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Don Everly - An Obituary

Don Everly – Singer, songwriter

 Born February 1, 1937; died August 21, 2021

 

Don Everly, who has died aged 84, was one half of The Everly Brothers, the honey-voiced duo who defined teen angst with a close harmony vocal style loaded with yearning. During their golden period, between 1957 and 1965, Everly and his younger brother Phil had twenty-eight hit singles in the British Top 30. Songs such as Bye Bye Love (1957), All I Have to Do is Dream (1958), and Crying in the Rain (1961) formed the soundtrack to many a post-hop heartbreak. With the passing of the years, the relatively innocent sounding tone of their records shrouded them in an ennui-laden haze of nostalgia.

 

In their heyday, the Everlys seemed invincible, belying the seeming fragility of their songs, which sounded like they were about to burst into tears any minute. Following their first hit with Bye Bye Love, they had a stream of chart toppers. Cathy’s Clown (1960) stayed at number one for nine weeks. Beatles John Lennon and Paul McCartney co-opted the harmonies of the song for their own composition, Please Please Me.

 

It was groups such as the Beatles whose raw reinvention of rock and roll made the Everlys suddenly sound cutesy and anaemically old hat. The psychedelic revolution too left them out of favour, while the fusion of Country and rock they helped foster left them behind. This was despite embracing its stylings on their 1968 album, Roots. 

 

Everly was the most mercurial of the siblings, both artistically and in his private life. His own songs included the tellingly named I’m Tired of Singing My Song in Las Vegas (1972), and he once told a CNN interviewer how “I had this haunted feeling all my life, of being odd man out.” As the hits dried up, he dropped acid, and hung out with Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix.

 

Gradually, however, the Everly Brothers’ unassuming delivery recognised as a major force. After years of estrangement between the brothers, a reunion concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London 1983 helped put them back in the musical pantheon. A new album, EB84 (1984), was the duo’s first in more than a decade. Produced by Dave Edmunds, it featured songs by Jeff Lynne and Nick Lowe, as well as On the Wings of a Nightingale, penned by Paul McCartney, perhaps paying back his and Lennon’s debt to one of their biggest influences.

 

Isaac Donald Everly, was born in Brownie, Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, to Isaac and Margaret Everly. His parents sang together, and his father played guitar. Everly  initially grew up in Iowa, where his father ran a radio show, on which he and Margaret sang. Their sons also appeared as Little Donnie and Baby Boy Phil, while the entire clan sang as The Everly Family.

 

The Everlys moved again, first to Knoxville Tennessee, where their sons attended West High School, and performed on local radio and TV shows. This caught the attention of Chet Atkins, a family friend, and manager of the RCA Victor Studios. The Everly family moved to Nashville, where Atkins and the studio was, and the boys cut a single, composed by Don, Keep a-Lovin’ Me (1956). Once Phil left school, the brothers began their musical career in earnest, and, after signing to Archie Bleyer’s Cadence label, released Bye Bye Love. The song had been rejected by a host of artists. The Everly Brothers made it their first million seller.

 

More hits followed, including Wake Up Little Susie (1957), and Bird Dog (1958). They toured with Buddy Holly, who advised them to smarten up their image, and in 1960 signed to Warner Brothers. As the 1960s British beat boom swept the Everlys and others aside, the brothers diversified, with Roots arguably their finest moment of that period. A solo record, Don Everly (1971), met with indifference, and a final appearance as The Everly Brothers saw Don finish the show alone after Phil smashed his guitar and stormed off.

 

Two more solo albums followed; Sunset Towers (1974), and Brother Jukebox (1977), and Everly had success in the Country charts with his band Dead Cowboys. He also recorded with Emmylou Harris on her 1979 album, Blue Kentucky Girl. After the reunion and EB84, two more Everly Brothers albums followed; Born Yesterday (1986), and Some Hearts (1988). 

 

The pair worked with Paul Simon on his 1986 album, Graceland, and appeared live with Simon and Garfunkel. Along with his brother, Everly was inaugurated into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in its inaugural class in 1986, and the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001. Phil Everly’s death in 2014 cut the final ties of an at times fractious but fruitful musical partnership.

 

Don Everly last appeared live as a guest of Simon during his 2018 farewell tour in Nashville. The pair sang Bye Bye Love, with Simon providing the harmony originally sung by Phil. Don’s passing leaves behind a bittersweet legacy of some of the most affecting songs of heartbreak ever recorded. 

 

He is survived by his fourth wife, Adela, and his four children; Venetia, to his first wife, Mary Sue Ingraham, and named after his second wife, Venetia Stevenson, with whom he had two daughters, Stacy and Erin, and a son, Edan. Everly is also survived by his mother.


The Herald, August 26th 2021

 

Ends

 

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