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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2014/02/26
by Mike Gruenberg

Remembering the Everly Brothers

In My Life

There was a time when the word “Beatles” referred to a bug whose name was spelled incorrectly. There was a time when everyone knew that a “Rolling Stone” did in fact, gather no moss. There was a time when using the term “The Eagles” meant looking skyward for majestic birds. There was a time when mentioning “Queen” referred to a monarch. But before any of the above words became synonymous with incredible music, the name Everly Brothers was linked to two men whose harmonies and style of singing were so unique that all of the members of the above mentioned bands at one time or another hoped to somehow learn from and emulate the brothers’ harmonic style of interpreting music. While the public readjusted their lexicons to recognize the new meanings of terms associated with rock groups, the name, Everly Brothers continues to this day to be the yardstick by which all harmonies by two singers are judged.

If ever the term, “the sum is equal to all of its parts” was applicable, then a picture of the Everly Brothers should accompany that phrase whenever the meaning of the phrase is researched. I was truly just a lad when I got my first Everly Brothers record. It was a 45 recorded on the small, New York based Cadence Records label. “Wake Up Little Susie” was the title and maybe because I had a friend named Susie or maybe because I liked the color of the label or maybe because it was such a damn good record, I played it continuously. Before Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel became globally known as Simon & Garfunkel, they were Tom & Jerry and their record “Hey Schoolgirl” was a semi-hit for them. It was no coincidence that Tom and Jerry sounded a lot like Don and Phil Everly. In this case, imitation was and is the most sincere form of flattery.

Listening to any Everly Brothers song was like listening to old friends singing familiar tunes at a family gathering. It was that “down home” feeling that seemingly transported their comfortable music feelings to wherever you were. I always felt compelled to sing along with two of them when I played their records. When I was old enough to drive, harmonizing to an Everly Brothers song in the car was a most satisfying experience because no matter how bad or off key my voice was, singing along with them made me feel as though I actually sounded pretty good.

Everyone is familiar with the story of the brothers. Encouraged to sing together from a very young age, the boys found stardom early on that small record company. As they achieved hit after hit on Cadence records the result was that instant fame and fortune soon followed. Teenagers like John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger and a whole generation of future rock stars listened to, imitated and idolized the Everlys before any of them ever walked into a recording studio. In 1960, the Everly Brothers left Cadence records for the bigger and more powerful Warner Brothers records and a string of hits continued to follow, but soon the hits stopped coming.

Sometimes fame and fortune is not what it’s cracked up to be. The brothers began to have disagreements over what songs to sing, which writers of songs to use or not use, accounting of royalty payments and the usual record company politics all of which added to the reality of being constantly together that made life for Don and Phil on the road and in the studio difficult for each to tolerate. Fame, drugs and ego are a nasty combination for these young stars and it fueled the basis for a contentious relationship between Don and Phil for the majority of their professional life together. Behind the beautiful harmonies were demons that both men had difficulty to control.

In January of this year, Phil Everly passed away at age 74. Having been a fan of the Everly Brothers from my early record buying days right up to the present, I wanted to pay homage to them, relive some of my memories of them and list some of the songs sung by Don and Phil that meant something to me. This is not so much a “greatest hits” compilation, but more a recollection of songs heard by a fan of perhaps the most revered singing duo in the history of recorded music. By the same token, as great as they were, there some times when I scratched my head and just wondered how a certain record even found its way to the stores. So my Everly Brothers list will contain some “Hits” and some “Misses” although even when the brothers weren’t perfect, they still were better than most.

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Comments

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Barbara Bryden March 4, 2014, 09:50:25

Nice article. A good history and background. I grew up hearing the Everly Brothers on the radio while hanging out with my pals at the benches in the apartment complexes. They were the backdrop to my early days,before,when things were more innocent, before sex , drugs , and rock n roll.
I never get tired of hearing those early songs😊
Thanks for bringing me back and leading me forward to the present.

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