Along with brother Don, his songs inspired legends like The Beatles and Bob Dylan, writes Patrick Sawer
Published 05/01/2014 | 02:30
Phil Everly, who with his brother Don formed the duo that influenced generations of rock 'n' roll singers, including The Beatles and Bob Dylan, has died at the age of 74.
The singer, who was a lifelong smoker, died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at a hospital in Burbank, California.
Phil and Don Everly can be credited with creating the blueprint for a harmonic style of singing that during the late 1950s and 1960s, in the words of one critic "captured the yearning and angst of a nation of teenage baby-boomers looking for a way to express themselves".
The Everlys' hit records included Wake Up Little Susie and Bye Bye Love, All I Have To Do Is Dream, which married the fatalism of country music with a rocking backbeat, forging a new sound with a global reach.
In 1960 Cathy's Clown, written by Don, remained at No 1 in America for five weeks and topped the British charts for seven, selling more than eight million copies worldwide.
In a measure of their influence, The Beatles referred to themselves early in their career as "the English Everly Brothers" and Bob Dylan once said: "We owe these guys everything. They started it all."
In all, their career spanned five decades, although they performed separately from 1973 to 1983. At the peak of their success, between 1957 and 1962, they had 19 top-40 hits.
The pair broke up amid recriminations in 1973 after 16 years of hits, but reunited in 1983, "sealing it with a hug," Phil Everly said.
Although their number of hit records declined in the late 1980s, they continued to tour, both in the United States and Europe and were inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, the same year they had a hit with Born Yesterday.
Don Everly was born in 1937 in Brownie, Kentucky, to Ike and Margaret Everly, who were folk and country music singers. Phil Everly was born to the couple two years later, in Chicago where the Everlys moved to after Ike grew tired of working in the coal mines.
The brothers began singing country music in 1945 on their family's radio show in Shenandoah, Iowa, but their breakthrough came when they moved to Nashville in the mid-1950s and signed a recording contract with New York-based Cadence Records.
For most of their recordings, Don sang the baritone part and Phil the tenor part, using vocal harmony mostly based on diatonic thirds.
Their split came dramatically during a concert at Knott's Berry Farm in California. Phil threw his guitar down and walked off, prompting Don to tell the stunned audience, "The Everly Brothers died 10 years ago."
During their break-up, they pursued solo singing careers, but to little acclaim. Phil also appeared in the Clint Eastwood movie Every Which Way but Loose, while Don made a couple of records with friends in Nashville, performed in local nightclubs and played guitar and sang backing vocals on recording sessions.
In a 1986 Associated Press interview, Don Everly said that they were successful because "we never followed trends".
He added: "We did what we liked and followed our instincts. Rock 'n' roll did survive, and we were right about that. Country did survive, and we were right about that. You can mix the two, but people said we couldn't."
In 1988, the brothers began hosting an annual homecoming benefit concert in Central City, Kentucky, to raise money for the area.
Their influence spanned the decades.
Simon & Garfunkel recorded live versions of Bye Bye Love and Wake Up Little Susie and Paul McCartney paid tribute by mentioning "Phil and Don" in his 1976 million-seller, Let 'Em In.
More recently, Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones recorded a tribute to the brothers last November, reinterpreting the duo's 1958 album Songs Our Daddy Taught Us, which had paid homage to their family roots.
Armstrong said: "There's so much darkness in those old songs. I think mainly that's just how people communicated when it came to mourning and loss. Then with The Everly Brothers it sounds like these two little angels that sing."
Phil Everly was thrice married and had two sons, Jason and Chris, both singers and songwriters.
He married his third wife, Patti Arnold, in 1999.