Phil Everly, who with his older sibling Don set the standard for harmony singing in rock ‘n’ roll in the Everly Brothers, died Friday in Burbank of complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He was 74.
“We are absolutely heartbroken,” his wife Patti told the LA Times, saying the disease was due to the late musician’s lifetime of cigarette smoking. “He fought long and hard.”
Everly, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with his brother in 1986 and the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001, mastered the art of close harmony singing in his family’s country group as a child. With his brother, he recorded a string of unforgettable ballads and rockers for the Cadence and Warner Bros. labels in the late 1950s and early ‘60s. The list includes such enduring hits as “Bye Bye Love,” “All I Have to Do Is Dream,” “When Will I Be Loved” (written by Phil Everly) and “Cathy’s Clown.”
The Everly Brothers’ pioneering blend of country and rock ‘n’ roll spread their influence on artists ranging from Bob Dylan to the Beatles, Beach Boys, Simon and Garfunkel and beyond. In November, singer Norah Jones and Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day released “Foreverly,” a duets album featuring all Everly Brothers songs.
In later years, Phil and Don Everly had a famously rocky relationship. Following an acrimonious split in the early 1970s, the Everlys regrouped in 1983 for renewed recording and touring.
Phil Everly was born Jan. 19, 1939, in Chicago, to country performers Ike and Margaret Everly. With his brother, two years his senior, he began performing with the family act at the age of 10 on the family’s radio show on KVA in Shenandoah, Iowa. As youngsters, the Everly boys excelled at the close-harmony style of such country precursors as the Blue Sky Boys, the Monroe Brothers, the Delmore Brothers, and their contemporaries the Louvin Brothers.
With encouragement from guitarist Chet Atkins, the Everly Brothers stepped out as a duo in 1955, following Don’s graduation from high school. They recorded unsuccessfully for Columbia and were subsequently rejected by most of the Nashville-based labels. However, on the advice of powerful Nashville publisher Wesley Rose, Archie Bleyer of New York-based Cadence Records decided to take a chance on the duo.
Their first session for the label in March 1957 led to an immense national hit: “Bye Bye Love,” a bouncy number penned by the husband-and-wife Nashville songwriting team of Boudeleaux and Felice Bryant, who would go on to write other smashes for the pair. Promoted to pop radio, the song rocketed to No. 2 nationally. It was quickly succeeded that year by the first of the Everlys’ four No. 1 singles, “Wake Up Little Susie,” which held the top of the chart for four weeks that spring.
Equally adept at up-tempo material and affecting balladry, the Everlys secured two more No. 1 hits in 1958 with “All I Have to Do is Dream” and “Bird Dog.” Other top 10 entries included “Devoted to You,” “’Til I Kissed You” and “Let It Be Me.” In 1958, the brothers also recorded a memorable collection of folk material, “Songs Our Daddy Taught Us.”
Segueing to major label Warner Bros. in 1960, they struck gold immediately with the stomping “Cathy’s Clown,” their last No. 1 release. Other classic top-10 singles followed: “So Sad,” “Walk Right Back,” “Ebony Eyes” and “Crying in the Rain.”
Though the hits dried up for the Everlys with the advent of the British invasion, they still made forward-looking music. In 1968, the pair released the progressive album “Roots,” produced by future Warner Bros. prexy Lenny Waronker; framed by snippets from one of their family’s ‘40s radio shows, it is considered by many to be one of the first legitimate country-rock albums.
After their exit from Warner Bros., the Everly Brothers made two unsatisfying albums for RCA. The act blew apart in public with an on-stage fight between the brothers during a show at Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, Calif., on July 14, 1973.
Phil continued on as a solo act. He contributed songs to the soundtracks and appeared in Clint Eastwood’s country-flavored comedies “Every Which Way But Loose” and “Any Which Way You Can.” He also recorded for Curb and Capitol in the U.S. and scored a top 10 hit in England with “She Means Nothing to Me,” from a self-titled all-star album recorded in England in 1983.
The same year, at the urging of British guitarist Albert Lee, the Everly Brothers reunited for an emotional concert at the Royal Albert Hall. Released on an album and DVD, the performance led to renewed interest in the siblings’ music, and to a contract with Mercury Records. The lead-off single from the pair’s comeback album “EB ’84” was a Paul McCartney-penned ballad, “On the Wings of a Nightingale.” It became their final chart single, reaching No. 50.
After two more albums, 1986’s “Born Yesterday” and 1988’s “Some Hearts,” the Everlys retreated from the studio. The pair appeared on the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Jim Steinman concept album “Whistle Down the Wind” in 1998.
As a soloist, Phil appeared in later years on albums by Dutch vocalist Rene Shuman and country star Vince Gill. A new duet recording of “All I Have to Do is Dream” by Phil and U.K. pop star Cliff Richard became a top 20 hit in 1981.
In addition to his wife, Phil Everly is survived by his brother and mother, sons Jason and Chris, and two granddaughters.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.