Don Everly, one of the most influential artists in pop-music history, died in Nashville on Saturday (Aug. 21).
His death at age 84 was confirmed yesterday by Variety, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, the BBC and other worldwide media outlets. As half of The Everly Brothers, he became an inaugural inductee into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The team is also in the Country Music Hall of Fame. The Everlys have sold more than 40 million records. They toured globally for six decades.
Don and younger brother Phil Everly (1939-2014) were famed for their spine-tingling vocal harmonies, The Everly Brothers were profound influences on artists ranging from The Beatles to Simon & Garfunkel. Their sound has been cited by The Byrds, The Eagles, Peter & Gordon, The Hollies, Emmylou Harris, Bob Dylan, Linda Ronstadt, The Beach Boys, Rodney Crowell, The Bee Gees and every harmony duo that has succeeded them.
Don’s driving, open-tuned, steel-string guitar work was also influential. Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones is among many who emulated it.
Don Everly was the writer behind such enduring songs as “Cathy’s Clown,” “So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad),” “(‘Til) I Kissed You” and “The Price of Love.” Both he and Phil also had solo recording careers.
Born in 1937, Isaac Donald Everly was the son of country entertainers Ike Everly (1908-1975) and Margaret Everly. He was born in the family’s home state of Kentucky. Phil followed two years later. He was born in Chicago, where Ike was working in local clubs and on WLS radio.
Former coal miner Ike Everly was an accomplished guitarist whose distinctive thumb-picking style was admired by Merle Travis, Chet Atkins, Mark Knopfler and many others. Don was mentored by his father from an early age, and made his debut as a radio performer in 1945 when Ike was working at KMA in Shenandoah, Iowa. He had a regular singing segment as “Little Donnie.”
The Everly parents and their sons turned their radio appearances into a family affair when Margaret, Don and Phil joined Ike’s act. Thus, The Everly Brothers became show-biz professionals in 1949, when Don was 12 and Phil was 10. The family relocated to WROL in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1953.
Ike contacted Chet Atkins in Nashville, who took an interest in Don’s songwriting. Atkins took the teenager’s song “Thou Shalt Not Steal” to Kitty Wells, who scored a big country hit with it in 1954. In addition, Anita Carter recorded Don’s “Here We Are Again.” After he graduated from high school, the brothers moved to Nashville.
Still shepherded by Atkins, The Everly Brothers signed with Columbia Records in 1955 and issued “The Sun Keeps Shining”/ “Keep A Lovin’ Me,” both Everly originals. The single went nowhere. Atkins kept plugging away on the brothers’ behalf. They were rejected by RCA and Capitol. But Justin Tubb recorded their song “The Life I Have to Live” for Decca in 1957.
Wesley Rose at Acuff-Rose Publishing signed the boys to songwriting contracts and took them to Cadence Records. Acuff-Rose staff writers Boudleaux & Felice Bryant supplied the Everlys with “Bye Bye Love,” to which Don applied a rollicking Bo Diddley beat. In the summer of 1957, it rocketed to the top of the pop, r&b and country charts. Backed by Don and Chet’s ringing guitars, the single combined the brothers’ hillbilly harmonies with the punch of rhythm & blues, a perfect distillation of the emerging rock & roll sensibility.
The single’s flip side also charted. Credited to both Don and Phil, “I Wonder If I Care As Much” has since been recorded by Dickey Lee, Johnny Winter, Robin & Linda Williams, Tracy Nelson, Andy Kim and more. In 1987, it was a country hit for Ricky Skaggs.
Although they effortlessly switched harmony vocal parts, Don generally sang lead, was usually the dominant songwriter and led the band. Phil’s electrifying high harmonies and “sock” rhythm guitar rounded out their thrilling sound.
The follow-up single to “Bye Bye Love” was the even bigger hit “Wake Up Little Susie,” again penned by the Bryants. Don once again wrote the flip side, “Maybe Tomorrow.” It was subsequently sung by Don Gibson, The Browns, Englebert Humperdinck, Richard Leigh and Del Shannon, among others.
In 1957-59, the Bryants supplied The Everly Brothers with additional major hit songs – “All I Have to Do Is Dream,” “Bird Dog,” “Devoted to You,” “Problems,” “Take a Message to Mary” and more.
The brothers continued to contribute their own compositions to the cause. The Everly-penned success “Should We Tell Him” of 1958 was revived by The Flying Burrito Brothers in 1990. Don’s “(‘Til) I Kissed You” was a top-10 Everly hit in 1959. The song is now certified as a Million-Air song by BMI, thanks to recordings by Tom Wopat, Kenny Rogers, Connie Smith (top-10 in 1976), The Angels, Johnny Rodrguez, Gary Lewis & The Playboys, Sue Thompson, Sandy Posey, Anne Murray and others. The hit single’s flip side was also a Don Everly song, “Oh What a Feeling.”
The brothers paused in their rocking and rolling to create their acclaimed 1958 LP Songs Our Daddy Taught Us. This eloquently gentle, folk/country collection was ahead of its time and an early “concept” album.
Between 1957 and 1959 the duo had eight million-selling singles. In 1960, the Everlys became the first artists to be offered a million-dollar recording contract when they signed with the fledgling Warner Bros. Records. Their presence on the label led to it becoming a major force in the music world.
