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Phil Everly

Musician

Musician

Born: January 19, 1939; Died: January 3, 2014

Phil Everly, who has died aged 74, was a musician and rock star whose high, close-harmony singing with his older brother Don made the Everly Brothers one of the biggest rock and country acts of the 1950s and early 1960s. In their heyday between 1957 and 1962, they had 19 top 40 hits.

They also profoundly influenced many other artists of the Sixties, ranging from John Lennon and Paul McCartney, who once referred to themselves as the English Everly Brothers, to Simon and Garfunkel, the Byrds, the Hollies and the Beach Boys.

The brothers did not always have a good relationship though. They had a dramatic onstage breakup in 1973 that led to a decade-long estrangement, although Phil later said that their relationship had endured. "Don and I are infamous for our split," Phil said, "but we're closer than most brothers. Harmony singing requires that you enlarge yourself, not use any kind of suppression. Harmony is the ultimate love."

Phillip Everly was born in Chicago, the son of two country musicians, Ike and Margaret Everly. With Ike Everly on guitar, the family was a travelling act and they had a radio show in which Phil and Don performed between commercials.

Their breakthrough hit, Bye Bye Love, came in 1957 and rose to No 2 on the U.S. charts. It was their first million-seller and the first of numerous Everly tunes written by Boudleaux Bryant and his wife Felice, including All I Have to Do Is Dream, Wake Up Little Susie and Devoted to You.

Wake Up Little Susie, also released in 1957, was their first No 1 hit. A song about two teenagers falling asleep at the drive-in theatre and waking up long after curfew, it was banned in Boston for its ever-so-slightly suggestive lyrics.

In 1960, the brothers signed with a new record label, Warner Bros, agreeing to a 10-year, $1million contract and making their debut with their own song, Cathy's Clown, but by then their career was in decline.

The Beatles may have led to the clean-cut brothers' undoing in the tumultuous 1960s, but they were on a downward path at least a year before the Fab Four exploded on the scene, according to the Country Music Hall of Fame, which inducted the Everlys in 2001.

"They broke with (record producer) Wesley Rose in 1961, moved to California, and began making singles that were probably too experimental for the time," it said, also citing a slowdown in touring and a loss of access to the Bryants' songs due to a split with music publishing firm Acuff-Rose.

However, the songs lived on through some of the biggest acts of the era including Simon and Garfunkel, who recorded Bye Bye Love on their 1970 hit album, Bridge over Troubled Water.

Art Garfunkel said that the brothers' harmonising had taught him that every syllable can shine. "They were Kentucky guys with beautiful, perfect-pitch harmonies and great diction. All those vowels and consonants, those s's and t's, every one of them killed me," he said.

In 1973, with both of the brothers suffering health and stress problems after years of touring, the Everlys broke up during a concert at Knott's Berry Farm amusement park in Buena Park, California. Phil Everly threw his guitar down and stormed off the stage during a performance of Cathy's Clown, leaving Don to tell the stunned audience the group was finished.

In September 1983, after a decade of solo projects, they reunited for a show at the Royal Albert Hall. They drew critical acclaim, and the concert yielded an album and a DVD.

They then released EB 84 in 1984 to more acclaim and scored a minor hit with the album's On the Wings of a Nightingale, which was written for them by Paul McCartney. Phil Everly last performed in public in 2011, although his son Jason said he had been actively writing songs.

Two generations on from their great success, artists are still finding inspiration in the music of the brothers. Most recently, Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones recorded a tribute to the Everlys. "There's so much darkness in those old songs," Armstrong said. "I think mainly that's just how people communicated when it came to mourning and loss. Then with the Everly Brothers it sounds like these two little angels that sing."

Phil Everly is survived by his wife, his brother Don, their mother, Margaret, sons Jason and Chris, and two granddaughters.

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