Don Everly passed away a few days ago. His brother, Phil had preceded him by a number of years. Don came into the world as Isaac Donald Everly in Brownie, Kentucky, 1st February 1937. Phil, who was ever ‘the baby’ cruising in on January 19th. 1939 in Chicago, Illinois. In their inimitable way they changed the world.
Every so often an act comes to the surface that has that certain ‘something’ unique and timeless.
Don and Phil became children well used to the burgeoning world of local radio, and as their parents, Ike and Margaret were both performing musicians working the airwaves, the boys learned from being knee high, the art of the performer. It was a very different world then.
The Hillbilly Cat had not then exploded out of Sun Records in Memphis, and across America the rural population lived mostly off the land either in the cotton fields or wherever a sod could be turned, and music was the grist to the mill.
Folk music reached back to the early days of the settlers in the new world, when all too often the early ‘Prairie Schooners’ carried families and all their goods along the trails. At night, out on the trail, they would get together and make music. The instrumentation tended to be stringed instruments and a definite style became the way of things.
Ike Everly was a noted guitar player whilst Margaret took care of the vocals. Ike developed a finger guitar style quite unique. As he put it: ‘why play for a bass player when you have the fingers. The birth of the ‘flatpicking’ style. It was a land of opportunity and makin’ do.
In 1833 Christian Frederick Martin settled in Nazareth, Pennsylvania and saw the opportunity. When you carried all your worldly goods in a ‘Prairie Schooner’, a piano was too much of an encumbrance. The next step was logical. A guitar took little room and covered so much music. The fabled Martin guitar was born. Music lay in rich seams across the land.
Banjo Picker Uncle Dave Mason was the first to use the term ‘rock and roll’, a term more to be found in the New Orleans bordellos. The Blues ranged across the land and Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup is credited with the first rock ‘n’ roll song, ‘That’s all Right’. However many laid claim to the title, not least Rufus Thomas.
The young Don and Phil were turned on by all the sounds coming off the airwaves: the Carter Family, John Lee Hooker (whom I have backed at a college gig) and in particular the harmonies of the Louvin Brothers. Charlie and Ira Louvin left the Appalachians to sing gospel but more and more nudged into Bluegrass, courtesy of Bill Monroe. The Louvins continued to amaze and their songs were covered by Don and Phil, Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris and so many more.
Country music by its very nature, was unstable to say the least. Ira Louvin descended into alcoholism shot his wife and died in car crash. He never did things by halves. The last album with a horrendous cover showing Lucifer in flames was entitled ‘Satan Is Real.’
But the new country generation covered Louvin songs and attempted to reach their hiatus. I digress… our heroes went to Nashville with their Louvin sharpened harmonies to perhaps get some covers on their songs. They even landed a deal with Columbia just as rock ‘n’ roll was kicking in. It died the death.
Ike Everly contacted an old friend, Super Picker Chet Atkins. He contacted Acuff-Rose and got the brothers a writing deal. Wesley Rose opted to manage them and the only interested party was Archie Bleyer of Cadence Records. With Chet producing, they recorded ‘Bye Bye Love’ and the rest, as they say, is history.
Don’s playing was mixed with Joey Page and live, in later years, a tight rhythmic driving grove backed up by Albert Lee. Their vocals came thick and fast, with hit after hit and some written by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant. They have the most unique style in the world. So many artists, not least the Beatles, Eagles, Fleetwood Mac and Simon and Garfunkel (who based the whole S&G trip on the Everlys). It is a stupendous body of work and they amaze anyone who plays guitar, writes songs and lasts as long.
The bitter break up was at a concert, 14th. July, 1973. But I did see the reunion Albert Hall show much later. Some years ago, I went down to the Harrogate Conference Centre to say ‘hi’ to Ralph McTell. He was on a few gigs with the Everly Bros. Suffice it to say I met Don and Phil and they signed a J.200 guitar for me. A classic moment in my life.
Chris Simpson, August 26, 2021.