Saturday, June 9, 2012

Tribute to the Everly Brothers


The Everly Brothers are the most important duo in rock.  The enduring influence of their close, expressive harmonies is evident in the work of British Invasion bands like the Beatles and the Hollies, and folk-oriented acts such as Simon and Garfunkel, not to mention countless other artists.  
- Rolling Stone Magazine

Don and Phil Everly are known for their unique sound, underscored by their close vocal harmonies and steel-string guitar playing.  Their music can be characterized as an elegant blending of folk/country music with rock 'n' roll.  Art Garfunkel described the Everly Brothers as "Kentucky guys with beautiful, perfect-pitch harmonies  and great diction."  "All those vowel and consonants," he said, "those s's and t's, every one of them killed me."

Isaac Donald Everly was born Muhlenberg County, Kentucky on February 1, 1937.  His brother, Philip Everly, was born in Chicago, Illinois on January 19, 1939.  Their parents, Ike and Margaret Everly, were country/folk musicians.  In 1945, the family moved to Shennadoah, Iowa where Ike found employment at radio station KMA.performing 3 times a week.

Ike Everly, an accomplished guitarist, fostered a love of music in his sons.  He encouraged them to sing and he instructed them in the art of guitar playing.  When they were eight and six years old, young Don and Phil appeared with their parents on Ike's radio show.   KMA listeners knew the boys as "Little Donnie" and "Baby Boy Phil."  Margaret often sang with Ike and the boys to complete a four-part harmony and by 1950, the radio program was titled The Everly Family Show.

In 1952, the Everly family moved their show to another radio staion in Evansville, Indiana.  They only stayed there for a year, however.  Times were changing and radio stations were turning away from live programming because it was less expensive to play recordings.  In order to find work, the Everlys were forced to travel from town to town, performing at county fairs, political gatherings and revivals.   In September of 1953, they packed up their car and settled in Knoxville, Tennessee where a station hired them to sing for $90 a week.

When Don and Phil grew older, they left the family act behind and transformed themselves into a duo.  Guitarist and record producer Chet Atkins was a big fan of the brothers and he provided them with enormous support in the early days of their career.  Atkins, an acquaintance of Ike, secured a six-month contract for Don and Phil with Columbia Records.  In November of 1955, the brothers had their one and only recording session with Columbia.  The two songs they released, "Keep A' Lovin' Me" and "The Sun Keeps Shining" failed miserably and Columbia dropped them from its label. Nevertheless, fame and fortune lay just around the corner for the teenage duo.

Although Columbia lost interest in Don and Phil, Chet Atkins continued to lend his support to the brothers. He got them signed as songwriters with Acuff-Rose Music, the largest publishing company in Nashville.  It   was Wesley Rose (the Rose in Auff-Rose) who introduced them to producer Archie Bleyer of Cadence Records.  Bleyer was seeking country talent and he signed the a contract.

In 1957, the Everly Brothers released a single on the Cadence label.  The name of the song was "Bye Bye Love," a tune composed by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, a husband and wife team.  "Bye Bye Love" resonated with teenagers and it was a tremendous hit.  It had a 22-week run on the Billboard chart, reaching as high as Number 2.  The song had been rejected by many other music groups but it became the Everly Brothers' first million-seller.

Due to the popularity of "Bye Bye Love," the Everlys were able to taste stardom for the first time. On May 11, 1957, their longtime dream of performing on the Grand Ole Opry came true.  They received a rousing ovation from the crowd in Nashville.and more success lay ahead for the brothers.

Don and Phil reached the top of the pop charts with their next single, also composed by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant.  "Wake Up Little Susie" told the tale of a teenage couple who sneaked home late at night after falling asleep at a drive-in movie.  It was their second million-seller and it remained Number 1 for four weeks.  After recording "Wake Up Little Susie,"  the Everlys embarked on concert tour of 78 cities that ran from September 6 to November 24, 1957.  The blockbuster tour was tagged "The Biggest Show of Stars for '57" and it included such rock 'n' roll luminaries as Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran, Fats Domino, Paul Anka, The Drifters and Buddy Holly and The Crickets.

From 1957 to 1959, the Everlys churned out hit after hit.  They racked up six top ten hits on the American country charts and seven on the pop charts.  Two other songs written by the Bryants reached the top of the pop charts during those years: "All I Have To Do Is Dream" and "Bird Dog." As the 1960s began, however, a whiff of change was in the air.

The Everly Brothers left Cadence Records in 1960 over a disagreement concerning  royalties. They then signed a lucrative ten-year contract with Warner Brothers Records.  "Cathy's Clown," their first single under their new label, was an overwhelming success. That song, written by Don and Phil,, was their biggest selling single and it sold eight million copies worldwide.  The duo also scored hits with "When Will I Be Loved," (written by Phil Evely)  "Walk Right Back" (written by Sonny Curtis) and "Ebony Eyes." (written by Don and Phil).

In November of 1961, Don and Phil Everly enlisted with the Marine Corps Reserve. During their six months in the Corps., they had a hit record with "Crying in the Rain."  Their military obligations, however, prevented them from promoting the song with tours and club dates.  They were released from their service with the Marines on May 24, 1962. and their career began to slow down.  Their final top ten hit was 1962's "That's Old Fashioned."

