When British guitarist Albert Lee helped bring the Everly Brothers back together in 1983, he was satisfied with the prospect of a one-off concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall. That the reunion lasted for another 26 years was an unexpected, but pleasing, bonus.
“Their relationship was a little volatile at times, of course, and I thought, ‘Well, I wonder how long this will last?’ ” Lee, who served as the Everlys musical director from 1983 on, tells Billboard. “They hadn’t spoken in 10 years before they did that (London) concert. The fact that the following year they said, ‘Right, we’re gonna do a record and we’re gonna go on the road’ and it actually lasted was to my great surprise.”
Lee met the late Phil Everly in 1962 in England, after Don Everly fell ill and had to return to the U.S. He met Don the following year and struck up a relationship with both Everlys.
“I always loved their singing and the songs they did and the whole feel of the music,” Lee explains. “Throughout the 60s I’d always try to get to see them and really became friends after I began to spend more time in Los Angeles.”
After the duo broke up in 1973, Lee “became Don’s big buddy. We played local bars together, and he used to loan me his guitars. We did a short tour in the U.K., where I was singing with him, singing Phil’s parts, so I actually was an Everly Brother for a little while — kind of.”
And he’s confident Phil Everly was OK with that.
“Well, they weren’t speaking at that time. I don’t think he was particularly bothered by it; he was actually doing gigs at that time, too — maybe not that many, but he was doing gigs, and I’m sure he had a band member or two singing with him as well.”
Phil Everly died on Friday after a lengthy battle with lung disease. He was 74.
Lee’s friendship with both Everlys helped bridge the “difficult” personal divide to make the 1983 reunion show happen. But once the duo was up and running again the guitarist says he didn’t spend much time in an intermediary role.
“Oh, no, you daren’t do that,” he says. “They’d have words, but most of the time everything was fun. They’d get a little bee in their bonnet every now and again about one subject or another, but it would blow over pretty quickly. I think they realized they weren’t under the pressures that they were in the 60s, where the hotels weren’t so good and some of the clubs weren’t so good and it was post-Beatles when they were still trying to maintain a career. When they came back again in the 80s they were doing much better gigs.”
Once the reunion came to an end, Lee says he stayed in touch primarily with Phil, and Lee knew the Everlys were finished, though he “always hoped maybe they’d do a one-off special or be a guest on a show or something. But at the end of the last tour Don really wanted to carry on but Phil said, ‘No, no, no, that’s it.’ He was having problems reaching the high notes and Don wouldn’t change the keys, and he thought, ‘Well, I don’t need to do this anymore.’ The last time I saw him he said ‘God, I miss the old days. We used to have a great time. I loved being on the bus and being with the guys — but I don’t miss being on stage.'”