Friday, January 3, 2014

The Late Great Phil Everly

Phil and Don Everly
Legendary singer and musician Phil Everly of The Everly Brothers died today at the age of 74. The cause was complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. As one half of The Everly Brothers with his older brother Don, Phil Everly was a pioneer in rock and roll music. Their distinctive harmonies in their songs would have a lasting influence on artists as diverse as The Beach Boys, The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, and Cheap Trick.

Phil Everly was born on 19 January 1939 in Chicago, Illinois. His brother Don had been born two years earlier in Brownie, Kentucky. Their parents were Ike and Margaret Everly, country music stars famous in the Midwest.  The two had moved from Kentucky to Chicago to pursue music opportunities in the music industry. It was there that Phil Everly was born on 19 January 1939. Not long after Phil's birth, the Everlys moved to Iowa where Phil Everly got his own radio show on KMA in Shenandoah, Iowa.  Young Don and Phil would participate in the radio show and it was in 1945 that Don and  Phil made their singing debuts on the programme. As teenagers Don and Phil Everly left for Nashville to pursue their own career in music. The two of them were hired as songwriters for Roy Acuff's publishing company. The first hit Don Everly ever wrote would then be "Thou Shalt Not Steal", sung by Kitty Wells. "Thou Shalt Not Steal" went to number 14 on the Billboard country music chart in 1954.

It was in 1956 that The Everly Brothers recorded their first single, the country song "Keep A-Lovin' Me" on the Columbia label. The song failed to chart. In 1957 they signed with the Cadence label.  Their second single, "Bye Bye Love", was released in March 1957 and turned out to be a smash hit. The song went to #2 on the Billboard singles chart and #1 on the Billboard country music chart. It also proved to be a hit in the United Kingdom, where it peaked at #6. If anything their follow up to "Bye Bye Love" would be an even bigger hit. Released on 2 September 1957, "Wake Up Little Susie" went to #1 on the Billboard singles chart and #1 on the Billboard country music chart. It also went to #2 in the United Kingdom.

Over the next several years The Everly Brothers would have a string of hits. They would hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with "All I Have to Do Is Dream" and "Cathy's Clown". "Bird Dog", "Devoted to You", "Problems", "(Till) I Kissed You", "Let It Be Me", "When Will I Be Loved", "So Sad", "Walk Right Back", "Ebony Eyes" "Crying in the Rain", and "That's Old Fashioned" all hit the top ten of the Billboard Hot 100. If anything The Everly Brothers were bigger in the United Kingdom than they were in the United States. In the United Kingdom they had six #1 singles alone.

In 1960 The Everly Brothers left Cadence for the Warner Brothers label for what was reported at the time to be a ten year, $10 million contract. Their hit song "Cathy's Clown" would be the first song released on the Warner Brothers label in the United Kingdom. In November 1961 both Don and Phil Everly enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. For a six month period, then, The Everly Brothers were out of the public eye. their appearance on the 18 February 1962 edition of The Ed Sullivan Show (where they performed "Jezebel" and "Crying in the Rain") was one of the few public appearances they made during the time.

Unfortunately The Everly Brothers' career stalled n the United States in 1962. Their last top ten hit on the Billboard Hot 100 would be "That Old Fashioned" early in the year. Afterwards they would only have two  more top forty hits in the United States  (in 1964 Gone, Gone, Gone", which went to #31, while in 1967 "Bowling Green" went to #40). While The Everly Brothers' career stalled in the U.S., they continued to have hits in the United Kingdom until 1965.

While The Everly Brothers' career stalled in 1962 in the United States and 1965 in the United States, they would still prove to be a creative force in music. Their 1966 album Two Yanks in England was recorded with The Hollies and blended The Everly Brothers' earlier style with that of the British Invasion bands. With The Everlys' trademark harmonies and The Hollies' jangly guitars, the album would prove to be crucial in the development of the genre of power pop (a genre upon which The Everly Brothers already had a pivotal influence).  Their 1968 album Roots is often considered one of the earliest examples of country rock.

Unfortunately, despite The Everly Brothers' continued influence on popular music, their contract with Warner Brothers was allowed to expire after years without hit records. The Everly Brothers then signed with RCA Victor in 1971. It was that year that they also had their own summer television replacement show, The Everly Brothers Show, on CBS.

The two albums that The Everly Brothers issued on RCA Victor did not prove successful. Tension between the brothers had been high for years and in 1973 they announced that they would take time off from performing. At a concert performed at Knotts Berry Farm on 14 July 1973 it soon became obvious The Everly Brothers would not be recording together any time soon. The two argued between each other on stage until Don finally left with the words, "I'm through being an Everly Brother!" Phil finished the concert by himself.