On February 13, 1962, while in the Marine Corps., Don married his second wife, film and television actress Venetia Stevenson.  The ceremony took place in the chapel at Camp Pendleton, California and the groom wore his Marine dress uniform.  Only five days after the wedding, the Everly Brothers turned up in New York and made an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show wearing their uniforms.  In November of that year, Don collapsed on stage while rehearsing for a tour in Britain and Phil was left to finish the tour on his own.

On January 12, 1963, Phil married Jacqueline Alice Ertel, stepdaughter of Archie Bleyer of Cadence Records and daughter of  Bleyer's wife Janet Ertel.  Janet, who died in 1988, was an original member of The Cordettes, a popular quartet of female singers whose biggest hit was "Mr. Sandman."  Phil's marriage to Jackie Ertel lasted until 1970 and produced three children.

By the time of the British Invasion in 1964,.the Evely Brother's heyday was well over.  Beset by personal problems and a demanding performance schedule, their popularity declined sharply.  Don and Phil were also plagued with drug abuse problems.  They were both addicted to methamphetamine (speed) for a time.  In 1963, a troubled Don suffered a nervous breakdown. During this horribly dark period in his life, he attempted suicide.  He was hospitalized and later underwent electroshock treatments.

Don Everly and Venetia Stevenson divorced in 1970.  They had three children: Erin Invicta (born November 8, 1965), a former actress and model, daughter Stacey, an artist, and son Edan (born 1968), a musician. On April 28, 1990, Erin wed Axl Rose, lead vocalist of the hard rock band Guns N' Roses, in Las Vegas. Their short-lived marriage was annulled in 1991.  Erin claimed it was a nightmare of physical and emotional abuse.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, there was a growing discord between Don and Phil Everly. Their differences came to a head in 1973.  During a concert at Knott's Berry Farm near Los Angeles, an irate Phil smashed his guitar and stormed off stage.  He was furious because the show had to be stopped midway through the concert, allegedly due to Don's drunkenness.  Don later declared that the Everly Brothers had split and that they had "died ten years ago."  For the next decade, the brothers performed solo and their careers stagnated.

Don and Phil reconciled in September of 1983, after the funeral of their father Ike.  They reunited as a singing duo, toured together.and recorded some albums.  Ten months after their reconciliation, the Everly Brothers gave a highly publicized reunion concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London, England.  The concert was videotaped and televised on the Home Box Office cable network.  In 2003 and 2004, the Everly Brothers joined Simon and Garfunkel on their "Old Friends reunion tour.  They had previously sung background harmony on the title track of Paul Simon's Graceland album.

Don is now 75 years old and Phil is 73. They perform occasionally although they claim to be retired. Phil owns a musical instrument accessories company called Everly Music Comany.  The company manufactures guitar and bass strings designed by Phil and his eldest son Jason.

To watch a video of the Everly Brothers singing "All I Have to Do is Dream:" and "Cathy's Clown," click on the link below.


* Phil Everly was a pall bearer at Buddy Holly's funeral in February of 1959.  In September of 2011, Phil attended the ceremonial unveiling of Buddy Holly's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

* Don has been married four times and Phil has been married three times.  Don's first marriage was to Mary Sue Ingraham in 1957.  They had one child and divorced in 1961. His second was to Venetia Stevenson and his third marriage was to Karen Prettyman on May 6, 1975.  Don is currently married to Adela Garza, whom he met in a musician's bar in Nashville, Tennessee.  They wed in 1997.

* Phil's children are Jason (from his first marriage to Jackie Ertel) and Christopher (from his second marriage to Patricia Mickey which ended in divorce in 1978).  Phil has been married to Patrice Arnold since August 23, 1999).

* Axl Rose wrote his 1988 hit "Sweet Child O' Mine" for his then-girlfriend Erin Everly.

* The Beatles used "Cathy's Clown as the framework for the vocal arrangement of "Please Please Me."

Rolling Stone Magazine ranked the Everly Brothers 33rd on their 2004 list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Times.

* Don and Phil Everly are featured on a an  album by Don's son, Edan Everly.  The album, Songs From Bikini Atoll, was released in 2010.

* In 1986, the Every Brothers were included among the first ten artists inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

EDITOR'S NOTE (August 30, 2013):  Last evening, I saw Don's son, Edan Everly, on stage with Frankie Avalon at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto.  Edan, a singer and guitarist, and Frankie performed three Everly Brothers songs.  The songs were "Bye Bye Love," All I I Have To Do Is Dream" and "Wake Up Little Susie."

EDITOR'S UPDATE (January 4, 2014):  Phil Everly passed away on January 3, 2014 in Burbank, California due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.  He was 74 years old at the time of his death.

EDITOR'S UPDATE (August 22, 2021):  Don Everly died on August 21, 2021 at the age of  84.  

- Joanne


  1. So many inaccuracies and misinformation in this article I would caution anybody seeking information on the Everly brothers to treat this with great caution.

  2. I have presented this article as accurately as I could and have researched it carefully. If there are any factual errors or inaccuracies, I am quite willing to correct them, provided proper evidence is provided.