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Phil Everly, early country-rock music pioneer and influence, dead at 74

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Phillip "Phil" Everly, half of the legendary duo The Everly Brothers, died earlier today in Burbank, California. The cause was from complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

“We are absolutely heartbroken,” his wife Patti told to Los Angeles Times said, saying that the disease was the result of a lifetime of cigarette smoking. “He fought long and hard.”

The early recordings of Everly with his brother Don, in the 1950s and early 1960s, had a profound influence on the entire generation of musicians who followed. Among those who covered the duo’s material included The Beatles, The Who, Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, Linda Ronstadt, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Gram Parsons, Robyn Hitchcock and Grant Lee Phillips, and Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe of Rockpile, among many others.

Warren Zevon worked with the duo early in his career, and reportedly obliquely wrote about them in his song, “Frank and Jesse James,” featuring harmonies by Phil. Paul Simon used the Everlys harmonies on the title song from his 1986 album, “Graceland.” Edmunds and Paul McCartney contributed to the brothers’ comeback effort, “EB ’84,”and the former Fab mentioned “Phil and Don” in his 1976 Wings hit, “Let ‘Em In.”

The ups and downs of the duo’s careers will most likely be chronicled elsewhere, so I’ll just share my personal experiences. The Everly’s music was easy for a young Beatles fan like me to love. The songs rocked, but not too hard, and the glorious harmonies were not all that different from those of the Fab Four. Their biggest hits, “Bye Bye Love” and “Wake Up Little Susie,” somehow infiltrated my world, and the joy and humor infused in their adolescent escapades of woe weren’t lost on me. The duo were staples on television variety shows back when rock music was a rarity, and I never missed an episode of their summer series.

I saw them on their last proper tour before they retired from the road, and again with Simon and Garfunkel just over ten years ago. In both cases, it was as if time had stood still, with their voices and harmonies intact, taking me back to a past I barely knew. Art Garfunkel covered "Let It Be Me" with one of his sons on his recent tour.

Years ago, I bought a poor quality hits import LP compilation, along with more contemporary fare. When Collector’s Choice reissued much of their Warner Brothers releases in 2005, I scooped most of them up. Just a few weeks ago, I found a used, pristine, vinyl copy of “A Date With the Everly Brothers” in Vitaphonic High Fidelity. I was researching the album online just the other day while listening to it, then mindlessly went from album to album, revisiting LPs made in the 1960s, including one made with The Hollies.

Just now, on the way home in the car, I was listening to Bob Dylan’s “Self Portrait” through my phone when “Take Me As I Am” came on, and I once again reflected on the legacy of the Everlys. While waiting for “Woogie Boogie” to end, I checked my email.

That’s when I heard.

Keep up with Harold’s Performing Arts Examiner news columns. Just click on Subscribe above, or follow @DylanExaminer on Twitter. Harold Lepidus also writes the Bob Dylan column for Examiner.com. Thanks for your support.

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