
The Everly Brothers appeared professionally for the first time in 1945 as part of their parents’ show at Shenandoah, Iowa’s, KMA radio station. “Little Donnie” was eight years old and “Baby Boy Phil” was six. Under the tutelage of their father Ike and mother Margaret, the brothers began harmonizing on traditional mountain songs and developed into talented performers. The Everly Family had a regular touring act throughout the 1940’s and early 1950’s. Over the course of the brothers’ singing career, they sold over twenty million singles, five million albums, and influenced an entire generation of pop, rock ‘n’ roll, and country musicians.
Don and Phil’s parents decided to retire when the brothers graduated high school. In 1954, the boys moved to Nashville, Tennessee, in hopes of continuing their music careers. They struggled through two frustrating years before signing a six month management contract and recording one single with Columbia Records in 1956. “The Sun Keeps Shining,” with the B-side, “Keep A Lovin’ Me,” did not generate interest from the buying public and the brothers contract was not renewed. Don and Phil turned to songwriting to make ends meet. They sold their songs to artists including Anita Carter, who recorded “It Takes A Lot of Heart,” and Justin Tubb, who recorded “The Life I Have to Live,” and Kitty Wells, who recorded “Thou Shalt Not Steal,” which Don wrote when he was sixteen.
In 1957, the Everly Brothers were signed to the Grand Ole Opry Show and family friend, Chet Atkins, brought them to the attention of Wesley Rose. Rose, one half of Acuff-Rose Publishing, signed the brothers to songwriting contracts and arranged to have them audition for Archie Bleyer, the one-time musical director of the Arthur Godfrey Show, who had recently formed Cadence Records.
Archie Bleyer teamed the Everly Brothers with the song writing duo, Felice and Boudleaux Bryant. Their first single, “Bye Bye Love,” with the Everly Brothers’ penned B-side, “I Wonder If I Cared as Much,” was released in March, 1957. The single reached number two on the Billboard Pop Chart and number one on the Country Chart. “Bye Bye Love” sold over one million copies and propelled the brothers onto the national music scene. In September, 1957, the Everly Brothers released the single “Wake Up Little Susie,” with the B-side “Maybe Tomorrow.” The single shot to number one on the Billboard Pop chart, Cash Box Best Selling Records chart, and the Hot Country chart simultaneously.
The Everly Brothers meteoric rise was aided by the hiring of the Connie De Nave publicity firm. The brothers embarked on a number of tours, public appearances, and television guest shots including the Ed Sullivan Show, Patti Page’s Big Record Show, the Vic Damone Show, and Arthur Murray’s Dance Party. It was on the Alan Freed Rock ‘N’ Roll show where the brothers met Buddy Holly and the Crickets. They were close in age and developed a strong friendship. The groups continued to tour together into 1958. The Everly Brothers also released the singles, “This Little Girl of Mine,” “All I Have to Do is Dream,” “Bird Dog,” and “Problems” in 1958.
Based on the overwhelming response, especially from teenage girls, Cadence Records released the brothers’ first two albums, The Everly Brothers, and the stripped down singing and acoustic guitar album, Songs Our Daddy Taught Us, which included a number of cover versions of traditional country songs including, Bob Miller’s “Rock-In-Alone,” Bradley Kincaid’s “Lightning Express,” and Tex Ritter’s “Long Time Gone.” The brothers were also fond of rhythm and blues and often covered songs like “Leave My Woman Alone,” by Ray Charles and “Keep A-Knockin’,” by Little Richard.
The handsome, brown-eyed Everly Brothers, wearing their ivy-league suits and singing matching harmonies, gained a huge fan base that stretched across several continents. Their exploding popularity, and demand by hundreds of fan clubs, led the brothers to embark on a number of tours covering forty-nine states, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Europe. Their tours set new attendance records in several countries.
There was little time for the brothers to mourn in February, 1959, when their good friend Buddy Holly died in a plane crash. Cadence Records released the singles, “Take a Message to Mary,” “(Till) I Kissed You,” and “Let It Be Me,” which spent several weeks near the top of the music charts. At the start of 1960, The Fabulous Style of the Everly Brothers album, which included guitar playing by Chet Atkins and drumming by famed country studio musician Buddy Harman, was released.
