Bye, Bye Phil and Don

Back in the day.

In 1958, I was 6 years old. I didn’t have a record player but there was a radio that was almost always tuned to the top 40 station in the Schenectady, NY area where I grew up. It only got AM radio and there were only two stations that came in clearly enough although on a good day, you could get three. WPTR (1540 AM, Albany), WTRY (980 AM, Troy) and WSNY (1240 AM, Schenectady). I recall songs from as early as age three but the song that caught my ear was “(All I Have to Do is) Dream” by the Everly Brothers. Maybe because, at that time, I had 6 brothers myself (later 8) and I had an affinity for brothers in general. I didn’t know from “taste your lips of wine…” or any of that other lovesick stuff but hey, I was six and there was something that grabbed me about the song.

I took up the guitar at the age of 11 not because of Phil and Don but because of John, Paul, George and Ringo. I was an adequate lead guitar player and played with various bands from Jr. High (I guess it’s called middle school now) through college. Adequate guitar players were a dime a dozen (especially in the late 60’s) but I always seemed to find a place in a band. That’s where Phil and Don come in. I can sing harmony to just about anything. No learning required. If I know the melody, I can find the harmony in real time. I’m not sure how I do this but I don’t really care. It’s a gift. That will keep an adequate guitar player working. Interestingly, I can’t sing lead. I’m almost always flat but if I can reference to another voice, I’m generally dead on. If the lead singer is slightly sharp, then I’ll be slightly sharp-it’s all based on reference to another voice.

I don’t know a whole lot of music theory-enough to be dangerous, I guess. I know a third from a fourth from a fifth (and a fifth from a quart but that’s another post). I learned harmony listening to, of course, The Everly Brothers. Their voices (being brothers) blended so seamlessly that it sometimes was impossible to separate the notes in my head. There were a few other singers back in the day that blended like that but they were always singing along with themselves multi-tracked. John and Paul blend pretty well but you’re often hearing John and John or Paul and Paul. Gene Pitney is a great example of that great, perfect blend but he was multi-tracked as well. Neil Sedaka-same thing. Listen to Crosby Stills and Nash. You can pick out each part easily because they don’t blend. It still sounds great but it isn’t the same thing.

It’s no surprise that so many of the greats were influenced by Don and Phil Everly. Without their contribution, rock and roll (and country) wouldn’t be the same. They didn’t invent tight harmony, they merely perfected it. So sad to see them go. Bye bye Don.

Don Everly 1937-2021

7 Responses to “Bye, Bye Phil and Don”

  1. RAB says:

    Charlie, good post. Yup, those boys could harmonize for sure!

  2. Rod says:

    Rick(y) Nelson was pretty good at singing along with himself as well. But it still all probably goes back to the Everlys. Or the Louvin Brothers.

  3. RAB says:

    BUT it BUGS me when people strum over the fingerboard! Yes, I know Keef does it too but it’s still wrong!

  4. Nelson Checkoway says:

    Thanks for the touching tribute, Charlie. I’m of that same “certain age” and remember the Everlys well. One thing they could do seamlessly was shift from over to under harmonies. I think this was a huge take-away for John and Paul, since John couldn’t sign beyond Paul’s higher range and had to craft some very Everly-like lines below–and this was a very distinctive part of the Beatle sound. We also should name check another great rock/pop partnership of Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe whose songwriting and performances evoked the brothers. You might recall that the first and only album credited to Rockpile included a bonus 45 “Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds Sing the Everly Brothers” (they’re seen playing vintage J-200s instead of the Gibson Everly Brothers Model)

  5. RAB says:

    Great album cover!

  6. RAB says:

    Note Nick using the “Johnny Cash-approved” strum from the butt end arm position. Always seemed visually silly and ergonomically awkward to me!

  7. Carter says:

    I always wanted to hear the Everly’s sing Ticket to Ride. I can picture them singing it when I hear the Beatles version.

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