Don’s song “Cathy’s Clown” became their first hit for the company. It sold three million copies, the biggest selling record of their career. It also became an evergreen, with recordings by Pat Boone, The Shadows, The Williams Brothers, The Springer Brothers, Neil Sedaka, Dee Dee Ramone and more. Reba McEntire’s giant country smash with “Cathy’s Clown” led to it being named BMI’s Country Song of the Year in 1990.
Phil provided the team with the 1960 hit “When Will I Be Loved.” Don followed suit by penning “So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad)” as the follow-up single. The song has since been a country hit for Hank Williams Jr. & Lois Johnson (1970), Connie Smith (1976) and Emmylou Harris (1983). It has also been recorded by Tammy Wynette, Del Reeves, Frank Ifield, Dillard & Clark, Mott the Hoople, Steve Wariner, Albert Lee, Louise Mandrell, Sweethearts of the Rodeo, Bryan Hyland, The Hombres and John Prine, to name a few.
Don’s “Since You Broke My Heart” (1960) has been reprised by The Searchers, The Chocolate Watchband, Terry Jacks and Dino, Desi & Billy. The Everly Brothers hits with Warners continued, particularly overseas. “Walk Right Back,” “Ebony Eyes,” “Temptation,” “Stick with Me Baby,” “Don’t Blame Me,” “Crying in the Rain,” “How Can I Meet Her,” “No One Can Make My Sunshine Smile” and “The Ferris Wheel” were big British Everly successes in 1961-64.
The brothers served in the Marines in 1961-62. Don was troubled, hospitalized and sidelined by drug and psychological problems in late 1962.
Both Don and Phil are credited with writing 1964’s “Gone, Gone, Gone.” It has been covered by The Ventures, The Surfaris, Crow and Fairport Convention. In 2007, it was a stand-out track on Raising Sand, the Grammy Album of the Year by Robert Plant & Alison Krauss.
The brothers’ composition “The Price of Love” became a No. 1 hit on the British charts in 1965. It has since been recorded by a myriad of acts, including The Move, Bryan Ferry, The Status Quo, Poco, The Highthawks, Roxy Music, The Cactus Brothers, The Kinleys, BR5-49 and Buddy Miller.
The Everlys continued to record for Warner Bros. throughout the rest of the decade. Their 1968 LP for the label, Roots, is regarded as one of the seminal country-rock records. In 1970, the siblings starred in a network TV variety series on ABC, Johnny Cash Presents The Everly Brothers.
A contract with RCA resulted in the albums Stories We Could Tell (1972) and Pass the Chicken and Listen (1973). The latter was produced by their old benefactor, Chet Atkins.
The brothers broke up in 1973. Phil settled in L.A. Don returned to Nashville.
Don issued his solo albums Don Everly (1971, Ode Records), Sunset Towers (1974, Ode Records) and Brother Jukebox (1977, Hickory Records). He made the country charts with “Yesterday Just Passed My Way Again,” “Since You Broke My Heart” and “Brother Jukebox” in 1976-77.
After a decade of estrangement, The Everly Brothers joined forces again in 1983. Their reunion concert in London’s Royal Albert Hall aired around the world on HBO.
Paul McCartney wrote their 1984 comeback single “On the Wings of a Nightingale.” It became their first music video. Don’s song “Born Yesterday” brought the duo back into the country top-20 in 1986, and it, too, spawned a hit video.
He also wrote “Asleep,” “Some Hearts,” “Be My Love Again,” “Can’t Get Over It” and “Three Bands of Steel” for the team’s 1984-88 comeback albums on Mercury Records. His “Following the Sun” and “You Make It Seem So Easy” inspired music videos in 1984 and 1986, respectively.
In 1986, The Everly Brothers were among the 10 debut selections for the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. Neil Young inducted the Everlys. Of their fellow pioneer inductees—Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, James Brown, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke and Little Richard—Don’s death makes Lewis the only one still living.
The Everlys final appearance on the charts was on a 1989 remake of “Ballad of a Teenage Queen” with Johnny Cash and Rosanne Cash. Heartaches and Harmonies was issued as their four-CD, boxed-set salute in 1994.
The Everly Brothers were given a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997. They were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2001.
In 2003-04, Don and Phil toured with Simon & Garfunkel nationwide. It was the farewell concert tour for the latter duo, whose career began in imitation of the Everly Brothers.
The siblings drifted apart again around 2005. Phil eventually settled south of Nashville, in Columbia, Tennessee. He passed away in 2014.
Four Everly Brothers tribute records were released in 2013. Norah Jones and Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong offered Foreverly. The Chapin Sisters issued A Date With The Everly Brothers. The albums Bird Dogs and What the Brothers Sang came from The Wieners and Bonnie Prince Billy & Dawn McCarthy, respectively.
One of Don’s last notable public appearances was when he joined Paul Simon to sing “Bye Bye Love” at the latter’s 2018 Nashville concert. In 2019, Don was voted into the Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville.
Don and Phil Everly have been the subjects of a theater musical, 1998’s Bye Bye Love. They have provided authors with the material for at least four books, John Hosum’s Living Legends: An Illustrated Discography (1985), Phyllis Karpp’s Ike’s Boys (1988), Consuelo Dodge’s The Everly Brothers: Ladies Love Outlaws (1991) and Roger White’s The Everly Brothers: Walk Right Back (1998).
Don Everly is survived by his wife of 24 years, Adela, his son Edan. and daughters Venetia, Stacy and Erin, once married to Guns N’ Roses singer Axl Rose. He is also survived by his mother Margaret Everly, who is 102. Funeral arrangements have not been announced.
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