It was a passing remark made to L.A. musicians Cindy Wasserman and Frank Lee Drennen, but one that set off a five-year-plus musical odyssey that culminates July 17 with the release of Dead Rock West’s album “It’s Everly Time!”
The Times is premiering the video for one track from the album, “I Used to Love You,” a lesser-known song recorded by the Everlys in 1966, when they were signed to Warner Bros. Records and doing much of their work in California.
“Around 2009 we did some sessions in Mark Linett’s recording studio, Your Place or Mine,” Drennen explained. “We’d written a couple of songs with Exene [Cervenka of X], and Dave Alvin was in the studio with us that day. On our way out, Mark said, ‘You might want to consider recording an Everly Brothers song sometime. I think you’d sound good.'”
“A short time later I heard their song ‘Problems’ on the radio while I was driving on Los Feliz,” Drennen said, “ and it hit me that for our artistic growth as a duo, we had to dig into this music and make a record.”
Rather than simply work up the Everlys’ signature ‘50s hits such as “When Will I Be Loved,” “Bye Bye Love,” “Wake Up Little Suzie,” Drennen and Wasserman decided to explore the music Don and Phil Everly made during their years working in the Golden State in the 1960s.
“We started with their  cult classic album ‘In Our Image’ and expanded from there,” Drennen said. Alvin appears on the album as well as X drummer DJ Bonebrake, guitarist Elliot Easton of the Cars, Lou Reed bassist Rob Wasserman (Cindy's brother), L.A.’s the Section Quartet, accordionist-keyboardist Phil Parlapiano and bassist David J. Carpenter, the latter two having played with Dead Rock West on and off since it formed in 2002.
Wasserman noted that the tone of the songs shifts from the originals by the very nature of being sung by a man and a woman rather than two siblings with perfectly DNA-matched voices like the originals.
“As simple as this sounds, it took our harmonies to a new level,” Wasserman said. “I hang out a lot with John Doe and Exene, and I’ve always noticed that they sing a lot in unison, and when they do sing in harmony they’re trading off on who’s singing melody and who’s singing harmony. In punk rock you don’t often notice that, but when I started listening more closely to the Everlys, I realized they’re often doing that same thing. It’s like folk punk rock.”
“I Used to Love You” was written by Sonny Curtis, the former member of Buddy Holly’s Crickets who also wrote the Everlys’ hit “Walk Right Back.” Dead Rock West’s album also includes “Let It Be Me,” “Cathy’s Clown” and “So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad),” as well as “Gone Gone Gone” (which Robert Plant and Alison Krauss recorded so infectiously on their 2007 “Raising Sand” album) and “The Price of Love,” which became a major hit for the Everlys in the UK in the mid-‘60s.
“My voice and Cindy’s voice came together in a powerful way I would have never discovered if we hadn’t immersed ourselves in this music,” Drennen said. “I learned to sing much softer, and that I don’t have to shout it out and sing with pure physical force.”
Dead Rock West is doing a residency at Hotel Café that includes a performance Wednesday, June 3 — their last in the near future that will include Bonebrake, who is returning to touring with X for another round of summer shows.
“Even though we’re doing a tribute record,” Drennen said, “we really want this to be about the songs. It isn’t some novelty for us. We’re serious about them—we want to play these songs in our regular sets.”