As the music world mourns the passing of Phil Everly this past Friday, the impact of Phil and brother Don on the world of country music simply can’t be ignored.
Inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001, the Everlys’ roots run deep in the format. Don was born in Kentucky and Phil in Chicago, but music took them to many places as youngsters due to the fact that their father, Isaac Milford “Ike” Everly, made his living as a musician, playing with artists such as Merle Travis. Along with their mother, Margaret, the Everlys had a radio show on KMA and KFNF in Shenandoah, Iowa in the 1940s. During their teenage years, the family would move to Knoxville – where the brothers performed on local station WNOX.
It was in Knoxville that they commanded the attention of Chet Atkins, who helped the Everlys gain a recording contract with Columbia Records. However, their only release for the label, “Keep A’ Lovin Me,” did not chart – and the brothers were quickly dropped from the roster of the label. Atkins continued to encourage the brothers, and helped them gain the attention of Wesley Rose – who signed them to Acuff / Rose as songwriters. That helped them land a deal with Cadence Records.
It took little time for their music to hit this time. Their debut single for the label, “Bye Bye Love,” became an across-the-board hit, topping the country charts. It also was their first million seller, though there would be more. “Wake Up Little Susie,” their next release, would top the country, pop, and R&B charts, and would help them to gain an invitation to join the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. As the hits continued throughout the decade, they topped the country charts twice more with “All I Have To Do Is Dream” and “Bird Dog.” Their final single to hit the country top ten was “(Til) I Kissed You” from 1959. The next year saw a label switch to Warner Brothers, where they were promoted almost exclusively to the pop market – though they did chart once more in the country world – with 1961’s “Ebony Eyes,” which peaked at No. 25.
The brothers continued to record and tour through their well-publicized breakup in 1973 at Knott’s Berry Farm. Embarking on a solo career, Phil charted three times as a solo artist from 1980-1982, with “Who’s Gonna Keep Me Warm” being his biggest hit, peaking at No. 37 for Capitol Records.
Phil and Don reunited in 1983 with a concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London, which in turn led to their first album together in over a decade – “EB ’84.” Produced by Dave Edmunds for Mercury, the Everlys placed five more records on the country charts in the mid 80s, with “Born Yesterday” becoming their first top-20 record in 27 years. They appeared on the charts for the last time in 1989, adding vocals to a Johnny Cash remake of “Ballad Of A Teenage Queen,” (which also featured Rosanne Cash), which made it to No. 45.
|Phil Everly + Vince Gill|
In 2006, Phil made one of his last recordings, appearing on Vince Gill’s “These Days.” The song, “Sweet Little Corrina,” definitely hearkened back to the classic Everly Brothers sound.
A look into the catalog of the Everlys shows their lasting influence on the format, with covers of their hits from artists such as Connie Smith (“Til I Kissed You”), Willie Nelson (“Let It Be Me”), Anne Murray (“Walk Right Back”) and Reba McEntire, who topped the charts in 1989 with a cover of “Cathy’s Clown.”