‘I believe that if they ever had a singing Olympics Donald and I would get (into the) top 3, if not win some gold. If you put us all together and let us have a sing-off, we could hold our own with anybody from any era. That maybe sounds a little prideful, but that’s what I believe.’
Phil Everly’s words to author and music historian Joe Smith will ring very true to anyone who listens to our compilation. All the tracks on it are half a century old, yet sound as fresh as ever. And the Everlys, teen stars of the late Fifties, are still performing today, defying the years and belting out their hits with as much youthful enthusiasm as two singers in their mid seventies can muster.
The fact is, of course, that the harmonies Don and Phil brought to the charts were widely influential on a generation of pop performers on both sides of the Atlantic. For most of their recordings, Don sang the baritone and Phil the higher tenor part. Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were just one of the acts than copied the Everlys, while Bob Dylan added to the praise by saying, ‘We owe these guys everything. They started it all.’
Don and Phil, who both sang and played guitar, had made their performing debuts when young on a radio show hosted by parents Ike and Margaret. When times got hard in the mid Thirties and Ike temporarily gave up music, he had become a barber; one of his customers was Boudleaux Bryant.
Bryant wrote 11 big hits for the Everlys with wife Felice between 1957 and 1960. It was their already-written ‘Bye Bye Love’ with which the brothers made their Billboard chart debut at Number 2 in March 1957. The pair wrote follow-up hit ‘Wake Up Little Suzie’ specifically for Don and Phil, and this hit the top of the charts in the US, making Number 2 in Britain.
The Everlys had signed to Cadence Records in 1956 and would remain with them for four years, in which they registered many memorable hits. Label boss Archie Bleyer had already turned them down, but his door opened after Wesley Rose, son of the founder of the mighty Acuff-Rose publishing company, became their manager.
Roy Orbison, who was beginning to make his name as a performer and songwriter, decided to pen a hit for the Everlys, then the hottest act around. He borrowed the cash to get to one of their shows in Indiana and, once backstage, played them ‘Claudette’, written for and named after his teenage sweetheart. The singing siblings released it as the other side of their 1958 US chart-topper ‘All I Have To Do Is Dream’ and the track – which kicks off disc three – made Number 30 in its own right.
Don and Phil had warmed up as songwriters by penning some B-sides, and late-1959 hit ‘(‘Til) I Kissed You’ came from the former’s pen. Jerry Allison and Sonny Curtis from the Crickets played on the session, and they’d tour Britain in 1960 backing the brothers, along with bassist Joe B Mauldin.
That year also saw the Everlys move to Warner Brothers for a record $1 million fee. ‘Cathy’s Clown’, their first single on their new label, topped the transatlantic charts. Cadence countered with the previously unreleased ‘When Will I Be Loved’, one of a stockpile of recordings left in the vaults.
Other hits included here include ‘Lucille’, a Little Richard cover that backed second Warners hit ‘So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad)’, and ‘That’s Old Fashioned’, the song that brought their presence in the US Top 10 to an end in 1962.
The Everlys’ fortunes faded with the coming of groups like the Beatles, who had been hugely influenced by their output. Yet they continued touring until the summer of 1973, when a flare-up on stage saw Phil smash his guitar and walk away. On the split, Don said: ‘I’m tired of being an Everly Brother. I still like to sing “Bye Bye Love” sometimes but I don’t want to spend my life doing it.’ Don and Phil reunited in 1983 after a decade apart.
The Everlys were among the first inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But Phil had never envisaged they would be around long enough to deserve such recognition. He told Joe Smith: ‘If I had to do it all over again, if I had known we were going to last, I would have laughed in their faces and probably had a better time.’ Use the timeless recordings on these three discs to have your own good time, courtesy of rock’s first and finest singing siblings.