R.I.P. Don Everly, one-half of the melancholy harmonies of the influential Everly Brothers – The A.V. Club

Don and Phil Everly, the Everly Brothers, performing at Hyde Park in 2004

Don and Phil Everly, the Everly Brothers, performing at Hyde Park in 2004
Photo: Jo Hale (Getty Images)

Don Everly, the oldest and surviving member of the influential rock ‘n’ roll duo The Everly Brothers, died at his home in Nashville on Saturday. He was 84.

Don and Phil Everly, better known as The Everly Brothers, were among the most influential and groundbreaking groups of early rock ‘n’ roll. With their careers beginning within years of the genre’s founding, the heavenly harmonies of the Everlys, as heard on hits like “Bye Bye Love” and “Wake Up Little Susie,” found fans in The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Simon & Garfunkel, as well as millions of fans around the world. In addition to rock, their music helped popularize folk-rock and country-rock on the national stage.

Born on February 1, 1937, in Brownie, Kentucky, Issac Donald Everly grew up surrounded by music. After the family moved to Shenandoah, Iowa, his father, Ike, a former miner turned country musician, brought the boys to sing on his local radio program. Billed as “Little Donnie” and “Baby Boy Phil,” the Everly Brothers made their singing debut at ages 8 and 6.

In the 1950s, the group went from local radio singers to one of the biggest acts in the U.S. They signed to the independent New York label Cadence Records in 1957, the same year they released their first hit single, “Bye Bye Love,” which reached number two on the Billboard Pop Charts. By 1960, they had signed with Warner Bros. and were in the midst of a hot streak. Between 1957 and 1962, the Everlys had 15 top 10 hits, including “Bird Dog,” “Problems,” and the number-one hit “Cathy’s Clown.”

Their meteoric rise was not without its struggles, and the 1960s tested the group’s success. While the Everly Brothers scored five top 100 hits, the band would only return to the charts twice more throughout the decade. As the group’s popularity waned in an increasingly competitive field, both Don and Phil dealt with substance abuse issues. By the end of the decade, the band would release another seminal album: 1968’s Roots. Roots stood among other country-rock and folk-rock touchstones by The Byrds, Gram Parsons, and The Grateful Dead, a testament to the Everlys resilience and versatility. Nevertheless, Warners dropped the group in 1970.

The group broke up on stage at Knott’s Berry Farm in 1973 when Phil smashed his guitar on stage, leaving Don to tell the audience, “The Everly Brothers died 10 years ago.” However, they would return a decade later with the album EB ‘84, which featured the hit “On The Wings Of A Nightingale” written by Paul McCartney. Two years later, they joined Chuck Berry, James Brown, Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke, Jerry Lee Lewis, and more as members of the inaugural class of the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. Other accolades soon followed the Everlys, earning a lifetime achievement Grammy in 1997, for example.

In the early 2000s, the Everlys had all but finished recording music together. They toured with Simon & Garfunkel in 2003, but the Brothers’ schedule slowed significantly afterward, recording independently and sporadically throughout the decade.

On January 3, 2014, Phil Everly died of lung disease at the age of 74. Months after his death, Don told the L.A. Times, “I’m not over it. I really feel sad. I think about him every day. I always thought about him every day, even when we were not speaking to each other.”

But the Everlys impact was already set. Keith Richards called Don “one of the best rhythm guitarists in the world.” Paul McCartney said, “When John and I first started to write songs, I was Phil and he was Don.”