Linda Ronstadt and others remember Phil Everly (1939-2014)
Responding to the death Friday of Phil Everly of the Everly Brothers, many of the world’s most respected rock and country vocalists expressed their sorrow over the loss.
As these artists discussed the influence the Everlys had on their own music, two common themes emerged: the ambition one day to be able to sing like an Everly; then for those who achieved any degree of success, the hope at some point to sing with an Everly.
“My mom always called me her little Everly,” country musician Vince Gill told The Times in explaining how much it meant later when he met Phil. “I became acquainted with him through [drummer] Larrie Londin and Albert Lee, one of my favorite guitar players who played with them for a long time.
“Through these guys I had the opportunity to meet him. Then the greatest thrill of all was having Phil sing on my ‘These Days’ record,” he said, referring to his 2006 four-CD box set of all new material. “He sang on ‘Sweet Little Corrina,’ a sweet song I’d written about my daughter. I had my favorite harmony singer in the world singing the harmony part with me on my song about her. It was unlike anything I’d ever known.
“When I heard the news, I went and listened to that and I dropped a couple a of tears. All these years later, I finally get to feel what that feels like when I sing with my daughter Jenny. I finally get to experience that blood blend of harmony that happens with family.”
Righteous Brothers singer Bill Medley said that although he primarily listened to black R&B musicians as a young music fan and nascent singer, he noted that, “Elvis, the Everly Brothers and Dion & the Belmonts were about the only white acts I was influenced by.
“I thought the Everly Brothers were remarkable, and I think the Beatles, the Eagles, Crosby, Stills & Nash and everybody else would say the same thing.”
Medley recently recorded a version of the Beach Boys’ “In My Room,” for which he tapped Beach Boys creative leader Brian Wilson and Phil Everly to sing harmony with him: Singing with two of his musical heroes, he said, “For me it was just an honor to be on a record with Phil Everly, never mind Brian Wilson.
“I worked with Don and Phil in Atlantic City several years ago. When somebody asked me if I would do it, I said I’d do it for nothing. Thank God they paid me. I was the opening act, and as soon as my show was over, I’d run to the sound booth and watch their set. I was just blown away every night.”
Asked how she felt when the Everlys spectacularly broke up with an onstage fight in 1973, Linda Ronstadt said with a laugh: “I was just astounded they could make it that far. It’s just hard for any band to stay together, and it’s really hard when you’re family…. I don’t know how they were raised, but I’m sure it was tough. I knew they had troubles, and I felt sympathy for them. It’s hard to sing with someone you’re mad at and who you love at the same time. That was a complex relationship.
“It’s hard to describe the intimacy that happens with people you sing with. It’s as strong as sex, but different than sex. I’ve felt that with some of the people I’ve sung with: I had it with J.D. Souther and Aaron Neville and other people’s songs I’ve tried to learn. With Don and Phil also writing some of their songs, there’s a closeness, an intimacy, and you can’t pry it apart with an acetylene torch.”
The Chapin Sisters -- Abigail and Lily -- recorded a full album of the Everlys’ songs that came out last year, “A Date With the Everly Brothers.”
“We never had the chance to meet Phil and Don, and it’s heartbreaking to know that now we never will get to meet them both,” Abigail told The Times on Saturday. “Spending time with their music this year -- from recording the album and playing shows to promoting it and talking about the Everlys and their influence -- has been really fun and fascinating for us. We didn’t grow up listening to their music very much, but listening and learning harmonies with their influence everywhere, like a ghost in the Beatles, Byrds, Simon and Garfunkel, etc.”
When they put the album out last spring, Lily Chapin said, “We studied the Everly Brothers’ two-part harmonies when we became a duo. The Everlys, Louvin Brothers and the Davis Sisters all discovered ways to make harmonizing enhance the emotional impact of any given song. Since the Everlys straddled the line between country, pop and rock ‘n’ roll the same as Elvis and Buddy Holly had, they wound up introducing two-part harmony vocalizing into the pop world, setting the stage for much of pop and rock of the ‘60s and ‘70s.”
Wilson had the thrill he felt as a teenager hearing the Everlys’ music returned when they recorded the Beach Boys’ “Don’t Worry Baby” on their final studio album, 1987’s “Some Hearts.”
Through a spokesman, Wilson said, “My heart is so incredibly saddened by the passing of Phil Everly. The Everly Brothers’ music was a huge inspiration for me growing up. As brothers, those harmonies just sound so sweet and tender. I think it’s a family thing. I could never get enough of their voices.”
Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, who started their career together as an Everlys-influenced duo called Tom & Jerry, took their love for the Everlys and their music to another level by bringing them out and giving them a featured segment during Simon & Garfunkel’s 2003 Old Friends tour.
Having recorded the Everlys’ hit “Bye Bye Love” on their 1970 “Bridge Over Troubled Water” album, Simon enlisted them to sing on the title track of his watershed “Graceland” solo album in 1986.
“Phil and Don were the most beautiful sounding duo I ever heard,” Simon told the New York Times. “Both voices pristine and soulful. The Everlys were there at the crossroads of country and R&B. They witnessed and were part of the birth of rock ‘n’ roll.
“I loved them both. Phil was outgoing, gregarious and very funny. Don is quiet and introspective. When Simon & Garfunkel toured with the Everlys in 2003, Art and I would take the opportunity to learn about the roots of rock ‘n’ roll from these two great historians.”
Strain between the Everly Brothers was evident in recent years, but on Friday, Don Everly issued a statement to the Associated Press: “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.”
“Although Phil completely quit smoking cigarettes in 2001, sadly the damage to his lungs was already done,” Everly’s widow, Patti, told The Times on Monday. She asked that in lieu of flowers, fans make donations to the memorial fund. She also noted that COPD has a genetic component, which means that it can strike people who do not smoke. “The world has lost a true angel. We must find a cure to COPD.”
Follow Randy Lewis on Twitter: @RandyLewis2
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