Don Everly died last Saturday at the age of 84. His brother Phil died in 2014 at the age of 74.
Hall of Fame Inaugural Class: For those of us who were teenagers in the 1950s, the Everly Brothers were a big part of our introduction to the new genre of rock ‘n’ roll. How big? In 1986, they were part of the inaugural class of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Here is the list of performers in that first class:
The Everly Brothers
Jerry Lee Lewis
Rolling Stone cover, February 13, 1986
With the death of Don Everly, the sole survivor from the inaugural class is Jerry Lee Lewis (age 85). Below, the Everly Brothers with Jerry Lee Lewis and Ray Charles.
1957 “Show of Stars” Tour: On November 3, 1957, I was scheduled to see the Everly Brothers at the Kansas City stop of the “Show of Stars” cross-country tour. I don’t have a copy of the poster for the KC stop, but the lineup of stars was as shown on this poster for the Topeka stop two days later. The Everly Brothers are in the middle with the name of their first big hit, “Bye Bye Love.”
I attended the concert at KC’s Municipal Auditorium, but the Everly Brothers did not. Don had the flu, not that I remembered. My recollection of the date, Don’s flu and what I saw was refreshed by the Kansas City Star review of the concert.
The Star article reported that the concert started when Chuck Berry “bounded onto the stage with ‘School Days’ and the crowd suddenly looked as if it must have taken its Asian flu shots with juke box needles.” [Pandemic Trivia: In 1957 in Hong Kong, there was an outbreak of a virus that became known as the Asian flu. American virologist Maurice Hilleman quickly organized an accelerated program to develop a vaccine as the pandemic spread around the world. His program was successful and the rapid deployment of the vaccine was credited with saving hundreds of thousands of lives.]
In addition to Chuck Berry, I was fortunate that night to see two other members of the inaugural Hall of Fame class: Fats Domino and Buddy Holly (lead singer of the Crickets).
The rest of the bill included several other Rock & Roll Hall of Famers: Eddie Cochran (inducted 1987), Clyde McPhatter (1987), the Drifters (1988), LaVern Baker (1991), Frankie Lymon (and the Teenagers, 1993) and the Crickets (Buddy’s band, 2012).
Some of the other acts also provided big moments of rock ‘n’ roll history. Buddy Knox sang one of my favorites from high school – “Party Doll.” Paul Anka sang “Diana,” the name of my Van Horn classmate and friend-for-life (since we were 12), Diana Sullivan Brewer. Anka’s songwriting was bigger than his singing career. For example, he wrote the theme for the Johnny Carson Show and “My Way” for Frank Sinatra.
Lonnie’s Jukebox – Everly Brothers Edition: I still have some of the early Everly Brothers records. Below is a photo from the index to one of my record cases, neatly typed by a teenage Lonnie in the 1950s. Rita and I listened to these over the weekend and even did a little dancing. There are some minor hisses and pops as the needle plays the old 45-rpm records, but the sounds are still surprisingly good. Not bad after 60-plus years.
In 1954 and 1955, Bill Haley & His Comets blended their country swing with R&B to create an early brand of rock ‘n’ roll (“Rock Around the Clock” and “Shake Rattle and Roll”). This same path was taken by others such as Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis and the Everly Brothers. Don and Phil Everly combined their harmonies with guitar playing influenced by the likes of Bo Diddley, and a string of hits followed.
In May of 1957, when I was a sophomore in high school, I was introduced to the duo with their first hit, “Bye Bye Love” (peaked at #2). My well-worn record is shown below.
“Bye Bye Love” was written by the husband and wife songwriting team of Boudleaux and Felice Bryant. They also wrote the next big Everly Brothers’ hit, “Wake Up Little Susie,” which was #1 on the charts for four weeks in the fall of 1957. Showing their crossover popularity, the record also went to #1 on the country and R&B charts.
“Wake Up Little Susie” was a song about two teenagers falling asleep at the drive-in theater. “The movie’s over, it’s four o’clock…our goose is cooked, our reputation is shot…”. The song was banned by Boston radio stations for its supposed sexually suggestive content (reportedly on the order of the archbishop of Boston). This did not hurt sales of the record.
While running for president in 2000, George W. Bush told Oprah Winfrey that his favorite song was “Wake Up Little Susie” – the born-again Bush clearly not interpreting the song the same as the archbishop. But according to Rolling Stone, Bush got the artist wrong, attributing the song to his fellow Texan Buddy Holly.