By 1960, the Everly Brothers were contemplating a move from Nashville to Los Angeles, California. After three years recording for Cadence Records, they switched to the two year old Warner Bros. Record label who had offered the Everly Brothers the first one million dollar recording contract in history. The brothers entered a studio in Los Angeles in March, 1960, and recorded songs for the album It’s Everly Time. The album was released in May. It included the singles, “So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad),” “Carol Jane,” and “Nashville Blues.” It’s Everly Time peaked at number nine on the Billboard Pop Album chart.
Warner Bros. Records continued to pressure the Everly Brothers for new material. The brothers recorded songs in late March and early July, 1960, for their next album, A Date With the Everly Brothers. The album was released in October, 1960, and included the singles, “Cathy’s Clown,” “Lucille,” and “Love Hurts.” “Cathy’s Clown” sold over eight million copies and spent five weeks at number one on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.
The Everly Brothers were big business, selling over thirty-five million dollars in record sales, when a rift with Wesley Rose resulted in the Everly Brothers only recording songs written by other artists from late 1961 to 1964. They briefly started their own company, Calliope Records, where Don recorded an instrumental version of “Pomp and Circumstance” under the pseudonym Adrian Kimberly and Phil formed the Keestone Family Singers with Glen Campbell and Carol King and released the single “Melodrama.” The brothers quickly folded Calliope and continued to record and perform as a duo.
In October, 1961, the brothers enlisted in the United States Marine Corp Reserve. Their enlisted time took them out of the spotlight, minus a couple of live performances. In February, 1962, they appeared in uniform on the Ed Sullivan show. Warner Bros. Records tried to keep them relevant by releasing a series of previously recorded singles. “That’s Old Fashioned” would be their last top ten hit single.
By the time the Everly Brothers resurfaced, they faced a declining audience who was more interested in bands from the British invasion. Ironically, The Beatles, The Hollies, The Searchers, The Byrds, and others were copying the Everly Brothers trademark harmonies and singing techniques. Only three of the Everly Brothers twenty-seven singles, released by Warner Bros. Records from 1963 to 1970, reached the Billboard Hot 100 chart. “Gone, Gone, Gone,” from the album of the same name, peaked at number thirty-one in December, 1964. The Everly Bothers continued to have a huge following abroad including England, Australia and Canada. They toured extensively to the point of exhaustion. Don had collapsed on a stage in England, which was blamed on food poisoning. He was later hospitalized after suffering a nervous breakdown. Many years later it was revealed that both brothers were addicted to amphetamines at the time.
In 1966, the album Two Yanks in England, was recorded with The Hollies. The Everly Brothers final top forty hit, “Bowling Green,” was released in 1967. The brothers had a transformation with the album Roots, in 1968. It was hailed as one of the first influential country rock albums. By the summer of 1970, their contract with Warner Bros. Records had lapsed. They were picked up by RCA-Victor and became the replacement hosts for Johnny Cash’s television show. Johnny Cash Presents the Everly Brothers aired on ABC Television.
Years of touring and recording had taken its toll on both Don and Phil Everly. Each brother had multiple failed marriages, declining health, and emotional issues. They briefly found new energy when recording the album Stories We Could Tell. A number of guest appearances by Ry Cooder, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Warren Zevon, and Delaney and Bonnie helped lift the brothers’ spirits. The album was a commercial failure, but is widely viewed as a musical success. The Everly Brothers went back to Nashville and recorded one more album, Pass The Chicken and Listen, before hitting the road on another extended oldies circuit tour. On July 13, 1973, Don Everly announced that the next nights’ gig would be his last. “It’s over, I’ve quit. I’m tired of being an Everly Brother.” On July 14, 1973, at Knott’s Berry Farm in Los Angeles, Don Everly was visibly intoxicated, introduced people incorrectly, and couldn’t keep time. Phil Everly walked off the stage in disgust and smashed his guitar. Don continued the show, singing incorrect words to songs and finished by addressing the crowd: “The Everly Brothers died ten years ago.” The brothers would not speak to each other for close to eleven years. Each had an unsuccessful solo career before reuniting in 1983. They chose London’s Royal Albert Hall for their first concert in over a decade because it was the last place they played with their father Ike.
Research: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Library and Archives – Collection on the Everly Brothers, Michael Ochs Collection, Jeff Gold Collection, Rolling Stone Collection, Ike’s Boys: The Story of the Everly Brothers – by Phyllis Karpp (Book).
The Rock Hall’s Library and Archives is free and open to the public. It is located at the Tommy LiPuma Center for Creative Arts on Cuyahoga Community College’s Metropolitan Campus. Visit library.rockhall.com for more information.
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