Phil Everly died this past week and I’m devastated.
There’s a medical name for what killed him but even his wife says he pretty much just smoked himself to death. I suppose we’re lucky to have had him as long as we did; 74 years..most of them puffin’ away. In a brief statement about his younger brother, Don Everly, who lived life a lot more recklessly than Phil, said he was surprised it wasn’t him to die first. No matter. But if anybody deserved to keep taking deep, deep breaths so he could keep on singing those glorious high high notes, it was Phil
I know you’ve been reading a lot about how the Everly Brothers influenced so many of the major music icons over the years from The Beatles to Simon and Garfunkel and just about any group that can appreciate close harmony.
I can’t speak for anyone else but myself and the reason I was so crushed at the news of Phil’s passing is because the Everly Brothers are responsible in a big way for…well, just about every positive thing in my professional career both musically and in broadcasting. Wow..you say, that’s a bit of a stretch isn’t it Doug?
Well, let me try to explain.
I remember exactly where I was the first time I heard the Everly Brothers sing; riding in the front seat of our 1953 Mercury with my dad at the wheel and me fiddling with the radio. It must have been in 1957 because the song that came on was their first hit; “Wake up little Susie” and even though I was just a kid of 11, my jaw dropped. I loved everything about what I was hearing; the words, melody, guitars and especially those voices in tight harmony. We didn’t have much of a phonograph at home, but I managed to get that 45 recording on the Cadence label and play it over and over again until the needle had practically ground a rut through those remarkable voices. Like all kids in the fifties, my cousin, Lawrence (Grouse) and I both loved rock and roll and we were big fans of Elvis (of course) Buddy Holly (him more than me) Bill Haley, Little Richard and most of the other rising stars. Other than church choir, though, we didn’t do much singing together. Baseball was our primary preoccupation. But when we heard the Everly Brothers Grouse and I looked at each other and said..”That’s Us!”
We managed to talk our parents into spending money they didn’t have so we could buy guitars and amplifiers. We each had relatives who knew how to play so whenever possible, we’d glom onto them to show us chords and techniques..soaking up everything they showed us like a couple of star struck sponges. Whatever other money we could scrape together was spent on the latest Everly Brothers album and then practice, practice and more practice learning the chords and the harmonies exactly like..or as close to the record as possible.
We truly believed that as cousins we, like the Everlys, were genetically predisposed to have identical musical ears and a natural synchronized phrasing ability. In retrospect, I’m not so sure if that’s true. Our similarity in sound to the famous duo was more likely due to the hours upon hours spent listening to those recordings. Even falling asleep to them as Grouse and I spent countless overnights at each others houses..collapsing hoarse and exhausted from all the practice.
It’s here where my chronology gets fuzzy but, armed with about three Everly Brothers songs, Grouse and I entered a local talent contest. I’m not sure if it was Oh, Oh, Claudette or “I feel a brand new heartache comin’ on” that swayed the judges but we won the thing and then another. That led to performances at Farmers Union meetings, house parties, wedding and anniversary receptions and several other gigs. By the time we got into high school, Grouse and I had managed to form an actual band with bass and drums and were playing real dance jobs..including our own Sweetheart Ball at the Volga gym. We enjoyed a limited amount of popularity among our classmates..not because of our grades or athletic prowace but in the eyes of our peers we were the only rock and rollers in school and had the tall hair and swagger to prove it.
We played together in “The Fairlanes” “The Couriers” and “Kracker and the Krumbs” (silly attempt at trying to remain relevant) Eventually, Grouse went into the Army and I got married. We’ve both kept involved in bands through the years (Grouse was inducted into the South Dakota Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Scotty Lee and the Stingrays in 2012) and we still love performing on stage. Sadly, though, we are no longer able to belt out all those powerful Everly Brothers songs we did to perfection so long ago. I couldn’t hit Phil’s glorious high harmony notes again if my life depended on it.
But, oh, how I thank you Phil and brother Don for opening my eyes and ears to your magical music and daring me to dream, dream, dream. Because of you I know the joy of performing in a band and the thrill of entertaining an audience which has helped immeasurably to give me confidence not only on stage but in all walks of life..including and especially in front of a camera on TV.
Because of you I know the addiction of applause.
Rest In Peace and “Harmony.”