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Obituary: Phil Everly

Obituary by Jack Foley

PHIL Everly, one half of The Everly Brothers, has died at the age of 74.

The American musician passed away from complications caaused by lung disease, according to his wife, Patti. He was in the Los Angeles suburb of Burbank at the time.

“We are absolutely heartbroken,” Patti told the Los Angeles Times, before adding that his condition had been the result of a lifetime of smoking.

Phil Everly made up one half of the Everly Brothers with his sibling, Don, and the pair became one of the biggest pop acts of the ’50s and early ’60s. Hits included Wake Up Little Suzie, Cathy’s Clown, Bye Bye Love and All I Have To Do Is Dream.

Born to Ike and Margaret Everly, who were themselves folk and country music singers, in 1939 in Chicago, where the Everlys moved to after Ike grew tired of working in the coal mines, Phil was two years younger than his brother, Don.

They both started playing music from an early age and began singing country music in 1945 on their family’s radio show in Shenandoah, Iowa.

However, they had to wait until the mid-50s to really be discovered, when they moved to Nashville and signed a recording contract with the New York-based Cadence Records.

Thereafter, they quickly became one of the most influential acts around and were revered for using vocal harmonies that were mostly based around diatonic thirds. Don mostly sang baritone with Phil acting as the tenor.

Their biggest hit was arguably 1960’s Cathy’s Clown, a song written by Don, which remained at No 1 in America for five weeks and top of the pile in the UK for seven. In all, it sold more than eight million copies worldwide.

Their influence was such that The Beatles described themselves as the English equivalent early in their careers, while Bob Dylan credited them with starting it all.

During the peak of their success, between 1957 and 1962, they enjoyed 19 top 40 hits. They were subsequently elected to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in its first year, 1986, and were given a lifetime achievement award at the Grammys in 1997.

However, they didn’t always see eye to eye as brothers and, in 1973, split up after falling out with each other, prompting both to pursue solo careers. It was during that time that Phil also dabbled in movies, appearing in Clint Eastwood’s Every Which Way But Loose.

But they reunited in 1983 and, five years later, began hosting an annual home-coming benefit concert in Central City, Kentucky, to raise money for the area.

Although their hits were fewer and further between, the influence of the Everlys continues to this day. Indeed, just last year Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong teamed up with Norah Jones to record a tribute to the brothers that saw them reinterpreting the duo’s 1958 album, Songs Our Daddy Taught Us.

Away from the music scene, Phil married three times in all, finally settling down with his third wife, Patti Arnold, in 1999. He is survived by Patti and his two sons, Jason and Chris, who are also both singers and songwriters.

Among those to pay early tribute was Queen guitarist Brian May, who said that he had lost “a huge piece” of his youth and described the brothers as “heroes”.

Posting on his website, he wrote: “I could probably write a book on the music of the fabulous Everly Brothers, but you’ll find echoes of their influence in a lot of our old Queen songs, and perhaps that is the best tribute.”