Back in the 50’s, American music was in transition. The Mills Brothers and the Andrews Sisters were being replaced by the pulsating rhythms of black culture, thanks to Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley. Not everyone was happy about the change. I remember one local DJ who played the latest Presley record, then smashed it into bits and vowed never to play a song by Elvis again. My parents cheered. The station fired him.
As a pre-teenager, I was passionate about the new music. I never missed the weekly Top 40 show from WBZ in Boston and often scanned the airwaves at night in search of new songs from far off stations like WABC in New York, WLS in Chicago and WAPE in Jacksonville.
Once a month, I rode my trusty Raleigh bicycle to the record store to buy a new 45 with my allowance money. There I could choose a song from the Drifters, Frankie Valli, or Freddy “Boom Boom” Cannon. But my first choice was always the very latest record from The Everly Brothers. I couldn’t wait to buy it, get it home and listen to it on the hi-fi!
Many dismissed the Everlys as hillbillies, which they were. As boys, they learned from their father, an itinerant musician from Appalachia who sang the Scots-Irish ballads of his ancestors as he drifted from town to town. Those same “hillbilly” songs later formed the basis for bluegrass and country music, both of which have had an enormous influence on American music over the decades.
The lyrics of Everly Brothers songs had a way of speaking directly to me, as if they understood the turmoil associated with coming of age. They sang “Love is like a stove – burns you when it’s hot.” They asked plaintively “When will I be loved?” They pleaded with one apocryphal young lady to “Let it be me.” They even had the temerity to suggest that falling asleep at the drive-in could land young lovers in deep trouble. Although Wake Up Little Susie never said those teens were anything but chaste as they slumbered, the song was banned in Boston anyway.
In an age when sexuality and romance were whispered about rather than discussed openly, the music of the Everly Brothers was as close as I could get to a guide through the hormonal upheavals I was experiencing. My very first girlfriend was named Kathy and when Kathy’s Clown hit the airwaves, I felt Phil and Don must know everything that was in my heart.
Their music was unique. It featured close, two part harmonies in a way never heard before on the airwaves. That style came to influence Simon and Garfunkel and later The Beatles. In time, they became American music legends. When I read that Phil Everly died last week, it was like I had lost a personal friend, someone who helped guide me through my formative years.
What great memories you and your brother gave me. Phil. Thank you.