Don Everly, who with his late younger sibling Phil established the template for close harmony vocalizing in the chart-topping duo the Everly Brothers, died Saturday at age 84 in Nashville. No cause of death was immediately disclosed.
The Los Angeles Times confirmed the death through a family spokesman, even as tributes were already accumulating on social media Saturday night as word circulated about his passing.
Everly — an inaugural inductee in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 who also joined the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001 — grew up singing the high, fluid harmonies that would make him famous in his family’s country act. Beginning in 1957, he and his brother cut a groundbreaking series of hit ballads and rockers for the Cadence and Warner Bros. labels.
Cloning the Elverly brothers’ Music sound
The Everly’s left a bold impression on the rock musicians who succeeded them. The Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel – whose early pairing as Tom & Jerry essentially cloned the brothers’ sound – were only the best known acts to adapt their achingly beautiful harmony sound.
The brothers also made their mark on a later generation of country-rock musicians, with their impact felt in the work of the Byrds, Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris and the Eagles.
In his notes for the 1994 Rhino Records boxed set “Heartaches & Harmonies,” critic and historian Ken Barnes wrote, “Excepting only the urban doo-woppers, you’d be hard-pressed to find a voice-blending rock act from 1957 on whose conceptual blueprint wasn’t first sketched by Don and Phil.”
Isaac Donald Everly was born in Brownie, KY, on Feb. 1, 1937. His father Ike, originally a coal miner and a gifted guitarist, had pursued country music as a career in a duo with his wife Margaret. Don’s younger brother Phil was born in Chicago in 1939.
Mentored in Music City
The boys grew up on Shenandoah, Iowa, where their parents hosted a country music show on local radio stations KMA and KFNF. The brothers began performing on the broadcasts from an early age, styling their vocal work along the lines of such country sibling duos as the Blue Sky Boys (Earl and Bill Bolick), the Monroe Brothers, the Delmore Brothers and the ‘50s stars the Louvin Brothers.
The family moved to Tennessee in the early ‘50s. After Don and Phil both graduated from high school, they tried to establish themselves as an act in Nashville. They were mentored in Music City by guitarist and producer Chet Atkins, a family friend. They secured a contract with Columbia Records, but they were dropped by the label after one unsuccessful 1955 single.
The Everlys kicked around Nashville for a year in which they were rejected by nearly every label in town. However, they were befriended by Wesley Rose, head of the powerful Acuff-Rose publishing combine, who encouraged Archie Bleyer of the New York-based independent Cadence Records to roll the dice on the brothers. When they entered the studio for the label, their country-based sound was cast in a pop matrix.