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Phil Everly was one of rock's first greats

Phil Everly died January 3 at age 74
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Phil Everly died on January 3, a couple weeks shy of his 75th birthday, which he would have celebrated on Sunday.

Along with older brother Don he was one half of the Everly Brothers, the first great duo of the rock era, and one that updated the sound of old-timey harmonizers like the Blue Sky Boys and Louvin Brothers with uptempo guitar riffs and lyrics where the biggest problems involved high school relationships rather than young men who drown their lovers.

Many of these songs - "Wake Up Little Susie", "Bye Bye Love", "All I Have to Do is Dream" - were written by Boudleaux and Felice Bryant and topped the pop and country charts.

By the time the Everlys switched from Cadence Records to Warner Bros. in 1960, country radio had stopped playing them (as it had for most of the early rockers), but pop still embraced them. Their Warners debut "Cathy's Clown", written by the brothers, went to Number One and became their biggest hit.

They had a few more hits for thte label, but by the mid-Sixties the hottest duo in the country was Simon & Garfunkel, whose first single (as Tom & Jerry) was released in 1957, the same year as the Everly Brothers' first chart-topper (the brothers would later sing on the title track of Paul Simon's acclaimed 1986 album Graceland).

Something the two pairs had in common was a growing mutual hatred. Like Paul and Art (or Sam & Dave for that matter), Phil and Don's tolerance for being in the same room together didn't extend much beyond the occasional concert performance.

Who knows if more sustained success would have made their relationship better - or worse? Their 1968 album Roots is regarded by many critics as one of the best of the country-rock albums that emerged in the late Sixties, but it failed to reignite their popularity the way Elvis Presley's television special did for him that same year.

Still, Phil Everly's voice will live on in some of the greatest singles of the Fifties and early Sixties, which can be heard on Rhino's 2-CD set The Definitive Pop Collection.

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