I had a chance to finish I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon and learned several things about the artist. One of them was the fact that Zevon served as the keyboard player for none other than the Everly Brothers as their musical director. His involvement with them continued on after their infamous Knotts Berry Farm Farm gig where Phil Everly smashed his guitar and walked off stage, thereby ending the most important vocal duos of rock and roll history.
Zevon later worked with both Phil and Don as arrangers for both of their solo careers, tip-toing around the brother’s mutual disdain for each other while trying to get a handle on his own fledgling solo music.
This was later in the brothers’ career, of course, and the fact that their last concert together happened in a friggin’ amusement park only speaks to the injustice of how America treats its national treasures the moment they’re no longer shiny and new.
The Everly Brothers would later get an opportunity to have a second act, this time with a mess of popular (then) current artists who acknowledged the brothers’ greatness with their own talents, content with merely sharing the stage with the pair that inspired them.
Paul Mc Cartney was one of those artists that contributed.
That should be a clear indication of how important the Everly Brothers were to rock music.
What wasn’t clear was how important the Everly Brothers were to my own upbringing. I noticed how woefully inept my own Everly Brothers collection was; it consisted of merely four songs-obvious inclusions-and it failed to reflect the proximity of the Everlys to my own early years.
For starters, I remember how one of my grandparents had a portable record player-you could fold the thing into a plastic case-which I dutifully used whenever I visited. The only trouble was that my grandparents had an unbelievably limited record collection. It was mainly a few 78’s that they had kept from the 40’s, music that was inherently foreign to me, having been raised on rock and roll from the earliest moments.
There was a leftover 45 from my Dad’s era, an original pressing of “Wake Up Little Suzie” on the Cadence label. It was an awful record. Literally. The acoustic introductions were overcome with que-burn and the center hole was broken in several places, making the 45 adapter worthless. I was forced to place the record directly on the platter of the turntable and eyeballed its appropriate placement to the spindle.
For about three years, I lived in a small town in Southwest Iowa called Shenandoah. The radio station was started by seed dealer Earl May (his garden center stores still dot the Midwest) who built a small media empire, complete with a radio auditorium where national acts would come to town and perform. One of those performers were none other than the Everly Family. They maintained their own show on the radio station (KMA-AM, “Keep Millions Advised”) and began their professional career in that small Iowa town.
Phil and Don stayed in Shenandoah until their early high school years, when they move to Knoxville, Tennessee, got the attention of Chet Atkins and the rest is history.
Because of my own history with Shenandoah, I was brought up on Everly’s lore. The Everlys and Johnny Carson (who grew up in nearby Corning) were continually name-checked, giving the otherwise sparsely populated area a much needed ego boost.
|Don't want your kisses, that's for sure.|
The Everlys were so highly regarded that a “Welcome Back” reunion was featured in their honor in the 1986. That’s my ex-wife as a teenager standing outside of the tour bus that they rode into town during the Independence Day celebrations. She used to work for KMA radio too, as did her grandmother, who scored a Marconi Award for her contributions to the radio industry. She told me that the brothers were rude and, supposedly mean to their mother who accompanied them for the trip, but I have no personal account of this.
Rumors aside, it’s pretty clear that their original success was vital to the development of rock and roll music.
There’s also a very real possibility that without the Everlys, The Beatles probably wouldn’t have existed. If anything, there is no doubt that The Fab Fours “Please Please Me” would not have been such a hit, as it lifts the sibling’s diatonic thirds harmony featured so prominently on “Cathy’s Clown.”
Except Paul and John had to practice at it.
With the Everly Brothers, it all came naturally.
Phil took the high notes while Don steered the lead with his baritone. You can’t help but remember that the Everly Brothers were apart for more years of their professional career than they were together. They hated each other only to the point where they couldn’t acknowledge their unconditional love for each other. They resented the fact that they depended on each other, but understood that their roles as elder statesmen of rock and roll afforded them the opportunity to ignore reunion requests. Paul Simon recalls how, after the effort he undertook in getting the brothers back together for a last hurrah, he was shocked to learn how Don and Phil hadn’t spoken to each other for nearly three years prior to arriving at rehearsals.
He also noted that, even after their lack of communication, the brothers effortless fell into their vocal roles, seemingly by instinct and as beautiful as ever. Sure the high notes weren’t so high and their baby faces had grown into a more grandfatherly appearance, but the glimmer of their magic history was still present.
They were the Louvin’ Brothers rock and roll cousins, a genetic marvel that declared that rock and roll music wasn’t all about rhythm and rebellion. You could get lost in their scales, studying something that was completely instinctual to them. And while my children probably have no idea about their impact, they most certainly enjoy a world that sound much more beautiful because of their presence.