With His Brother, Don Everly Had Lasting Impact on Music

Pop harmonies influenced generations, starting with the Beatles
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 22, 2021 12:30 PM CDT
With His Brother, Don Everly Had Lasting Impact on Music
Don Everly, right, and Phil Everly perform at Camel Rock Casino in New Mexico in 2000.   (AP Photo/Pat Vasquez-Cunningham)

(Newser) – Don Everly, half of the pioneering Everly Brothers, whose harmonizing country rock hits impacted a generation of rock 'n' roll music, has died. He was 84, the AP reports. A family spokesperson said Everly died Saturday at his home in Nashville. His younger brother, Phil Everly, died in January 2014 at age 74. In the late 1950s and '60s, the duo drew upon their rural roots with their strummed guitars and high, yearning harmonies, while their poignant songs—many written by the team of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant—embodied teenage restlessness and energy. Their 19 Top 40 hits included "Bye Bye Love," "Let It Be Me," "All I Have to Do Is Dream" and "Wake Up Little Susie." Performers including the Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel cited them as major influences.

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"The Everly Brothers are integral to the fabric of American music," Jerry Lee Lewis said in a statement, adding, "There's a lot I can say about Don, what he and Phil meant to me both as people and as musicians, but I am going to reflect today." Their songs appealed to baby boomers, and their deceptively simple harmonies hid greater meaning among the lighter pop fare of the era. The two broke up in 1973, then reunited in 1983, "sealing it with a hug," Phil Everly said. Although they had fewer hits by the late 1980s, they had successful concert tours in the US and Europe. They were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. "As a singer, a songwriter and a guitar innovator, Don Everly was one of the most talented and impactful artists in popular music history," said a statement from the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum; the brothers were inducted in 2001.

Don Everly was born in Brownie, Kentucky, to Ike and Margaret Everly, who were folk and country singers. The brothers began singing country music in 1945 on their family's radio show in Shenandoah, Iowa. Their breakthrough came when they moved to Nashville in the mid-1950s and signed a recording contract with Cadence Records. Their breakup came dramatically during a concert at Knott's Berry Farm in California. Phil Everly threw his guitar down and walked off, prompting Don Everly to tell the crowd, "The Everly Brothers died 10 years ago." In 2014, Don Everly issued a statement saying, "Our love was and will always be deeper than any earthly differences we might have had."

In 1986, he said in an interview that the brothers were successful in mixing country and rock 'n' roll, adding, "We never followed trends." Their impact on popular music was felt early and has lasted. They were role models to Paul McCartney and John Lennon, per the Los Angeles Times. "When John and I first started to write songs," McCartney said, "I was Phil and he was Don." More recently, Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones released a loving tribute to the Everlys on their 2013 collaborative album Foreverly. "You'd be hard-pressed to find a voice-blending rock act from 1957 on" that wasn't influenced by the Everly Brothers, music historian Ken Barnes once wrote, per Variety. (Read more obituary stories.)

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