You don’t have to listen to the oldies station long to realize the genius of the Everly Brothers.
Surrounded by one-hit wonders and other songs you wish you could forget, the Everly’s taut little three-minute masterpieces ring out with authenticity, first-class songwriting and those thrilling “blood harmonies” that only siblings, cousins and parents and children seem to make.
You also get a crystal-clear view of that rare place where one thing becomes another: in this case, where country music added its rural imprint to rock ‘n’ roll. And when country first began to take on the spirit of rock. It’s no wonder the Everlys were among the original inductees into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.
The good news is that the Everly Brothers sound as good today as they might have 35 years ago. Accompanied by a top-notch band a couple of years ago at Silver Mountain, they made music that was fresh and compelling, though most of it dated back three decades and some of it even further than that.
In fact, to the ears of this reviewer, the traditionalcountry portion of their show outshone even the string of marvelous hits they sang - “Cathy’s Clown,” “Bird Dog,” “Devoted To You,” “All I Have To Do Is Dream.”
Though the Everlys made their mark as pop stars, their roots were country. The Everly clan hailed from central Kentucky. It was coal-mining country where English folk ballads were transformed into American country music. Theirs was a musical family.
Their father, Ike, is considered one of the last of the “authentic” guitar players, and the echoes of his thumbpicking style can be heard in the work of Merle Travis, Chet Atkins, and Mark Knopfler, guitarist for the British pop band, Dire Straits.
When Don, the eldest Everly brother, was born, Ike moved his family from the hill country to Knoxville, where he hoped to establish a music career. Phil was born, and the family moved again - to Iowa, where Ike worked as a staff musician on a powerful regional station. It was then, around 1950, that Don and Phil began appearing onstage with Ike and their mother, Marjorie.
In ‘53, the Everlys relocated to Knoxville, where they earned $90 a week performing live on radio station WROL. Kitty Wells recorded one of Don’s songs, “Though Shalt Not Steal,” and the family decided to send the boys to Nashville to try to strike it rich.
Record producers didn’t take an immediate ken to their unusual style, which married rich country harmonies with pop production values and songs of teen love. But finally, Cadence Records signed the Everlys in 1957, and their first hit, “Bye Bye Love,” sold an astronomical 2 million copies. That year, the Everlys became the first act to bring drums to the stage of the Grand Ole Opry and, for better or worse, they are credited with introducing drums to country music.
The Everlys enjoyed several years of astonishing success, blending country, blue grass, pop and R&B; influences into a sound that became a wellspring for much of the pop of the future.
“We owe them everything,” Bob Dylan once said of the Everlys.
The Everlys enjoyed considerable success well into the ‘60s but, like most of the early pop musicians, were swept under by the British invasion. They hung in there until ‘73, when they acrimoniously called it quits during a concert at Knotts’ Berry Farm.
The feud kept them apart for a full decade. In 1983, though, they decided enough was enough, and they staged a dramatic two-night reunion at the Royal Albert Hall in London. The shows attracted virtually every pop luminary in the city, and many from the States, and the Everlys were back on the map.
Today, the Everly Brothers spend their summers on the road, taking their music to venues such as Silver Mountain. For the past three years, they have returned to their hometown of Muhlenberg, Ky., to perform a benefit that raises scholarship money for Muhlenberg students.
It’s true that these days you’re most likely to hear the Everlys on the oldies stations, but that isn’t a just evaluation of their place in music. Every time they step onstage, they perform a show that’s timeless, beautiful and stunningly original.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: The Everly Brothers Location and time: Silver Mountain Amphitheatre, Kellogg, Idaho, Saturday, 7 p.m. Tickets: $29.50 and $24.50