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Info 101: Musicbits 59: Phillip "Phil" Everly (1939-2014)

Phil Everly (L) and his brother Don performing in New York.  Phil's voice was silenced earlier this year.
Phil Everly (L) and his brother Don performing in New York. Phil's voice was silenced earlier this year.
CCASA 3.0 Unported: 2014: Ronzoni (own work).

Phil Everly died just over two weeks ago on Jan. 3, 2014. He fell victim to complications attributed to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease brought on by a lifetime of smoking. Phil, along with his brother Don, were better known as the Everly Brothers. Their tightly rehearsed vocal harmonies and upbeat catchy hooks formed the basis of their music, music which influenced many future stars at the time.

The duo started by singing with their family on their father's radio shows in Shenandoah, Iowa, when the boys were very young. Chicago-born Phil was the younger of the two. The family moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, where the brothers graduated high school and went on to attend Indiana State University. They continued to sing together and caught the attention of guitar legend Chet Atkins.

Atkins signed them to Columbia Records but their only single for the label was a flop. Still having Atkins' encouragement, they signed with the Cadence label founded by Archie Bleyer, former musical director for Arthur Godfrey. Their first single there, "Bye-Bye Love", climbed to No. 2 on the pop charts, held back only by Elvis Presley's "Teddy Bear". It did, however, hit No. 1 on the country charts. It was just the beginning of a long list of hits for Cadence and later for Warner Brothers.

The Everly's toured extensively with Buddy Holly and the Crickets during 1957-58. Holly penned the song "Wishing" for them. Holly's death in February of 1959 was a devastating blow to both brothers. Phil was one of Holly's pallbearers but Don was too distraught to even attend, taking to hiding in his bed for a long time.

The Everly's rode a chain of hits into the 1960s, including "Wake Up Little Susie", "All I Have to do is Dream", "(Till) I Kissed You", "Bird Dog", "Cathy's Clown", "Crying in the Rain" and "When Will I Be Loved". Troubles with their manager led to them being cut off from major songwriters (including themselves) and these problems were the beginning of a long decline for the duo. Ironically, several of the musicians they'd influenced (including The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel and the BeeGees) would begin replacing the Everly's on the charts. Their decline was so severe that, from 1973-83, they didn't even speak to each other except at their father's funeral.

Phil wrote "Don't Say You Don't Love Me No More" and performed it as a duet with Sondra Locke in "Every Which Way But Loose" (1978). He also wrote "One Too Many Women in Your Life" for Locke in "Any Which Way You Can" (1980). Each brother did several solo projects and minimal touring but got back together in 1983. They recorded a live set to celebrate the reunion and recorded a Paul McCartney song ("On the Wings of a Nightingale") for the follow-up studio LP ("EB '84").

Their legend will outlive that brief reunion and the even briefer glimmer it sparked. Their material was still solid but not nearly as intense as it had been. Listening to the early recordings of the Everly Brothers is still one of life's great pleasures. Those harmonies erase thoughts of what could've been, replacing them with memories of what was.