Afterwards the Everlys each embarked on solo careers. Phil Everly's first solo album, Star Spangled Springer, was released in 1973, as well as the singles "God Bless Older Ladies (For They Made Rock and Roll)" and "The Air That I Breathe" (later covered by The Hollies). He would release a few more solo albums: Phil's Diner in 1974, Mystic Line in 1975, Living Alone in 1979, and Phil Everly in 1983. He would also have a few minor hits in the United States over the years. In 1980 "Dare to Dream Again" went to #9 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart, while in 1982 "Who's Gonna Keep Me Warm" went to #37 on the Billboard country chart. In the United Kingdom Phil Everly hit the top ten on the singles chart with "She Means Nothing to Me", performed with Cliff Richard, in 1982. During this period Phil Everly also wrote  "Don't Say You Don't Love Me No More" for the Clint Eastwood film Every Which Way But Loose (1978), as well as "One Too Many Women In Your Life" for its sequel, Any Which Way You Can (1980).

It was in 1983, around ten years after their break up, that The Everly Brothers reunited. They performed a reunion concert at  the Royal Albert Hall in London on 23 September 1983. Both a live album recorded from the concert and a video of the concert performed fairly well on the charts. The Everly Brothers recorded three more albums together: EB 84 in 1984,   Born Yesterday in 1986, and Some Hearts in 1988. The Everly Brothers recorded no more studio albums, although they continued to tour together.

They also recorded with other artists, appearing on Johnny Cash's 1989 single "Ballad of a Teenage Queen". Phil Everly sung a duet with Dutch recording star René Shuman on her 1990 song "On Top of the World". Together Don and Phil Everly performed the song cold for  a concept album based on Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jim Steinman's musical Whistle Down the Wind.  In 2003 and 2004 The Everly Brothers toured with Simon & Garfunkel during the latter duo's Old Friends reunion tour. In 2006 Phil Everly performed the song "Sweet Little Corinna" with country singer Vince Gill .

It is no exaggeration to say that The Everly Brothers were among the most influential rock 'n' roll artists of all time. Their close vocal harmony, with Don usually taking the baritone part and Phil the tenor part (with a few notable exceptions). This would prove to have a lasting impact on rock music as a whole. The Everly Brothers would be a huge influence on The Beatles, who would employ Everly style harmonies in many of their early songs. Indeed, The Everly Brothers would have an influence on the British Invasion bands as a whole. Indeed, The Hollies may owe The Everly Brothers an even greater debt than The Beatles do. Other British groups were also influenced by The Everly Brothers, including Freddie and The Dreamers, Peter and Gordon, Herman's Hermits, and others. Of course, The Everly Brothers would also have a lasting impact on bands in their native United States. The Beach Boys, The Byrds, and Simon & Garfunkel all utilised harmonies of the sort employed by The Everly Brothers.

Indeed, such was The Everly Brother's influence that they played a role in the creation of at least one subgenre of rock music. Power pop can be described as the harmonies of The Everly Brothers blended with the melodies of Buddy Holly and mixed with the pure electric guitar sound of Chuck Berry (with guitar riffs figuring prominently). Indeed, The Everly Brothers themselves would performed what could be considered early power pop (or proto-power pop) on their album Two Yanks in England. Everly Brothers style harmonies can be heard throughout the history of power pop, from Cheap Trick in the Seventies to Enuff Z'Nuff in the Eighties to The Posies in the Nineties, and to Fountains of Wayne in the Naughts.

Of course, The Everly Brothers influenced more than the subgenre of power pop. They had a huge impact on folk rock, with both The Byrds and Simon & Garfunkel owing them a huge debt. They were also fundamental in the development of country rock. They recorded one of the earliest country rock albums (Roots) and as a result would have an impact on artists as varied as The Eagles and Lucinda Williams. In the end it would be hard to find a subgenre of rock music that was not influenced by The Everly Brothers.

Along with his brother Don, Phil Everly was part of a revolution that would change popular music forever. It was not so simple as inspiring a number of imitators. Instead The Everly Brothers were largely responsible for the creation of whole new subgenres of rock and roll. Without The Everly Brothers it seems quite likely that The Beatles, The Hollies, The Byrds, Simon & Garfunkel, and many other groups would not exist, at least as we know them. The Everly Brothers still hold the record for the most singles from a duo to hit the Billboard Hot 100. It seems quite likely they were the most influential duo in rock and roll as well.

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