In 1945, Ike Everly moved his family to Shenandoah, Iowa when he joined the staff at radio station KMA. At the young ages of 8 and 6, his sons, Don and Phil began to perform on their parents’ live radio show. By his example, Ike instilled in his two sons his own love for music. He encouraged them to sing and he taught them to play guitar. “When we were kids,” Don recalled, “The first thing people wanted us to do was sing. People would come over and say, ‘Come on, Don and Phil, sing us a song.'” At KMA the brothers were introduced to listeners as “Little Donnie” and “Baby Boy Phil.” Margaret often joined Ike and the boys, as they were called then, and four-part harmonies by the family were common. By 1950 the radio show had become known as The Everly Family Show. During the Summer of 1952, the family accepted a job at WIKY in Evansville, Indiana.
Radio stations were beginning to find it more economical to pay one person to play records than to pay a group of people to play live music, so The Everly Family Show began looking for a new home after being at WIKY for only a year. “We had heard about WROL in Knoxville, Tennessee,” said Don, “So we packed the car up and left in September of ’53. We came down, auditioned, and got the job on Cas Walker’s show for $90 a week for all four of us.” There were others before him of course, but the first famous Everly Brothers fan was Chet Atkins. Back in 1955, Chet would buy The Everly Brothers a cup of coffee and a piece of pie almost every time he’d see them in Nashville. “People knew we were Chet’s friends,” explained Don, “So they didn’t run us out of town.” “One thing that impressed me when I met those kids was that they were so intelligent,” said Chet. “Don and Phil used proper English and I just thought they were a cut above… intellectually and education-wise.” In the Spring of 1957 their producer, Archie Bleyer, proudly announced The Everlys’ first Cadence label single with a half-page advertisement in Billboard magazine. In its April 20th issue, Billboard said, “The Tennessee teenagers have a distinctive, appealing sound and could click big in the Pop as well as C&W field.”
“Bye Bye Love” had been written by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, a middle-aged husband and wife songwriting team who had an unerring ability to catch the angst and self-absorption of the average teen. “The song had been kicking around Nashville but nobody had done it, so we took it,” said Don. “And we had a song called ‘Give Me A Future’. We took the arrangement off that and put it on ‘Bye Bye Love’ and it just seemed to work.” “Bye Bye Love” enjoyed a 22 week run on the Billboard pop charts, peaking at #2 where it sat for four weeks. The two songs which denied it the #1 spot were Elvis Presley’s “Teddy Bear” and Pat Boone’s “Love Letters In The Sand.” All the same, “Bye Bye Love” went #1 on the Country charts and #5 on the R&B, and the record became The Everlys’ first million seller. The release of “Bye Bye Love” sent The Everly Brothers spiralling towards stardom and on May 11, 1957, the boys fulfilled a lifelong dream by appearing on the Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. When they sang “Bye Bye Love,” they got a huge ovation from the crowd of 4,000 and Roy Acuff had to call them back to take a bow. With “Bye Bye Love”, a hit formula had been discovered: Boudleaux’s rhythms, Felice’s lyrics, Don’s guitar intros, and Phil’s harmony. The Bryant songwriting team began composing songs tailored to The Everlys’ harmonies while providing the expected and important Don Everly solo somewhere in the middle.
Their next song, “Wake Up Little Susie”, brought all of those elements together. The opening guitar was more thrilling and the vocals more urgent. The song by the Bryant’s was on the risque side, dealing with a teenage couple that had fallen asleep at a drive-in movie and got caught sneaking home. This time nothing would stop The Everlys from reaching the very top of the charts. “Wake Up Little Susie” hit #1 during the week of October 14th and it stayed #1 for four weeks. It was their first record issued in a picture sleeve, and it became their second million seller. After recording “Wake Up Little Susie”, Don and Phil hit the road for a 78-city tour of mostly one-nighters that began on September 6th and ran through the 24th of November, 1957. Called The Biggest Show of Stars for ’57, it was a package tour which included some of the all-time greats of Rock ‘n’ Roll: Chuck Berry, Buddy Knox, The Drifters, Paul Anka, Fats Domino, The Crickets, Eddie Cochran, LaVern Baker, Frankie Lymon, Clyde McPhatter, and Paul William’s Orchestra. Don and Phil also performed at the Alan Freed Christmas Show that year at the Paramount Theater in New York City.
