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Don Everly

As half of the Everly Brothers, Don Everly was one of the most important performers in rock & roll's formative era, and among the greatest close harmony duos in the history of American music. From 1955 to 1973 (and sporadically from 1983 into the 2000s), they made music that merged country traditions with pop songwriting and rock & roll swing, and enjoyed commercial success and the admiration of generations of musicians. As a solo act, Don enjoyed more modest success, but he continued to be in demand as a songwriter and his band was a training ground for artists such as Lindsey Buckingham. 2020's The Cadence Recordings and 1993's Walk Right Back: The Everly Brothers on Warner Bros. provide a thorough overview of the Everly Brothers' greatest era, and 1998's Don Everly/Sunset Towers is a two-for-one reissue of his 1970s solo efforts for Ode Records. Don Everly was born on February 1, 1937 in Brownie, Kentucky, two years ahead of his brother Phil. Their father, Ike Everly, was a coal miner who also pursued a career as a musician. While the Everly Family was living in Shenandoah, Iowa, Ike landed a daily show on a local radio station, and in 1945, eight-year-old Don and six-year-old Phil became part of the act, harmonizing with their dad for the 6 A.M. broadcast before heading off to school. As the brothers grew, they became a bigger part of the program, and by 1955, they had relocated to Nashville, Tennessee, where they landed a publishing contract as songwriters; a tune penned by Don, "Thou Shalt Not Steal," became a hit for Kitty Wells. However, it was when the Everly Brothers signed to Cadence Records and were introduced to the songwriting team of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant that they got their big break. "Bye Bye Love," written by the Bryants, became a massive hit single, rising to number two on the pop charts, and their next release, "Wake Up Little Susie," fared even better, going all the way to number one. In 1958 and 1959, the Everly Brothers landed 12 more songs in the Top 40, and their close harmonies became the gold standard for vocals in pop music, inspiring acts as diverse as the Beatles, the Eagles, Simon & Garfunkel, and Bruce Springsteen. Don also kept a hand in the duo's songwriting, penning the hits "('Til) I Kissed You" and "So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad)." In 1960, the Everly Brothers signed a lucrative new record deal with Warner Bros., and their first release for the label, their self-penned "Cathy's Clown," was another number one success. The Everlys took eight more songs to the Top 40 between 1960 and 1962, but 1964's "Gone, Gone, Gone" was their final visit to the Top 40. The brothers fell out of commercial favor as styles and tastes changed, though they continued to make excellent albums, including 1966's Two Yanks in England (recorded with members of the Hollies) and 1968's Roots, which anticipated the country-rock movement. Hosting a TV variety show in 1970 did only so much to revive interest in the group, and after cutting two unsuccessful albums for RCA, tensions between the brothers were near the breaking point, aggravated by a drug problem Don had struggled with since the early 1960s. In July 1973, during a show at Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park, California, an argument between Don and Phil led to the latter having an on-stage meltdown, smashing his guitar and storming off, with Don left to finish the concert on his own. They quickly made the breakup official. By the time the Everly Brothers split, Don had already started recording as a solo act, releasing a self-titled album for Ode Records in 1970 that featured Ry Cooder and members of the Flying Burrito Brothers in the backing band. In 1974, Don cut a second LP for Ode, Sunset Towers, which like his first set was not a commercial success. Don moved to the ABC Records-distributed Hickory label for the 1976 release Brother Juke-Box, which pushed his music into a more contemporary country format. For the most part, Don focused on songwriting and touring in this period, performing with his band Dead Cowboys and working with guitarist Albert Lee. Don also toured with a solo band that included Lindsey Buckingham for a while. In time, the brothers both realized they fared better as a duo than separately, and in 1983 they staged a reunion show at London's Royal Albert Hall for a sell-out audience. They signed a new record deal with Mercury, and their album EB 84 included the song "On the Wings of a Nightingale," written by Paul McCartney, that became a modest hit in the United States and the United Kingdom. The brothers made two more albums together -- 1986's Born Yesterday and 1989's Some Hearts -- and toured periodically, including a run of dates in 2004 with longtime fans Simon & Garfunkel. Don Everly died at his home in Nashville, Tennessee on August 21, 2021, seven-and-a-half years after his brother Phil; he was 84 years old.
© Mark Deming /TiVo


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