Iconic Superstar Phil Everly Dead At Age 74

Phil Everly

Phil Everly

Phil Everly, one of the most influential singers and songwriters in modern music history, has died.

As the high-harmony voice in The Everly Brothers, he co-created a body of work that has become timeless. The Everlys are members of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. Their work influenced The Beatles, The Eagles, Simon & Garfunkel, The Hollies and virtually every other harmony-singing group since the 1950s. They were among the first to take Nashville music around the world.

Phil Everly, born in 1939, and his older brother Don Everly, born in 1937, were the sons of country radio entertainers Ike and Margaret Everly. The brothers began singing with their parents as children and were regulars on radio by 1949. During his radio debut at age 6, Phil was billed as “Baby Boy Phil.”

Ike Everly was a guitarist of great skill and became friends with fellow country guitarist Chet Atkins. Atkins took the boys under his wing in 1954 and urged them to move to Nashville. Guided by Atkins, the Everlys recorded as a country act for Columbia Records in 1955. The resulting discs went nowhere.

Publisher Wesley Rose took the duo to Cadence Records in 1957. He signed the Everlys as songwriters to Acuff-Rose Publishing and introduced them to the songs of the company’s Boudleaux & Felice Bryant. With Atkins by their side in the studio, the team recorded the Bryants’ “Bye Bye Love” in a rockabilly style. The record became a country and pop smash and led to cast membership at the Grand Ole Opry.

The Everly Brothers (L: Phil, R: Don)

The Everly Brothers (L: Phil, R: Don)

Hitting the road on rock ‘n’ roll package shows made the Everlys’ Opry tenure a brief one. In 1957-60, they issued the rocking “Wake Up Little Susie,” “Claudette,” “Problems” and “Poor Jenny,” as well as such enduring ballads as “All I Have to Do Is Dream,” “Devoted to You” and “Let It Be Me.”

Both brothers developed as songwriters. Phil Everly’s rocking “When Will I Be Loved” was a hit for the duo in 1960. It has since been revived by dozens of artists, including Linda Ronstadt (1975), Vince Gill (1994) and Fleetwood Mac (1995).

When The Everly Brothers signed with Warner Bros. Records in 1960, it marked the first million-dollar recording contract in history. During the next five years, the team racked up such hits as “Cathy’s Clown,” “So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad),” “Walk Right Back,” “Ebony Eyes,” “Stick With Me Baby,” “Crying in the Rain,” “That’s Old Fashioned” and their co-written “Gone, Gone, Gone.” Both “Stick With Me Baby” and “Gone, Gone, Gone” were revived in 2007 by Alison Krauss & Robert Plant.

Don and Phil Everly also co-wrote 1965’s “The Price of Love.” Like many of their songs, it became a huge hit in England. It has since been recorded by The Move, The Status Quo, Bryan Ferry, Poco, Roxy Music, BR5-49, Buddy Miller and more.

Over the years, the Everly hit catalog has been re-recorded by hundreds of artists. Emmylou Harris, Connie Smith, Tanya Tucker, Gram Parsons, NRBQ, Webb Pierce, The Who, Ricky Skaggs, Don Gibson, Del Shannon, Anne Murray, The Searchers, Reba McEntire, Pat Boone, Hank Williams Jr., Mott the Hoople, Steve Wariner, Sweethearts of the Rodeo, John Prine, The Ventures and Bob Dylan have all sung their songs. The current album by Billy Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones is a re-creation of the 1958 Everly Brothers album Songs Our Daddy Taught Us.

Phil Everly & son, Jason

Phil Everly and son Jason

The widely acclaimed 1969 LP Roots brought the duo back into the spotlight, and they starred in a 1970 TV series that was the summer replacement for The Johnny Cash Show. The brothers split up in 1973.

Phil Everly issued such critically applauded solo albums as 1973’s Star Spangled Springer. Produced by Duane Eddy, that collection introduced “The Air That I Breathe,” later a hit for The Hollies. Phil’s Diner (1974), Mystic Line (1975, featuring Warren Zevon), Living Alone (1979) and Phil Everly (1983) were all largely comprised of his original songs. The last named contained “She Means Nothing to Me” as a duet with British pop superstar Cliff Richard.

After a decade apart, The Everly Brothers reunited in 1983. Three albums for Mercury Records featured contributions from such admirers as Paul McCartney, Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, Jeff Lynne, Mark Knopfler and Albert Lee. Six singles from those LPs made the country charts, including McCartney’s “On the Wings of a Nightingale” and the 1986 hit “Born Yesterday.” They appeared in Nashville at Fan Fair in 1988. A year later, their version of Jack Clement’s “Ballad of a Teenage Queen,” recorded with Johnny and Rosanne Cash, was nominated for a CMA Award.

The Everly Brothers became inaugural inductees into the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, which is also the year they were given a star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame. They were given a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997. Their induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame occurred in 2001, as did both brothers’ election to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.

The Associated Press reported Phil Everly’s death on Friday night, Jan. 3. He died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at age 74 in Burbank, CA.

Funeral arrangements have not been announced.

The Everly Brothers performing on the 1970 Johnny Cash summer replacement show.

The Everly Brothers performing on the 1970 Johnny Cash summer replacement show.

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About the Author

Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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