Don Everly, half of singing duo who influenced generations of musicians, dies at 84

Joe Erwin
New York Daily News

Singer and guitarist Don Everly, half of a brotherly hit-making machine that set a template for a host of harmony-makers who followed, died on Saturday at 84.

In a statement to the Los Angeles Times, his family wrote, “Don lived by what he felt in his heart. Don expressed his appreciation for the ability to live his dreams … with his soulmate and wife, Adela, and sharing the music that made him an Everly Brother.”

His family said he died in Nashville and did not disclose the cause of death.

Everly and his younger brother Phil, who died in 2014, hit it big in 1957 with “Bye Bye Love,” the first in a string of smashes showcasing the Everly Brothers’ incomparable vocal blend.

Don Everly, right, and Phil Everly perform in 2000. Washington Post photo by Dudley M. Brooks

Things weren’t always harmonious for the singing siblings in their personal lives, but upon Phil’s death, Don described their deep bond.

“I was listening to one of my favorite songs that Phil wrote and had an extreme emotional moment just before I got the news of his passing,” Don wrote in a statement to The Associated Press at the time. “I took that as a special spiritual message from Phil saying goodbye. Our love was and will always be deeper than any earthly differences we might have had.”

They began recording in 1956 and quickly racked up the hits. “Bye Bye Love,” which reached No. 2 on the Billboard charts, was followed by “Wake Up Little Susie,” which hit the top spot. Between 1957 and 1962 they had 13 top-10 hits, with “All I Have to Do is Dream” and “Cathy’s Clown” also reaching No. 1.

The brothers enlisted in the Marines in 1961, and that and the British invasion helped cool their careers. The Beatles and their British brethren may have taken over the pop charts, but they owed a lot to the Everly Brothers.

“Phil Everly was one of my great heroes,” Paul McCartney said in a statement when Phil died in 2014. “With his brother Don, they were one of the major influences on The Beatles. When John and I first started to write songs, I was Phil and he was Don.”

McCartney later name-checked “Phil and Don” on his 1976 “Let ‘Em In.”

Other harmony maestros also saluted the pair.

“The Everly Bros music was a huge inspiration for me growing up,” Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys wrote after Phil’s death. “As brothers, those harmonies just sound so sweet and tender, I think it’s a family thing. I could never get enough of their voices.”

And Paul Simon, who laid down incredible vocals with Art Garfunkel, called the Everly Brothers “the most beautiful sounding duo I ever heard.”

Their initial time together came to a crashing conclusion in a public setting.

During a 1973 concert at Knott’s Berry Farm in California, Phil smashed his guitar and walked off mid-show, leaving Don to finish.

They didn’t play together for another decade, until a 1983 appearance at Royal Albert Hall in London.

Their reunion album, “EB 84,” included the McCartney-penned “On the Wings of a Nightingale,” which reached No. 50 on the pop chart and climbed to No. 9 on the adult contemporary survey.

The album peaked at No. 38, and was followed by two more releases, “Born Yesterday” in 1986 and “Some Hearts” in 1988. In 2003-04 they opened for Simon and Garfunkel on tour and joined the duo during the middle of the concerts.

The Everly Brothers were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s first class, in 1986, with Neil Young introducing them.

“Thank God they gave us two (trophies), we don’t have to fight over it,” Phil joked at the induction.

Don’s brief speech included his feelings on their career.

“Rock ‘n’ roll’s been good to us,” he said. “I hope it’s been good to you.”