The Everly Brothers followed with three more #1 hits: “All I Have To Do Is Dream,” “Bird Dog” and “Cathy’s Clown.” In all, the Everly Brothers had 15 Top-10 hits from 1957 to 1962, surpassed by only Elvis Presley (38), Ricky Nelson (19) and Pat Boone (18) in the early rock era.
The Everly Brothers ultimately faded in popularity as the record business was overtaken by the British Invasion. But they also deserve some credit for that. When the Beatles were searching for their own sound, they were strongly influenced by the Everly Brothers. As recounted in the 2005 biography The Beatles by Bob Spitz:
“That spring John and Paul gorged themselves on a bumper crop of fresh material…from American records…Initially there was almost an obsessive preoccupation with the Everly Brothers, whom the boys adopted as their ‘idols.’ They careened from one Everly hit to the next…including, as Paul noted, even some of the B sides…Their parts were custom made for impersonation. ‘I’d do Phil and John would be Don,’ he explained, recalling the flights of fantasy in which they performed the songs with exaggerated emotion, trying their best to imitate the brothers’ downy harmonies…From the beginning, John and Paul relied heavily on early recording heroes – most notably, the Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly – to give the vocals personality, then factored in their own distinctive tonal qualities for color and shading.”
The Everly Brothers were also a big influence on Simon and Garfunkel. From Paul Simon:
“Artie and I, we really learned to sing harmony by learning the Everly Brothers…Don and Phil, for me, are still the best of all duos – better than Artie and me, better than John and Paul – just astonishingly great. Their sound was something that we strived for, that kind of buzz that you get, you know, when the blend is just right. You couldn’t tell who was singing lead because both parts were so beautiful…”
The harmonies in their music did not always carry over into their personal lives. They had celebrated break-ups and reunions. There was even a court battle over the writing credit for “Cathy’s Clown.” But I’ll leave those details to history and move on to the playlist for today’s edition of Lonnie’s Jukebox.
“Bye Bye Love” – The original version was in 1957. This link is to their appearance in 2003 while on the Old Friends Tour with Simon and Garfunkel (photo below). Don and Phil also provided backup vocals for the title track of Paul Simon’s hit album Graceland.
“Wake Up Little Susie” – 1957. This was not the only song that year about teenagers at a drive-in show…
“Drive In Show” – 1957, by Eddie Cochran, one of the performers traveling with the Everly Brothers on the “Show of Stars” tour. The next year, Eddie hit it big with “Summertime Blues” where the Congressman tells his teenage constituent, “I’d like to help you son, but you’re too young to vote.” The national voting age was lowered to 18 in 1971.
“All I Have To Do Is Dream” – 1958. Written by Boudleaux Bryant. The flip side of the record was “Claudette,” the first major songwriting success for Roy Orbison whose first wife was named Claudette.
“Bird Dog” – 1958. Also written by Boudleaux Bryant.
Phil (left) and Don Everly (always on the right)
“Problems” – 1958. Peaked at #2. Video with dancing (like the scene below from my 1959 Van Horn yearbook).
“When Will I Be Loved” – 1960. Written by Phil Everly. Peaked at #8.
“When Will I Be Loved” – 1975 cover by Linda Ronstadt who took it to #2. Love this video.
“Cathy’s Clown” – 1960. Written by Don Everly. The duo took this to #1 on the pop chart, and Reba McEntire’s cover in 1989 went to #1 on the country chart. [Reba McIntire Trivia: Reba had a cameo reference in last week’s Ted Lasso.]
“On the Wings of a Nightingale” – 1984. I did not know (or forgot) about this song until I was researching for this post. It was written specifically for the Everly Brothers by Paul McCartney.
McCartney’s effort paid off. The Everly Brothers had not charted a record since 1968, and this one was a modest hit, peaking at #50. It was their last single to chart. The video for the song is priceless. For many of us in high school in the 1950s, the dream was to own one of the hot new Chevys. The first Chevrolet with a V-8 engine came out in 1955, and the models of 1955, 1956 and 1957 were extremely popular (but not in the budget of teenagers). The video shows Don and Phil salvaging and rebuilding a Chevrolet Bel Air convertible from 1957, the year of their first hit.
Bye Bye Phil and Don.