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Phil Everly 1939-2014

It was thanks to Perry Como that I first glimpsed the Everly Brothers, singing “Bird Dog” on his TV show in 1959. Matching suits and ties, the kind of perfect quiffs a schoolboy in England could only dream of achieving, and those magnificent Gibson J-180 jumbos. That riff, those voices. They seemed to have come from outer space.

In 1983 I was at the Albert Hall to see them reunite after 10 years of estrangement. It was a famous occasion, and you can find bits of the film on YouTube. Just watch them sing “Let It Be Me”, the final song, to each other. It was, and is, spine-tingling.

Phil died yesterday, aged 74. Don, two years older, has been quoted as saying that he had expected to go first. So another great figure from rock and roll’s early days has left the scene, and there won’t be any more of those glorious two-part harmonies.

I met Phil in the early Seventies, around the time of Pass the Chicken and Listen, the last album the brothers made before falling out, at a time when when they were hopelessly unfashionable. He was friendly and open and I liked him a lot. A few years later he made a single in London with Cliff Richard called “She Means Nothing to Me”, produced by Stuart Colman and with Mark Knopfler on guitar. It’s a record I’ve always loved, and another great way to remember him.

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14 Comments Post a comment
  1. What is So Sad is that, despite all the publicity, folk are still dying from cigarettes. I’ve just posted “I wonder if I care as much” on This is My Jam” – it remains my favourite ever Everly Brothers song with sublime harmonies. I did meet Phil who was big buddies with one-time EMI A&R chief Terry Slater. Terry wrote Milk Train and played with the brothers for some years. He was in London for his solo album on Capitol and the duet with Cliff Richard, and, like Richard, I was at Royal Albert for their “reunion” date. But look on the bright side. We still have Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and Jerry Lee

    January 4, 2014
  2. Thanks Richard. That version of ‘Let It Be Me’ brought tears to my eyes – the intensity with which Phil was looking at Don seemed to embrace all the affection and friction of their partnership. I was researcher and interviewer on a BBC documentary on Cliff in 1981 and we arranged a concert at the Hammersmith Odeon to film. There was a section where we wanted Cliff to perform with one of his early heroes. We went to Nashville and met with Scotty Moore but he couldn’t be tempted out of retirement. We then went to LA to try and coax James Burton – whose guitar Cliff had loved when he first heard Ricky Nelson – but he wanted too much money. We then approached Phil Everly who said he was very aware of Cliff and admired his records. Thus we put them together on May 1 1981.

    January 4, 2014
    • Terry Slater. #

      Sorry, the BBC did not approach Phil to join Cliff on stage.

      Cliff mention to me on a social occasion it be wonderful to duet with Phil at some point.
      It so happened that Phil was coming to see me in UK ,so Peter Gormley and I put it together.
      Simple!.
      Sincerely,Terry Slater.

      February 23, 2014
      • Hi Terry! I’m sure both stories are true although I was unaware of other machinations at the time. I know Cliff’s first choice was Scotty Moore and the director and I met with him at his tape duplicating plant in Nashville. He was then in retirement and couldn’t be coaxed out. We then met with James Burton at the Continental Hyatt in LA but he asked for too much money. It makes sense that you offered Phil at what turned out to be the right time. Cliff, of course, was a huge Everlys fan. The Hammersmith show was an important part of the documentary looking at cliff’s musical origins. There was a homage to Oh Boy and I managed to get the ex Drifters (Norman Mitham, Terry Smart and Ian Samwell) together for the first time since 1958 (backstage rather than on stage). Thanks Terry.

        February 24, 2014
  3. What a legacy he leaves. He and Don were one of the ones who brought heavenly harmonies to pop music.

    January 4, 2014
  4. Sad news indeed – two of my favourite musicians from when I was a kid up till now. Just watched the vid of that Albert Hall reunion which I pull out every couple of years and it always seems fresh. So poignant tonight, of course – agree about ‘Let it be me’ – such tension and love encapsulated in that song. Wish I’d been there – but have the vid as a memory…

    January 4, 2014
  5. @nikluac #

    Gone, Gone, Gone….’Bye Bye Love’ and ‘Wake Up Little Susie’ were on the first EP I saved up for and bought (at Imhof’s) and I played it to death. I skived off class to listen to them on the radio when they toured the UK – the era of ‘Problems’, I think, which song perfectly encapsulated my teenage melancholy, as did ‘The Price Of Love’ and ‘Gone, Gone, Gone’ for my slightly more grown-up self. I only discovered later their great versions of ‘That’ll Be The Day’, ‘Oh Boy’ and ‘Dancing In The Streets’. I never saw them live, alas, but still unutterably poignant. Thanks, Richard.

    January 5, 2014
    • Rock ‘n Soul and Beat & Soul were great albums. “Love Is Strange” is my all-time favourite Everlys track, with those amazingly powerful layers of strummed guitars (James Burton, Chet Atkins & Sonny Curtis, I think), and yesterday I found myself enjoying their versions of “Lonely Weekends” and “Walkin’ the Dog” in particular from those records. Also “The Ferris Wheel”, a great expression of teenage angst.

      January 5, 2014
  6. Alan Codd #

    The Albert Hall double LP is a knockout. They say on the record that it was the best version of ‘Love Hurts’ they ever played.

    January 5, 2014
  7. Chris C #

    I was rather hoping that you would been called on to write the obit in today’s Guardian Richard. I loved the Everlys, and I remember the first time I heard ‘Claudette’, in a pub at Dacre Banks near Harrogate where my dad had been playing cricket. I was 12 and too young to be allowed into the bar so I hung around in a corridor leading to the kitchen where there was a Dansette and a pile of 7-inch singles that belonged the landlords’s daughter. ‘Claudette’, new to me, was among them and I played it over and over again until someone came out and told me to stop because I was playing it too loud. Always loved that song.

    January 6, 2014
    • That’s a lovely little rock and roll story, Chris. And now it’s not lost to history! Somewhere I’ve got “Claudette” on a Cadence 45, red and silver label, that I picked up along the way.

      I was sorry Adam’s obit didn’t mention the 1983 Albert Hall reunion. Such a historic night.

      January 6, 2014
  8. Jason Solomons #

    Thanks for reminding me of She Means Nothing to Me, the duet with Cliff Richard, which was such a great record but so unfashionable that I had to bury my loving of it deep in my musical psyche. Only now can it resurface. By the way, didn’t the Everlys support Simon and Garfunkel in their Central Park reunion concert?

    January 7, 2014
  9. Watching the Let It Be Me link got me wondering who wrote the song. If you compare it to the original you notice that a few lines have been changed over the years. Certainly the Albert Hall version is superior to the single, as you’d expect after they’d matured the song for almost 25 years. It was originally a French song J t’apparliens by Gilbert Becaud (lyrics by Pierre Delanoe) and you can hear it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=od8nFkQLi9M English lyrics were supplied by Manny Curtis in 1957 and it was recorded by Jill Corey http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3l3oOHr9UTg for a US TV series and became a minor hit. The Everlys completely transformed it with their harmonies in 1960.

    January 8, 2014
  10. Thanks, Steve. Other great versions include the duet by Betty Everett and Jerry Butler for VeeJay in (I think) 1964, and the one I love above all others, by the Sweet Inspirations, recorded for Atlantic in 1967 (you can find it on a terrific Kent compilation called The Girls Got Soul).

    January 8, 2014

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