When I heard singer Phil Everly had died earlier this month, I had one of those, "Oh, I'm really getting old" moments.
Phil, who was 74, and his older brother, Don, the brother duo that is accorded legendary status in the rock 'n' roll pantheon, were a big part of my youth, going way back to like fourth grade in 1957-58.
I guess most people who grew up in the 1950s would remember the Everly Brothers and their hit recordings from mid-'50s to the early '60s. Their legacy goes straight through Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel to the Beatles to Linda Ronstadt and well beyond, or so it would be appear, although today we'd probably to be hard pressed to consider them remotely resembling onetime "rock stars."
Way back when, they were too young and too cool to be country (and western) singers and later, as their star waned, they were judged not hip enough to be rockers. Their first hit, "Bye Bye Love," released in the summer of 1957, was Number One on all just about all the charts, and there were to be a couple of more Number Ones and many other memorable recordings to follow.
The Everlys' recording of the Felice and Boudleaux Bryant composition, "Wake Up Little Susie" was, along with Elvis Presley's "Jailhouse Rock," the first 45 rpm (7-inch to you younger folks) records I ever bought. I remember well how it happened, too.
We had a neighbor who grew up in the Big Band era and was an accomplished drummer. He decided to open a record shop in our town just about the time Elvis sent rock 'n' roll blasting off into the American conscious. Our neighbor moved his wife and three young kids into an apartment over the new store, which he named The Disc Shoppe, or something like that.
He also sold record players, as Hi-Fi sets, for high fidelity, were all the rage back then. (Stereo or "Steereo" was a few years off.) My parents bought their first Hi-Fi from him and, a few weeks later, I went over to the shop with them and came back with my first two 45s. Interestingly, the B-side of "Susie" is a pretty nicely done ballad called "Maybe Tomorrow," but it wasn't my style then.
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Why the Everlys? In the shop there was a neat Cadence Records poster, black and white, of the teenage brothers' first album cover. They were dressed in matching suits, their hair in ducktails (Phil's was sort of a dirty blond - like Elvis' prior to the dye-jobs - and Don's was black – like Elvis après dye.) They were on a police Harley, Phil driving, Don behind him with one of their Gibsons slung over his back, both looking back at the camera. They looked like people you'd want to be, if you actually had any looks and talent.
So, the next year, I actually did get a cheap guitar as a Christmas present and one of the few songs I was able to master chord-wise was "All I Have to do is Dream," a ballad that also made it to Number One. In fifth grade, another kid and I actually brought our guitars to school and tried to sing it during a kind of mock-American Bandstand show our class put on, although in hindsight we should have stuck to lip-syncing like the other kids' acts.
I'm sure after "Wake Up Little Susie" I was able to buy or trade for every one of the singles the Everlys recorded on Cadence, which they left for the newly formed Warner Bros. records around 1960, after getting a record-breaking contract. While they had many hits for Warner's too, these were mostly pop recordings, and by then my music interests began to move in other, edgier and supposedly "hipper" directions. My high school combo formed in 1965 never had an Everly song on our playlist, and if I picked up a guitar and attempted to play it today, I wouldn't know where to start with the "All I Have to do is Dream" chords.
Yet all these years later, it seems the Everly Brothers' music and influence has never gone very far away from me and many others. I read a great interview with Phil about his Nashville home in the Wall Street Journal last June, and in it you could see he was as connected to the music business as ever, retired or not.
A few weeks before Phil's death, the contemporary pop singers Nora Jones and Billie Joe Armstrong released an album that essentially recreates note-for-note the brothers' 1958 album "Songs Our Daddy Taught Us."
While I well remembered the original album cover's photograph of the two brothers, I didn't recall one song from it, probably because albums (33 rpm LPs – "long playing" for those of you already shaking your heads) weren't something you really wanted to buy in those days, especially albums that didn't have a hit song on them. With the release of the Jones-Armstrong album, however, I was intrigued enough to listen to the original Everlys album on Spotify (a word you no doubt are familiar with) and, wow, the country-folk songs, many traditional, not only were well done, but half of them I had actually heard before. It's just that the singers were named Paul and Art, not Phil and Don.
Incidentally, the new Jones-Armstrong cover album is appropriately titled, "Foreverly."