R.I.P. Phil Everly


 So Sad

Phil and Don Everly around 1958?
Phil and Don Everly around 1958?

Somehow, although it might seem corny to use this song title, I can’t get it out of my mind tonight. It’s about 3 am, the time when normally I’m awake writing or E-mailing, or restoring photographs, or just keeping the fingers in trim on my old acoustic guitar. It’s the oddest thing, and so sad. Only last night at about this time I was strumming the old Everly Brothers hit of that name, and in my head I could still hear every note played by every instrument on the track, and sing every nuance of the two parts that Don and Phil Everly sang all those years ago. When we’re young, we soak up up the things we love like a sponge, and the music of the Everlies, which thrilled me to the core when I was a boy, will be in my head til I die. Kerry Ellis and I agreed a couple of weeks ago that So Sad was going to be one of the new songs in our set, when we resume the Candlelight concerts in February. So I was working on some arrangement ideas, but keeping very close to the essence of the original – I’m a purist when it comes to things like that. Even the way the Everlies performed the song in their reunion days didn’t feel right to me. I wanted the wonderful unblushing naive bite of the way it was done on that 7-inch piece of black vinyl in a blue and white lined sleeve, probably in one take, and certainly with no overdubs, auto tune, or edits. So I was singing the parts one at a time, planning to record some ideas.

And tonight, about 3 am, I hear that Phil is gone. I feel like a huge piece of my youth just melted away. I loved, loved those guys, and still do. From the Everly Brothers I learned to play rhythm guitar (a lot of people don’t have that experience these days), and I learned every note of both parts they sang – normally Phil taking the top part and Don the lower. From this I learned how two-part harmonies work – how different emotions are evoked using different sequences of intervals, how to find the moments that chill your spine, and avoid the ‘easy’ too-sweet harmonies that would make it sound trite. I know for sure that The Beatles learned a lot from the Everlies too – they too had a powerful innate understanding of how these things could be made to work (I knew it the first time I heard ‘Love Me Do’ on the radio – and compare the wonderful diverging harmonies of Please Please Me with the Everlies’ Cathy’s Clown).

I could probably write a book on the music of the fabulous Everly Brothers, but you’ll find echoes of their influence in a lot of our old Queen songs, and perhaps that is the best tribute. But if you’re curious and want a real trip through a glittering canon of quintessential 1950s-60s era gold-plated Pop, right now, find the Everly Brothers hits some place, imagine the last 50 years never happened, and give yourself a treat. Bye Bye Love, Wake Up Little Susie, Dream (ouch!), Crying in the Rain, I Wonder If I Care As Much, Always It’s You, Til I Kissed You … I’m sure they are all there on-line. I’m not looking at any lists … all this stuff lives in my head as one of my most treasured memories. It’s pure joy.

I never met them. Wish I had. But they will always be my heroes. I don’t think they will know who I am, but my heartfelt condolences to Phil’s wife, his family and friends, and of course to Don. I can’t imagine how that must be. So hard, So sad.

RIP Phil Everly … you were magic. I have tears in my eyes.


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