Phil Everly’s voice could restart your heart, or stop it, especially when he harmonized with his famous other half, Don. The higher he harmonized with Don, the more awakened your heart and emotions became. It wasn’t even the actual message or story that had to be sung, it could be just the opening word to Little Richard’s “Lucille” that the captivating duo spellbindingly pined at their 1983 reunion concert.
Singer Linda Ronstadt, who made even more famous Phil Everly’s “When Will I Be Loved,” said that the Everlys “… had that sibling sound … you can get a sound (with family) that you never get with someone who’s not blood-related to you.”
Phil Everly’s voice and music with Don made people feel glad they were alive to hear their harmonic vocal perfection. His voice was the slightly higher tenor, while Don’s, more baritone. It’s been said that it was hard to distinguish one from the other — it’s easy to hear why. On record or on stage, their synchronicity sounded like a high-reaching voice and its shadow, conjoined at the voice box.
From 1957 to 1962, the boys had achieved their peak success with such time-honored singalongs as “Bye Bye Love,” “Wake Up Little Susie,” the sadder, yet melodic “Crying in the Rain,” the upbeat and innocent “Til I Kissed You,” “Birddog,” and the romantic “All I Have to do is Dream.”
The Everlys owe much of their stardom to husband and wife songsmiths, Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, who composed “Bye Bye Love,” “Wake up Little Susie,” “Devoted to You” and many more. Phil and Don could write hits also: “Cathy’s Clown,” “Til I Kissed You,” and “When Will I be Loved.”
They continued to write as a group, and as solo artists. They played guitars, as did their somewhat famous dad, Ike, back in Kentucky. He was quite the picker.
But the main instrument of the boys was their two-piece vocals, which together sounded like a third vocal instrument. That’s what largely inspired countless other singers and stars to follow. A few you may recognize: Simon and Garfunkel, The Beach Boys, John and Paul and their little ensemble, The Beatles, who referred to themselves as the Foreverly Brothers. Their influence carries on with current stars, like Norah Jones and Billy Joe Armstrong who just released a recording of the Everly’s second album songs.
Singing in harmony is one thing, but soaring high together on a melodically catchy and pretty tune is a beauty in itself. It’s an appreciation of the natural gifts possessed, the precision, the skill, but also, the brotherhood, echoing in agreement a sentiment, and a shared understanding of the song’s message or desired mood.
While Phil and Don, had their spats, one resulting in a 10-year separation (from 1973-83), they did communicate a love and admiration for each other in doing what they were born to do, sing and entertain. That bond, particularly evident in 1983, when they reunited for concerts at the Royal Albert Hall in London, was also a reason why audiences found them appealing.
A reporter once asked Phil what his most memorable experience was. He said it was the 1983 reunion concert with Don. Phil himself was humble, a gentleman, and as one of his fellow musicians put it, a man who was even sweeter than his music.
Listening to the beauty of the Everlys’ harmony still causes smiles, happiness and now, sadness of a void, of another reunion that will never be, and perhaps, will leave many fans cryin’ in the rain. Many could just dream for more, but we could not ask for more.
Thanks, Phil Everly, for sharing your gifts with us.
Charlie Cheeseman writes from St. John’s.