If you grew up listening to oldies radio, then you probably associate the Everly Brothers’ “Cathy’s Clown” and other obvious hits with the early Beatles more so than young Johnny Cash. Yet the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame duo of Don and Phil Everly always had deep roots in country music, dating back to appearances as children on father Ike Everly’s hillbilly radio show–alongside Merle Travis and other emerging talents. Those roots, plus an innate ability to bridge the gap between country and rock audiences, is why the brothers also claimed a spot in the Country Music Hall of Fame rotunda back in 2001.
In the mid-’50s, the Everlys moved to Nashville. There, they worked with family friend Chet Atkins, who’d facilitate the brothers signing with Acuff-Rose as songwriters. While the brothers went on to become renown for co-write “When Will I Be Loved” and other American pop standards, their first big hit single came via the pen of “Rocky Top” composer Boudleaux Bryant and his wife Felice Bryant. Bryant family co-write “Bye Bye Love” came out in 1957 on Cadence Records. It pushed the country and rock hybrid known as rockabilly further into teenage culture.
The Everlys would go on to have more success with Bryant compositions, namely “Wake Up Little Susie,” “All I have to Do is Dream” and the more country-sounding “Bird Dog.” This pairing of talented songwriters and versatile song interpreters suited the listening needs of rock & roll fans and Nashville sound devotees in the late ’50s and early ’60s.
Changing popular music trends and stints in the military for both brothers halted chart success in the states as the ’60s went on, although the brothers did remain hit-makers in the UK and Canada.
The Roots of Their Raising
Even at their pop peak, the Everly Brothers never fully shunned their country roots. The brothers’ second album, 1958’s Songs Our Daddy Taught Us, consists of folk standards and singing cowboy trail anthems. On the 1963 album The Everly Brothers Sing Great Country Hits, Don and Phil covered Cash’s “I Walk the Line,” Don Gibson’s “Oh Lonesome Me” and “Sweet Dreams.” Wanda Jackson’s “Silver Threads and Golden Needles” and Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” Five years later, country nostalgia gave way to country-rock innovation with the album Roots. As country music changed in the ’70s, so did the brothers’ cover material. On 1972’s Pass the Chicken and Listen, they interpret the songs of Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Mickey Newbury and Guy Clark.
After the brothers split in the ’70s, Don Everly continued cutting country-tinged rock records, including 1974 album Sunset Towers. When the brothers reunited in the ’80s, early rock and British Invasion-inspired nostalgia took precedent over blending country and rock influences. Still, the band’s legacy as two of the earliest crossover artists with deep roots in country music remains beyond Phil’s 2014 death.
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