Phil Everly, who with his brother Don made up the most revered vocal duo of the rock-music era — their exquisite harmonies profoundly influencing the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Byrds and countless younger rock, folk and country singers — died Friday in Burbank, Calif., of complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, his wife, Patti Everly, said. He was 74.
A woman who answered the phone at his brother’s home told The Washington Post that Mr. Everly died at Providence St. Joseph’s Medical Center.
She said Don Everly was too upset to talk. “He expected he’d go first,” she told The Post.
The medical center confirmed only that Phil Everly had died there.
“We are absolutely heartbroken,” Patti Everly told the Los Angeles Times, noting that her husband’s disease was the result of a lifetime of cigarette smoking. “He fought long and hard.”
During the height of their popularity in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Everly Brothers had nearly three dozen hits on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, among them “Cathy’s Clown,” “Wake Up Little Susie,” “Bye Bye Love,” “When Will I Be Loved” and “All I Have to Do Is Dream.” They were among the first 10 performers inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when it opened in 1986.
“They had that sibling sound,” said Linda Ronstadt, who scored one of the biggest hits of her career in 1975 with her recording of “When Will I Be Loved,” which Phil Everly wrote. “The information of your DNA is carried in your voice, and you can get a sound [with family] that you never get with someone who’s not blood-related to you. And they were both such good singers. They were one of the foundations, one of the cornerstones of the new rock-and-roll sound.”
Robert Santelli, executive director of the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, said Friday, “When you talk about harmony singing in the popular music of the postwar period, the first place you start is the Everly Brothers. . . . You could say they were the vocal link between all the 1950s great doo-wop groups and what would come in the 1960s with the Beach Boys and the Beatles. They showed the Beach Boys and the Beatles how to sing harmony and incorporate that into a pop music form that was irresistible.”
On most of their records Phil was the tenor, pairing with his brother’s baritone.
The two went through a tempestuous breakup in the early 1970s but got together again. Their performing reunion took place in 1983 and was celebrated by a concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London that September.
Although their careers after the 1980s were marked by few if any studio albums, touring continued, with Phil described as the more active of the two in this endeavor.
In one compilation, they were credited with 35 Billboard Top 100 singles. The record for the largest number of such singles was ascribed to them, and they were said to be as high as second place on the list of Top 40 singles by a duo.
Phil Everly and his brother were guitarists and the offspring of two performers. Much of their early childhood was spent in Shenandoah, Iowa. Ike Everly, Phil and Don’s father, had a radio show in Iowa in the 1940s. His wife, Margaret Embry Everly, and the two sons sang on the show.
Famed guitarist Chet Atkins, a family friend, is credited with getting them a chance to record on the Columbia Records label in 1956. They did not last long with Columbia, but Atkins was said to have urged them not to give up.
The fate of “Bye Bye Love” also demonstrated persistence as well as musical talent. Reportedly, it was turned down by 30 other acts, but the Everlys saw something in it.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Everly is survived by his brother, Don; their mother, Margaret; sons Jason and Chris; and two granddaughters.
— Los Angeles Times
Martin Weil of The Washington Post contributed to this report.