“All I Have To Do Is Dream” was recorded on March 6, 1958. Don and Phil premiered the song on American Bandstand and Dick Clark introduced it as “Their next #1 record.” “Dream” did indeed reach #1 and it stayed at the top of the charts for five weeks. It became their third million seller. The “Dream” single was quickly followed by the release of their first album in April of 1958. From 1957 to 1959, they had six Top Ten songs on the US Country charts and seven Top Tens on the Pop charts. Many of these recordings were written by the Bryants, whose Country-flavored compositions helped to add a new dimension to Rock ‘n’ Roll. Three songs that were written by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant and recorded by the Everly Brothers reached number one on the Pop charts: “Wake Up Little Susie”, “All I Have To Do Is Dream” and “Bird Dog”. The duo also had big hits with “Problems” (#2 in 1958), “(‘Till) I Kissed You” (#4 in 1959) and “Let It Be Me (#7 in 1960).
The Everly Brothers left Cadence Records in 1960 over a royalty dispute and signed with Warner Brothers for a million-dollar, ten-year contract. Although this meant that they lost their production team and the Bryants’ songwriting, everything went well at first. Don’s “Cathy’s Clown” (#1) was their biggest-selling single, followed by “When Will I Be Loved” (#8), “Walk Right Back” (#7), and “Ebony Eyes” (#8). The Everly Brothers last big hits were 1962’s “Crying In The Rain” (#6) and “Thats Old Fashion” (#9). Their career began to slow down in 1962 after a six-month stint in the Marines. That November, while in Britain rehearsing for a tour, Don collapsed on stage and Phil had to finish the tour alone. By the time of the onslaught of the British Invasion in 1964, their days as major hit makers had pretty much run their course. They only reached the Billboard Top 40 twice more, with “Gone, Gone, Gone” (#31 in 1964) and “Bowling Green” (#40 in 1967).
The Everly Brothers continued on in the entertainment business. They had a one-hour, Summer television series on CBS in 1970, even though Don and Phil were both having personal problems. The unrelenting performance schedule led to an addiction to speed for both. Don had a nervous breakdown. The disagreements which started in the late ’60s and early ’70s climaxed in 1973, midway through a concert in Hollywood. Phil smashed his guitar and stormed off and Don announced that The Everly Brothers had split. According to Don, The Everly Brothers “died ten years ago.” A decade of solo career doldrums followed.
In September of 1983, after their father’s funeral, The Everly Brothers made peace with each other and reunited as a singing duo. They toured again and even recorded some albums that made it to the best seller charts. In 1986, the duo became one of ten inductees in the inaugural class of The Rock And Roll Hall of Fame. In 1990, Don’s daughter Erin was married briefly to Axl Rose of the Rock group Guns N’ Roses. Rhino Records issued a 4-CD, 103-song box set in 1994 called “Heartaches & Harmonies”, which spaned the entire recording career of Don and Phil. The box set included some forty tracks making their CD debut, twelve songs appearing in stereo for the first time, and two previously unreleased songs from the Warner Bros.
In February 1997, The Everly Brothers received a Lifetime Achievement Award from The Recording Academy. Other artists who have received this award include Barbara Streisand, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Chet Atkins, Fats Domino and The Rolling Stones. They were added to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001. As of late 2003, Don and Phil were still performing, playing their string of Top 40 singles, whose worldwide record sales had topped 40 million. Both were living in Tennessee and Don was the owner of a resort hotel in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky on Lake Malone. Don and Phil toured the United Kingdom in 2005 and in 2006, Phil sang a duet, “Sweet Little Corrina”, with Country singer Vince Gill on his album “These Days”. On September 7th, 2011, Phil Everly spoke at Buddy Holly’s Hollywood Walk Of Fame induction, as he had been a pallbearer at Holly’s funeral in 1959.
On January 3rd, 2014, the world learned of the passing of Don Everly at the age of 74. His wife Patti told the press that Don had contracted chronic obstructive pulmonary disease through a lifetime of smoking and that the family was “absolutely heartbroken,” though she noted that he “fought long and hard” against the ailment. “I loved my brother very much,” said 76-year-old Phil Everly. “I always thought I’d be the one to go first. The world might be mourning an Everly Brother, but I’m mourning my brother, Phil Everly.”
The Everly Brothers had 27 Billboard Top 40 singles and 35 Billboard Top 100 singles. They hold the record for the most Top 100 singles by any duo and trail only Hall And Oates for the most Top 40 singles by a duo. In early April, 2014, “Cathy’s Clown” was inducted into the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry.