On August 21, 2021, country music lovers were hit with the sad news of Don Everly’s passing. He and his late brother Phil formed The Everly Brothers, a vocal group that was so good that they influenced The Beatles. Although it took a while before their music could be accepted since even the media referred to it as “the devil’s music,” the brothers entertained their fans with their rock music worldwide for over two decades. Both are now gone forever, but their heavenly harmonies are their legacy so let’s remember the life of Everly, who died at a ripe old age of 84.
Like Father, Like Son
The Los Angeles Times published that Everly was born to Ike, a coal miner who worked at a Brownie coal camp. Since Ike was also a coal miner’s son, he did not want it to be a generational trend; thus, he tried his hand in music. Ike was inspired by a black guitarist, Arnold Schultz, so every evening after working at the coal mine and during the weekends, Ike would practice on the guitar with his brothers Chuck and Len. He became a master of strumming the guitar and even passed on his skills to Merle Travis.
Ike was such a good guitarist that he began making money from it. Don recalled that his father owned one of the first amplifiers in Madison Street, and he would play at a white club whose patrons were mainly migrant workers. Everly remembered that during one Halloween, he went with his father and a country group that Ike had joined, the North Carolina Boys. They took with them a pumpkin papier-mâché where people who wanted special requests would place their money. He was in awe of his father and, therefore, according to Rolling Stone by the time he was eight, Everly wanted to be an entertainer like Ike; he aspired to form a vocal and musical group.
Ike was not only a guitarist but a songwriter as well. Using his songwriting skills, he was able to bag a career in radio. Everly’s dream of following in his father’s footsteps soon came to be realized because it was discovered he had singing talent. Thanks to his father’s radio career, Everly got his own segment, Little Donnie. He would sing about four songs backed by his father and other guys on the clarinet and accordion. He also read a commercial, and the radio job lasted for a while.
Becoming the Everly Brothers
Although Phil, at 6, did not have any plans for the future, when he was old enough to learn how to harmonize, his father took him to the radio station. The three family members became quite an act, and Ike ensured that the brothers rehearsed daily. He exposed them to all types of music, so the brothers became open-minded, which would become helpful in their future careers as musicians. With perfection came money as they would perform for the locals; Everly said they did not make much money, but it was enough to help them survive.
According to Pop Culture, at 16, Everly began recording original songs thanks to Chet Atkins. One of them was “Thou Shall Bot Steal,” performed by Kitty Wells, and it was an instant hit. By the time Everly was 18, he had become a reputable songwriter and earned royalties; the little money they had made performing in bands had grown to thousands of dollars. Since he was not good at school and his father’s radio show was canceled, the family decided to help Everly pursue his dreams as a musician. They moved to Nashville, where he signed with Hill and Range, and the two brothers began seeking a recording contract as The Everly Brothers.
It was not as easy as they had assumed. Two of the songs they recorded, “The Sun Keeps Shining” and “Keep A’ Lovin’ me,” were total failures. However, their stars began aligning once they tried other songs that Felice and Boudleaux Bryant had written. 1957 became The Everly Brothers’ year because “Wake Up Little Susie” and “Bye Bye Love” topped the charts. They soon started touring with Bill Monroe, and life for Everly was good. During the tour with Monroe, Everly had his first taste of beer, saw the ocean for the first time, and even laid eyes in the Gulf of Mexico for the first time. Best of all, they made $90 weekly.
The Everly Brothers’ Break Up
With money flowing in, the brothers bought their first car and went home, telling their father he did not have to work anymore. In 1958, they did their first tour to Europe, and in 1959, they were in Australia. Everly would find inspiration everywhere, and “(‘Til) I Kissed You” was about a girl he had met while touring in Australia. He had fallen in love with her, but he was already married to Sue Ingraham. Unfortunately, the fame strained the brothers’ relationship, and they were constantly fighting.
The Everly Brothers were fatigued from being on the road most of the time, so Archie Bleyer, head of Cadence Records, sent them to a doctor to inject them with “vitamins.” According to It Lasted, the injections, which the brothers believed to be beneficial to their bodies, contained methylphenidate, now known as Ritalin. It is highly addictive, and it started having adverse effects on Everly’s body. He looked frail and skeletal, but in November 1971, the brothers joined the Marine Corps, where they spent six months training. When they got out, Everly looked much healthier since he had been away from the addictive drug. Unfortunately, he returned to the same doctor for his “vitamins,” thus continuing with a journey of addiction. While he was at the peak of his career, he attempted suicide twice on the same day. His marriages kept failing, and at one point, he said he was tired of being an Everly Brothers thus gave Phil two weeks’ notice. The split came on July 14, 1973, and the brothers pursued their solo careers. Although they later reunited for a concert, they never planned on reuniting. Before Phil died, he told Paste Magazine he only missed the camaraderie of touring. All the same, the two will always be remembered as The Everly Brothers, and were it not for Everly, there would not have been such a vocal group because Phil said that his brother usually carried the show.