Life’s a Breach
Don Everly’s enthusiasm for creating new music in the bosom of his family has been rekindled, but it’s as an Everly husband, not an Everly Brother.
His Hall of Fame partnership with younger brother Phil continues--the two will play extremely rare small-club concerts Friday and Saturday in Santa Ana and San Juan Capistrano. But speaking from his home in Nashville recently, Don, 62, said he doubts their artistically scintillating but personally strained relationship will yield any new songs or recordings (their last album together, “Some Hearts . . .,” dates from 1988).
Don, the darker-haired lead singer, and Phil, whose soaring harmonies complete one of the most instantly recognizable and influential twinnings of two voices in recording history, still tour together for three or four months a year, playing shows in which Don says the chief point is to prove they’ve still got it.
But Don, a folksy, open talker, says his spark has been lit again for making new music in the old-fashioned way taught to him by his father, Ike. For that, he credits his fourth wife, Adela, a 30-year-old woman he met five years ago in a Nashville musicians’ bar. She and her twin sister had come to Nashville from Texas to make their way as country songwriters.
“She inspires everything I do now, every move I make,” Everly said. “I was hanging out with other songwriters, drinking and carousing around. I think it was ‘cause I was bored.
“Now my life’s opened up. I’m playing the guitar, writing songs. We hang out in the kitchen and get the guitars out and sing. When Adela came into my life, all of a sudden the guitars got into tune and there was recording equipment. It brought me back.”
Everly said he bought his wife a Fender Telecaster for Christmas 2 1/2 years ago and began playing it himself, relearning the finger-picking techniques handed down by his father, who is said to have influenced Merle Travis, who in turn influenced Chet Atkins, who in turn inspired George Harrison as well as most of the pickers in Nashville.
“It’s been very rewarding to rediscover at this time of my life,” Everly said.
And it may lead to his first recording project since the Everly Brothers’ three-album comeback in the ‘80s that ended a thaw in which they barely spoke to each other for 10 years.
Everly said his friend Dan Goodman heard his new, folksy stuff, much of it focusing on his home state of Kentucky, and proposed a Kentucky-roots project akin to Los Super Seven, the acclaimed tejano all-star band Goodman helped organize last year with Freddy Fender, Flaco Jimenez, David Hidalgo, Cesar Rosas, Joe Ely and others.
“This project’s close to my heart,” said Everly, who grew up mainly in Iowa, but was born in rural Kentucky and was steeped in the mountain-music traditions of his father. “I can’t mention the other people involved [because] there haven’t been any contracts [signed]. But a lot of people from Kentucky made music, and I hope we can get together.”
Part of being an Everly Brother is being asked repeatedly how the duo that harmonizes so tightly gets along away from the stage lights.
Fans who hear the inspired vocal blend that was a crucial influence for the Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel and many others want to believe, no doubt, that life imitates art when it comes to brotherly closeness and cooperation.
“Wherever I go, it’s ‘Are you still mad at each other?’ I say, ‘Do you have a family? Do you have a brother?’ “--the point being that the Everlys’ frictions and differences are commonplace. And most siblings were not joined at the hip from childhood--as Don and Phil Everly almost literally were as they shared a single microphone.
“We give each other a lot of space,” Don said with a chuckle. “We say hello, we sometimes have a meal together” while on tour.
In fact, Don said, outside of music, he and Phil have always gone their own ways. He can’t remember playing childhood games together--only music. Don said he and Ike Everly enjoyed father-son hunting outings; Phil didn’t join them. Phil was into sports during his school days, going out for basketball and track--an interest Don didn’t share.
“Everything is different about us, except when we sing together,” Don said. “I’m a liberal Democrat, he’s pretty conservative.”
Don Everly knew from age 8, when he first performed as “Little Donny” on his father’s radio show in Iowa, that he wanted to be a musician and appear on the Grand Ole Opry. The Everly Brothers, who had finished school in Knoxville, Tenn., moved to Nashville in 1955 at the behest of Chet Atkins, a friend of their father.
