RIP Don Everly

Sep 2, 2021

Last week, Don Everly of the Everly Brothers passed away. It hit me hard, because the Everly Brothers’ music has meant a lot to me over the years. I think I own every record they ever made. I listen to the Everly Brothers at least once a day. I always sing along to them in the car. I love the Everly Brothers! Since I haven’t done a video in a while, I thought I would make a tribute video to the Everly Brothers featuring three of their songs from three different eras of their careers. “Since You Broke My Heart” is from their early era on Cadence, written by Don (supposedly he wrote the song for Buddy Holly). “Gone Gone Gone” is one of their rockin’est songs, from their great mid-1960s period on Warner Bros. Records. “I’m On My Way Back Home Again” is a late-period song from their country-rock phase before they broke up in the early 1970s. I decided to record all three as a medley, playing all the instruments (narrowed down from eighty songs earlier in the week—it was hard to only pick just three!).

Now, I mentioned last week that anyone who attempts to cover an Everly Brothers song indulges in sheer folly. You’re kidding yourself if you think you can reach that high. In my world, the Everly Brothers records represent an absolute gold standard in several categories: for one thing, NOBODY ever sang like Don and Phil. They were the best harmony singers who ever lived, as far as I’m concerned. There’s something about that sibling harmony that can’t be beat—the harmonies and the phrasing are just flawless. And I mean flawless! In addition to their singing, the Everly records have some of the greatest musicians on them too, including Nashville A-team stars like Chet Atkins and Hank Garland on guitars (and later, James Burton and Clarence White!). Lastly, Everly Brothers records have some of the best production in recording studio history, courtesy of Bill Porter at RCA Studio B in Nashville, and later the finest producers in Los Angeles at United/Western. Which is a long-winded way of saying, when you tackle an Everly Brothers song, you have a lot to live up to. I don’t think my efforts come within a country mile of their excellence, but it was a lot of fun to play and sing these songs to the best of my ability, and figure out how these songs were arranged.

I’ll answer some of the guitar geek questions here so the guitar guys don’t keep leaving the same comments: the “doo-wah” effect you hear on the first two songs is a DeArmond 610 Volume/Tone pedal, the same pedal used by Nashville guys like Chet Atkins and Hank Garland (and Nokie Edwards of the Ventures on their song “Pedal Pusher”—big thanks to Garrett Immel for gifting me one of them!). “I’m On My Way Home Again” originally featured the Telecaster B-Bender magic of Clarence White, which is a real tough act to follow (especially since that style is way, way out of my wheelhouse). I was surprised to find that a Rickenbacker 365 (that a friend loaned me) got the closest tone to that silky, two-pickups-almost-out-of-phase Clarence White tone of anything I had at the house. The Rick also got pretty close to the Mosrite tone that Gene Moles got on those great Bakersfield Red Simpson records. You wouldn’t think a Rickenbacker would make a good country guitar, but it was great!

The Gibson J-200 I’m playing isn’t a particularly desirable vintage one, but it does have a story. When I was really young and hadn’t been playing very long, I was obsessed with the Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly, and I spotted this J-200 acoustic (the same model used by Buddy and the Everlys) used in a pawn shop in Roanoke, Virginia. A while later, my dad surprised me by getting it and having it shipped to Missouri. I’ve had it all these years, since I was a teenager, and am pretty emotionally attached to it.

But enough of the guitar geek talk, because this post is really about the singing and the harmonies!

My hope is that if there are any of you out there who haven’t been gobsmacked by the brilliance of the Everly Brothers, maybe my little tribute will help you discover one of the greatest musical acts of the twentieth century. Rest in peace, Don. I hope that you and Phil are back together making beautiful harmonies up there, somewhere in the afterlife.