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- Posted on May 6th 2011 5:00PM by James Sullivan
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The Everly Brothers' own epic, long-running grudge match made Simon and Garfunkel's look like a game of pattycake. The brothers hadn't seen each other in years when they agreed to do the tour; they said hello in the parking lot outside the first venue.
"It was hilarious that the four of us were doing this tour, given our collective histories of squabbling," Simon told Rolling Stone. Born in Kentucky and Chicago respectively, Don and Phil Everly were child performers with a family group that had its own show on Iowa radio in the 1940s. Ike Everly, their father, taught Merle Travis the finger-picking guitar style for which he became famous.
By the mid-1950s the Everlys were living in Knoxville, TN, where they were discovered, signed and dropped in rapid succession by Columbia Records. Picked up by a new label, the Everly Brothers scored a surprise smash with a cover of 'Bye Bye Love,' a country-rock 'n' roll hybrid written by the husband-and-wife songwriting team of Boudleaux and Felice Bryant. The Bryants would go on to write many of the Everly Brothers' biggest hits, including 'Wake Up, Little Susie' and 'All I Have to Do Is Dream.'
By the beginning of the 1960s the Everly Brothers were among the biggest pop acts of the early rock 'n' roll era. They toured extensively with Buddy Holly; when he died in a plane crash in 1959, Phil Everly served as a pallbearer. Don did not attend the funeral. "I took to my bed" instead, he later recalled.
Leaving the Cadence label, the brothers signed a then-massive deal with Warner Brothers, a ten-year commitment reportedly worth $1 million. But after the success of 'Cathy's Clown' -- five weeks at Number One in 1960 -- the duo saw their fortunes begin to decline, while avowed Everlys fans including the Beatles and the Beach Boys took over the airwaves. (One of the Everlys' last Top 40 hits, 1964's 'Gone Gone Gone,' was covered by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss on their Grammy-winning 'Raising Sand' album.)
A fallout with their manager, Wesley Rose, the president of Nashville's biggest music publisher, Acuff-Rose, led to a period during which the Everly Brothers had no access to the songwriters who had helped build their career, including the Bryants. Frustrations like that and the grind of extensive touring led to growing dependencies on speed and, in Don's case, Ritalin. On one tour in the UK, where the band was revered, Don Everly departed early to return to the States, leaving Phil to finish the dates with their bass player as his brother's replacement.
The Everlys made one more stab at relevance in the early 1970s, signing with RCA and touring with a band that featured the legendarily hard-partying sidemen Warren Zevon and Waddy Wachtel. At a gig at Knott's Berry Farm ("America's first theme park!") in 1973, the quarreling brothers finally ended their relationship in ugly fashion, onstage. Phil smashed his guitar and walked off, leaving Don to finish the show alone.
"The Everly Brothers died ten years ago," Don groused.
Both brothers embarked on modest solo careers. Don Everly formed a band in Nashville, the Dead Cowboys. Phil, meanwhile, recorded a version of 'The Air That I Breathe' a year before the Hollies had a huge hit with the song. In 1983, he made a well-received album in England with several admirers, including Mark Knopfler.
That year the Everly Brothers reunited to much fanfare at the Royal Albert Hall. They have appeared together only sporadically since, and consider themselves unofficially retired. And the family's tradition of feuding lived to see another day: Erin Everly, Don's daughter, was once married to Axl Rose.