Success came in 1957, when “Bye Bye Love” launched a streak of 15 Top 10 hits over the next five years. The Everlys drew on outside songwriters--notably Boudleaux and Felice Bryant--for many of their classics. But Phil, with “When Will I Be Loved,” and Don, with “(‘Til) I Kissed You,” “Cathy’s Clown” and “So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad)” also made indelible contributions as songwriters. Rhino Records’ 1994 four-disc box set, “Heartaches & Harmonies,” is the essential, comprehensive Everlys collection.
Life wasn’t as sweet as the Everlys’ sound, however. There were frequent disputes with business handlers, and during the early ‘60s, Don became addicted to a cocktail of drugs prescribed as a pick-me-up to help with the grind of touring. It led, in 1962, to an attempted suicide by overdose in a London hotel room.
“I was so high, I didn’t know what I was doing,” he recalled. “I didn’t want to continue where that [prescription drug] experience was going. I was beginning a long tour in England, and they sent me over with all these bottles and needles. It left a hole in my soul, and it nearly left me for dead. With drugs, it takes away all intellect and you become dependent and controlled. It’s terrible. I’m lucky to be alive.”
Everly’s bon vivant ways may have saved him when he was living in Los Angeles in the late ‘60s; he had two girlfriends at the time, and one got an invitation to a party at the home of film director Roman Polanksi. Everly was otherwise booked for the night--with his other girlfriend. Girlfriend No. 1 also didn’t attend the gathering, which was infamously crashed by Charles Manson and his clan of murderous followers.
The Everly Brothers’ one inescapable public disaster took place at Knott’s Berry Farm in July 1973. The hits had long since dried up, and Don, weary of the grind and fed up with the personal erosion of their 25-year partnership, gave two weeks’ notice that he was through as an Everly Brother.
A Knott’s engagement was the last the brothers were contracted to fulfill. Instead of ending on a bittersweet note, they blew up: Don was drunk on tequila (violating one of the strictly followed professional tenets his father had taught them), Phil smashed his guitar against the stage and stormed off, and the older brother was left to complete the late show on his own after sobering up between sets.
The Everlys reunited in 1983 and came up with two strong mid-’80s albums, “EB84” and “Born Yesterday.” The first included “On the Wings of a Nightingale,” a song Paul McCartney wrote for the occasion. “Born Yesterday,” one of the best releases of 1985, featured Don Everly’s poignant title track, with its oblique references to what it’s like to go through a fracturing relationship played out in the public eye:
People see you and they turn their heads,
Whisper words you might have said.
Point to a spot where you may have bled,
Then they write it on a wall.
But Everly doesn’t flinch from talking about the troubling relationships in his family. He has been estranged from his mother, Margaret, since his father’s death in 1975; he also has no contact with his two oldest children.
He remains in touch with son Edan, a professional musician who joined him a year or two back to sing in a benefit concert for Kentucky flood victims, and with daughter Erin, a former model best known for a turbulent and--she later contended in a lawsuit--abusive relationship with rocker Axl Rose, who wrote the Guns N’ Roses hit “Sweet Child O’ Mine” about her. Erin is with “a really nice man” now and “seems to be really happy and secure,” Everly said. Two years ago, she gave birth to his first grandchild, a boy named Eason Everly.
Everly said he and his brother, who has lived in Los Angeles for years, have too many musical differences to attempt new recordings.
“Enthusiasm is all, and he isn’t as interested in the Nashville thing as I am.”
He thinks that, if anything, their touring will wind down in the coming years.
“I shouldn’t say ‘never’ [about further recording work]. If the right song or the right opportunity came along . . . .”
What motivates them now, he said, is proving they still can do justice to songs that demand some of pop’s most beautiful harmonies while finding ways to improvise and keep the repertoire fresh.
“That’s one part where being brothers makes a difference. It’s just instinct,” Everly said. “That’s the charm of what the Everly Brothers are: two guys singing as one. I want people to leave there thinking: ‘Whoa, it’s still happening, it’s still good.’ ”
* The Everly Brothers play Friday at the Galaxy Concert Theatre, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana. 8 p.m. (714) 957-0600. Also 8 p.m. Saturday at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. (949) 496-8930. $50-$52 at both venues.
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