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January 5, 2014

Phil Everly and brother were architects of harmony


With their two acoustic guitars and a sound that referenced rock and country, the Everlys would be categorized today and be mostly on the country music charts. Thankfully, things were freer when they were young and their music was heard by everyone.

Phil and Don Everly pioneered another rock staple: feuding partners, often brothers, who were never as compelling apart as they were together. Phil famously threw down his guitar and walked offstage during a 1973 gig in California, prompting Don to tell the crowd, “The Everly Brothers died 10 years ago.” Ray and Dave Davies of the Kinks carried on that fractious tradition, as did Noel and Liam Gallagher of Oasis.

Simon & Garfunkel invited the Everly Brothers to be their opening act for a 2003 tour. Paul Simon, often exasperated by his on-again, off-again partner and quite accomplished on his own, couldn’t help but be amused by the irony of two partnerships where real-life harmony didn’t match what was onstage. Phil and Don hadn’t seen each other for three years before meeting in the parking lot before the first show.

“They unpacked their guitars — those famous black guitars — and they opened their mouths and started to sing,” Simon told Rolling Stone magazine. “And after all these years, it was still that sound I fell in love with as a kid. It was still perfect.”

Famous fans paid their debts. Simon and Garfunkel could have invited anyone for that 2003 tour. McCartney opened the door for “Phil and Don” in his 1976 hit “Let ‘Em In” and wrote the single “On the Wings of a Nightingale” for their 1984 reunion. Rockpile partners Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe recorded an EP of Everly covers and Edmunds produced the “EB 84” album.

The best tribute always comes when singers discover that the sound of their voices together creates a magic that isn’t there when each is alone, like John Paul White and Joy Williams of the too-aptly named The Civil Wars. Mumford & Sons and the Avett Brothers are introducing harmony to a new generation. The Jayhawks were special because of how Gary Louris’ and Mark Olson’s voices merged.

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