POP MUSIC : They Keep Harmony in the Family

<i> Jim Washburn is a free-lance writer who regularly contributes to The Times Orange County Edition. </i>

If you have siblings, think about them for a moment. Chances are the first things that come to mind are the toys of yours they broke, the tattlings, the pool dunkings, the pudding thefts, the close-your-eyes-and-open-your-mouth trick. The list of atrocities is nearly endless.

So how is it that brothers and sisters also end up sounding like God’s harmonica when they sing together? Maybe it’s common genes; maybe it’s because they’ve already got all the discord out of the way. Whatever the reason, folks from the Beach Boys to the Gipsy Kings seem to have benefited vocally from a family connection.

Two fine and varied examples of familial harmony are performing in the county this week. The Roches--sisters Maggie, Suzzy and Terre--bring their remarkable voices and skewed lyric sensibilities to the Coach House on Sunday. Meanwhile, the Everly Brothers are at the Orange County Fair Monday, the highlight of a surprisingly improved entertainment lineup this year (other Fair stage standouts include Gladys Knight on Tuesdayand Peabo Bryson, who performed Wednesday).

When it comes to fraternal harmonies, brothers Don and Phil Everly are usually the first names to come to mind. The Everlys cleverly forged the path between such country vocal acts as the Louvin Brothers and the Carter Family and such British vocal bands as the Beatles. They grew up solidly in the country tradition--parents Ike and Margaret were both country performers--but they updated and rocked up that tradition to a point where their close harmonies and immaculate guitar arrangements had more influence on the Beatles sound than practically any other ‘50s antecedent.


In a splendid string of hits racked up in the ‘50s and early ‘60s, their two-part harmonies seemed a palpable example of how close tw o souls could become. Phil has said, “Harmony is the ultimate love,” while Don maintained, “Brothers sing differently. We sing as one person.”

But on such songs as “Crying in the Rain” and “Let It Be Me,” when a solo voice (Don’s) soared over the musical bridge, one could almost imagine it was driven by a need to briefly escape the gravity of each other’s proximity. The need for an individual life manifested itself in real life on July 13, 1973, when the Everlys very publicly called it quits during a performance at Knott’s Berry Farm. In the unanticipated proceedings a guitar was smashed, and Don declared, “It’s over. I quit. I’m tired of being an Everly Brother.”

A decade later the two reunited, and have been going strong ever since. The only debit to their otherwise sterling performances these days is that they stick largely to their oldies, when their few post-reunion albums have clearly shown what vital contemporary artists they still can be.

Doubtless, spending one’s working life with those you grew up with can be trying, and the Roches have likely had their share of pillow fights, but rather than breaking up, their story is one of addition. Sisters Maggie and Terre have performed together since they were pre-teens, and worked as a folk duo in Greenwich Village in the ‘60s. Though their career to that point didn’t give them many reasons to continue, in 1979 instead of splitting up they added Suzzy (rhymes with “fuzzy”) to their ranks.


In addition to their vocal meldings, there is also an insular under-the-covers-with-a-flashlight quality to the sisters’ music, full of private insights and humor. In harmonies that can range from angelic--they have often tackled the “Hallelujah Chorus"--to the fetchingly dissonant--they sounded slightly Bulgarian years before it was hip to be Bulgarian--they sing tunes with titles like “The Anti Sex Backlash of the ‘80s,” “Face Down at Folk City” and “Ing,” a gerund-packed tune where such words as fling and mentioning are sent pinging about.

Who: The Roches and the Everly Brothers, in separate concerts.

When: The Roches perform Sunday, July 19, at 8 p.m.; the Everlys go on Monday, July 20, at 7 and 9 p.m.

Where: The Roches are at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. The Everlys are at the Orange County Fairgrounds, 88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa.

Whereabouts: To the Coach House: Take Interstate 5 to the San Juan Creek Road exit. Left onto Camino Capistrano. The Coach House is in the Esplanade Plaza. To the fairgrounds: San Diego Freeway to either the Harbor Boulevard or Fairview Road exit. Head south to Fair Drive and left to the main entrance.

Wherewithal: The Roches: $17.50; the Everlys: entertainment is free with fair admission, $2 to $5.

Where to Call: Coach House: (714) 496-8930. Fair information: (714) 751-3247.