The Everly Brothers facts: Phil and Don's childhood, songs, break-up, reunion and deaths

21 March 2022, 13:29 | Updated: 16 November 2023, 14:40

The Everly Brothers
The Everly Brothers. Picture: Getty

By Mayer Nissim

Despite their fights, the relationship between Phil and Don Everly was built on the purest harmony.

Phil and Don Everly will always be bound together as The Everly Brothers, the harmonising duo who influenced everyone from The Beatles and the Rolling Stones to The Beach Boys and Simon & Garfunkel.

Don died on August 21, 2021 at the age of 84. Phil had previously passed away from lung disease on January 3, 2014.

But their music and influence lives on forever, so we celebrate The Everly Brothers with a look back at their lives and music.

When were The Everly Brothers born and where did they grow up?

All I Have to Do Is Dream (Remastered)

The eldest Everly, Isaac Donald 'Don' Everly, was born on February 1, 1937 in Brownie, Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. His little brother Phillip 'Phil' Everly was born two years later in Chicago, Illinois on January 19, 1939.

Their parents were coal miner-turned-guitarist Isaac Milford 'Ike' Everly, Jr and Margaret Embry Everly, who married when Ike was 26 and Margaret was 15.

Phil and Don spent a year at Longfellow Elementary School in Waterloo, Iowa before moving to Shenandoah in 1944.

The Everly Family moved to Knoxville, Tennessee in 1953 and the boys went to West High School, before moving to Madison and then Nashville.

How did The Everly Brothers start making music?

Bye Bye Love

The Everly Brothers were making music from the very beginning. Their dad Ike had radio shows on KMA and KFNF in Shenandoah with Margaret, before the boys joined in.

The kids were billed together as Little Donnie and Baby Boy Phil, and the quartet collectively sang as The Everly Family.

After Don graduated high school in 1955 and Phil in 1957, they leapt straight into the music business.

They got work on regional radio/TV variety show Cas Walker's Farm and Home Hour, grabbing the attention of Nashville legend Chet Atkins, who got them a gig at Columbia Records.

They recorded Don's own 'Keep a-Lovin' Me', but things fizzled out.

Atkins moved the boys on to Wesley Rose, who in turn introduced them to Archie Bleyer, and the boys were eventually given 'Bye Bye Love' Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, which made them superstars.

What songs did The Everly Brothers record?

Wake up Little Susie

The Everlys recorded a mix of self-penned tracks, covers and songs written for them by professional writers like the Bryants and even late in their career, Paul McCartney.

The bulk of their hits came in the 1950s and early 1960s, and their best loved songs include:

  • All I Have To Do Is Dream
  • Wake Up Little Susie
  • Bird Dog
  • Cathy's Clown
  • Bye Bye Love
  • ('Til) I Kissed You
  • This Little Girl of Mine
  • Walk Right Back
  • Problems
  • Claudette
  • Crying In The Rain
  • So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad)
  • Ebony Eyes
  • On The Wings Of A Nightingale
  • Love Hurts
  • June Is As Cold As December

Why did The Everly Brothers split up?

Cathy's Clown (Remastered)

While it was pretty obvious how they got together, The Everly Brothers split needs a bit more explanation.

The talent of the Everlys couldn't be denied, even as the first wave of rock 'n' roll faded and was replaced by the likes of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones – artists who proudly admitted their debt to Phil and Don.

But their commercial standing stuttered, especially in the US. Don Everly released his self-titled debut solo album in 1971, which Phil complained was "like cheating on a marriage".

Don's album wasn't a hit, and he also suffered a nervous breakdown as a result of his issues with Ritalin addiction.

Nevertheless, the brothers continued with a couple more albums in 1972 and '73 before announcing that their final show would take place on July 14, 1973, at Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park, California.

A show the night before had gone without a hitch, but instead of being a celebration of brotherly love and their achievements, tensions rose and rose on that second, fateful night.

Hepped up on champagne and tequila, a drunken Don stumbled through a number of songs, prompting an infuriated Phil to smash his guitar and walk off, leaving Don to finish off the show alone. The brothers wouldn't work together for a decade.

How did The Everly Brothers get back together?

Crying in the Rain

While both Phil and Don wrote, recorded and performed in their decade apart, they didn't get anywhere near the critical, commercial or artistic success they had enjoyed together.

Ten years was enough estrangement, and they agreed to get back together for a reunion show at the Royal Albert Hall in London on September 23, 1983, which was recorded and filmed, being shown on TV in January 1984.

The concert was a huge success, and spurred the brothers to get back into the studio to record EB '84, which was led by 'On The Wings of a Nightingale', written by longtime fan Paul McCartney, finally getting the group back in the charts where they belonged.

They went on to release the albums Born Yesterday in 1985 and swansong Some Hearts in 1988, while also finding time to provide vocals for the title track of Paul Simon's Graceland.

Their last recording as a duo was 'Cold' for the Jim Steinman/Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Whistle Down The Wind.

When did Phil Everly and Don Everly die?

Phil Everly died of lung disease Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, California, on January 3, 2014. He was 74.

He had struggled to quit smoking for much of his life and contracted chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, needing oxygen and medication for several years.

Don Everly died on August 21, 2021 at his Nashville home at the age of 84.

Who did The Everly Brothers influence and who has covered them?

[All I Have To Do Is] Dream

As we've mentioned already, Paul McCartney was a big Everly Brothers fan.

He and John Lennon apparently tried to impress the ladies by telling them they were "the British Everly Brothers", and they can be heard playing 'Bye Bye Baby' on the tapes for 'Two of Us' during the fractious Let It Be sessions.

But it wasn't just The Beatles. Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, Cliff Richard, Rod Stewart, Robert Plant, Norah Jones, Billie Joe Armstrong, Ray Charles, REM, Robert Plant and The Who are just some of the artists who have openly admired the duo and covered their music.

Simon & Garfunkel with Everly Brothers - Bye Bye Love (New York 2003)

Maybe the most indebted group of all were Simon & Garfunkel, who did the most to repay the favour to Phil and Don when they took them on the road for their Old Friends tour in 2002 and 2003.

Rather than just have the Everlys warm up the crowd for them, they gave the brothers a four-song set in the middle of their own performance where both duos collaborated to show how much respect and influence they shared with one another.