Don Everly, the last of the pioneering Everly Brothers duo has died at age 84. At a time when Rock and Roll was barely underway, the Everly’s introduced a delicate harmony sound that was a counterpoint to the raucous sounds of contemporaries like Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry and Elvis. Not that they couldn’t produce rock, indeed they got some great sounds out of their acoustic guitars, in tunes like “Wake up Little Suzie,” the “B” side of “Bye Bye Love” both sides of which reached number one in 1957.
A glance at the Everly Brothers discography shows that for an act that enjoyed more than three decades of concert success, the period of recoding hit records only lasted about five years, starting in 1957. Most of the hits of this period were written by the song writing duo of Felice and Boudleau Bryant, who gave them “Bye Bye, Love,” “Wake Up, Little Susie,” “All I Have to Do Is Dream,” Problems,” “Poor Jenny,” “Take a Message to Mary,” and “Bird Dog.”
Don’s brother, Phil Everly, died in January 2014 at age 74.
“The Everly Brothers are integral to the fabric of American music,” said Jerry Lee Lewis in a statement. “With my friend Don’s passing, I am reflective … reflective on a life full of wonderful friends, spectacular music and fond memories. There’s a lot I can say about Don, what he and Phil meant to me both as people and as musicians, but I am going to reflect today.”
The Everly Brothers were major influences on the Beatles and on Paul Simon, who had an opportunity to sing harmony with Don Everly in 2018 when his tour reached Nashville where Everly lived. “Well that makes my night,” Simon quipped after the performance. “I got to be Phil Everly for a night.”
Although the hits dried up in the Early 1960’s the Everly’s were still a successful concert draw and they were especially popular in the UK and Europe. But the two broke up amid quarreling in 1973 after 16 years of performing.
During the duo’s time apart, this writer had an opportunity to interview Don when he came to Hamilton to participate in the popular music anthology series, “In Session,” which was taped at CHCH. Shortly after that session the two brothers reunited at a concert in the Royal Albert Hall in London. That was followed by a triumphal tour that brought them back to a show at Hamilton Place. Musically and vocally they had lost nothing.
They were inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, the same year they had a hit pop-country record, “Born Yesterday.” Two years earlier, they had success with the up-tempo ballad “On the Wings of a Nightingale,” written by Paul McCartney.
Don Everly was born in Brownie, Kentucky, to Ike and Margaret Everly, who were folk and country music singers. Phil Everly was born to the couple in Chicago, where the Everlys moved from Brownie when Ike grew tired of working in the coal mines. The brothers began singing country music in 1945 on their family’s radio show in Shenandoah, Iowa. Their career breakthrough came when they moved to Nashville in the mid-1950s and signed a recording contract with New York-based Cadence Records.