Sunday, August 29, 2021

Bye Bye Love

Early Everly Brothers, Phil standing, Don seated.

When Don Everly of the Everly Brothers died this week, it swept me back to midcentury America when the pop duo topped the charts from 1957 through 1962. It was a remarkable run that spawned a legion of schoolboy musicians like my singing partner John Ellsworth and me. More than any other act the Everlys propelled us into our five-year adventure in show business.

The Everlys' sweet harmonies spoke to us and soon we had covered all their songs. We'd sit in John’s living room, put a 45 on his record player and play a few bars, John would lift the needle and we’d hurriedly transcribe the lyrics and learn the song line by line. We’d find the key, hunt and peck for the chords and, voila, we had a new song in our arsenal. It was easy in the days of three chord compositions.

Steve, John and Toby Constance about 1962.

Whether in our short-lived rock period or in our three-year folk odyssey harmony was the heart of our music. That's thanks to Phil and Don Everly and later to the folk duo Bud and Travis. Bud Dashiell and Travis Edmonson had but one chart topper, On a Cloudy Afternoon, written by Edmonson. While the Everlys had 17 top ten records between 1957 and 1962. Bud and Travis's harmonies and mastery of the Mexican guitar inspired us as much as Phil and Don. From their songbook came much of our folk playlist along with a smattering of Kingston Trio hits and a handful of our own tunes. Even our stage name Kelly and John arose from our infatuation with Bud and Travis. At least one of us thought Kelly and John was more distinctive than Steve and John or, for that matter, John and Steve.

It’s hard to fathom that we were near contemporaries of Phil and Don Everly. Don was born in 1937 and Phil in 1940. My singing partner John and I were both born in 1941. With their musician parents the Everly Brothers began performing on the radio in the late forties. While still in high school they began writing and recording their own material. Then in 1957 at the ages of 18 and 20 they recorded their first hit Bye Bye Love. It was number two in the country. That was followed by 16 Top Ten Hits before the music stopped in 1963. The first seven hits were written by the husband and wife team of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant. Problems at #2 in 1962 was written by Don Everly, the first by one of the brothers.

That’s Old Fashioned in 1962 was the Everly Brothers' last top ten hit. And the 1984 song On the Wings of a Nightingale by Paul McCartney was the last Everly Brothers song to chart at all.

Ironically, the decline of the Everly Brothers can be attributed in part to the British Invasion led by General McCartney and the Beatles. But it was preceded by simmering disputes between the brothers and the Nashville behemoth Acuff-Rose which managed them. In 1960 they changed record labels and lost access to the music of the prolific Bryants who had written their first seven hits. Then, inexplicably, in 1961 Phil and Don joined the Marines. So, their production slipped, they couldn't tour and they no longer had the prolific Bryants contributing songs.

They toured successfully throughout the sixties, each released solo albums in the early 70s and broke up in 1973 when Don arrived for a concert so drunk he couldn’t play. After butchering the lyrics to Cathy’s Clown, a number one song he had written, Phil and Don argued on stage. Don threw his guitar down yelling, “I’m through being an Everly Brother.” Phil played alone for the rest of the set and shouted back at a sea of hecklers, “The Everly Brothers died ten years ago.”

Reportedly, Don had always felt upstaged by Phil’s sweet tenor voice. When, in fact, his driving rhythm guitar was as irreplaceable to the Everly Brothers sound as Phil's tenor and their soaring harmonies. He's reported to have said, “I’ve been a has been since I was ten.”

The Everly Brothers sang as if they were fused into a single body. Only one act other achieved that miracle, Simon and Garfunkel. Fittingly, when they played in London’s Hyde Park in 2003, Paul and Art interrupted their set by bringing Don and Phil on stage to sing. As Ray Connolly wrote in the London Daily Mail it was, “a generous homage to the sound they’d copied."


John Ellsworth said...

Wonderful, partner. Thank you.

Blacks Crossing said...

What a great tribute to the Everly Brothers, and history of the times, Steve! Another chunk of terrific writing. And who could not love the photograph of you, John, and Toby? One question: what is a stylus? There are many who follow your blog who may not know what that is. Dates us all. Today's blog provides a warm and fuzzy feeling with a dash of luck that we were part of the era and that the Everly Brothers (and Simon and Garfunkel's music) lives on! Reunion of your trio at some point?