Don Everly, who with his brother, Phil, was part of the Everly Brothers, a huge chart success in the late 1950s and early 1960s that grew into Rock and Roll Hall of Famers, died on Saturday at his home in Nashville. He was 84.
A family spokesman confirmed the death to The Los Angeles Times. No cause was given.
The duo were one of the first pop-rock acts to emerge from Nashville, and became instant hitmakers on the strength of the soaring harmonies in such songs as “Wake Up Little Susie” and “Cathy’s Clown.” They became a major influence on everything to follow, from the British Invasion through the Southern California county-rock scene.
Their harmonies on such hits as “Bye Bye Love” and “All I Have To Do Is Dream” are timeless and unforgettable. Don Everly usually sang lead, with his brother handling the higher harmony.
“It’s almost like we could read each other’s minds when we sang,” Don Everly told The Los Angeles Times shortly after his brother’s death.
But the inevitable career lag followed, as styles changed, and eventually the duo split, ending when Phil smashed his guitar and left the stage during a performance at Knotts Berry Farm in Southern California.
That left Don to finish the set and announce the duo’s end, although they would reunite some years later.
Don Everly was born Issac Donald Everly in 1937 in Brownie, Ky, almost two years before his brother. Their parents were performers, doing country music on tours throughout the south. When the boys were old enough, they joined the family group in performance.
The Everly brothers were eventually hired as songwriters by the Acuff-Rose publishing company. Wesley Rose of the firm led them to a recording contract with Cadence Records, an independent label in New York.
The brothers had an obvious knack for songwriting. Don came up with “Thou Shalt Not Steal,” a Top 20 country hit for Kitty Wells in 1954, and also had songs recorded by Anita Carter and Justin Tubb.
He also wrote the Everly Brothers hits “(’Til) I Kissed You,” which reached the pop Top 10 in 1959, and “So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad),” which did the same the next year. “Cathy’s Clown,” which he wrote with Phil, spent five weeks at the top of the pop chart in 1960.
In 1983, the Everly Brothers reunited for a concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London, a show that was filmed for a documentary. They also recorded the album EB84, produced by Dave Edmunds. That project included the song “On the Wings of a Nightingale,” written by Paul McCartney.
The duo released two more studio albums before the end of the decade and were inducted as members of the inaugural class of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. They also received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award in 1997, and became members of the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001.
Phil Everly died on Jan. 3, 2014.
No memorial plans for Don Everly or information on survivors has been revealed.
UPDATED: With the passing of Don Everly, Jerry Lee Lewis becomes the only living member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s inaugural class of 1986. The Everly Brothers and Lewis joined Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Buddy Holly, Ray Charles, James Brown, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, Alan Freed, John Hammond, Robert Johnson, Sam Phillips, Jimmie Yancy and Jimmie Rodgers in that historic first induction.
Lewis issued a statement about Everly.
“The Everly Brothers are integral to the fabric of American music. Very few of us can say we were around at the beginning, and even fewer can say we’re still here. With my friend Don’s passing, I am reflective… reflective on a life full of wonderful friends, spectacular music, and fond memories. There’s a lot I can say about Don, what he and Phil meant to me both as people and as musicians, but I am going to reflect today. God Bless Don Everly and long live Rock and Roll music.”
“The sounds and images of the Everly Brothers have been greatly loved by most all Americans during that era of music, and special memories of them remain fresh in my mind. Their talent has been engraved across the world; many prayers for Don Everly’s family and loved ones.” – Janie Fricke
“Sometime back I was presenting Don with a special Buddy Holly guitar for The Buddy Holly Educational Foundation. I was able to show Don the photo of him, his brother Phil and my brother Lefty and he said, “I remember taking the photo but never seen it. We are huge Lefty fans!” Say Hello to your brother, my brother, and Heaven. God Bless The Everly’s!” – David Frizzell
“The Everlys made a huge impact on all of us singers. Their harmonies were impeccable. They had a huge impact on rock and roll’s early days. Their records are still classic examples of the art of choosing perfect songs that highlighted their talent. Don now joins Phil in rock and roll heaven. Rest in peace, pioneer!” – T. Graham Brown
“I listened to a lot of Nanci Griffith last week and I listened to a bunch of Tom T. Hall songs yesterday… Today I am cranking up some Everly Brothers… A lot of folks going home these days… Don joins Phil… BYE BYE LOVE!” – Joe Bonsall, The Oak Ridge Boys
“The Everly Brothers were every bit as popular as Elvis. However, like most rock acts, they were on a small record label. Cadence Records made a fortune but they were in no way able to compete with RCA which is where Col. Parker put Elvis. I met the Everly Brothers in 1969 and asked them about Buddy Holly. Phil said Buddy took the plane so he could do his laundry. I think Buddy had other laundry to do as well. This started my thinking for ‘American Pie’ which I wrote later. Additionally, Don was a great lead singer and unique rhythm guitar player. Almost all their hits featured his rhythm guitar.” – Don McLean
“Don’s voice along with the incredible sounds of The Everly Brothers was one of the main reasons I decided on a career in music. He and his music truly influenced every singer for generations. Gone but never forgotten. R.I.P.” – TG Sheppard
“So sad to hear about the passing of Don Everly. The music of the Everly Brothers helped me form my love for entertainment. First class of inductees to the Rock ‘n’ roll Hall of Fame, their blend of harmony was special and unique. RIP.” – Lee Greenwood
“I am saddened by the passing of Don Everly… one of the smoothest voices to ever come from the Bluegrass state! The harmony of the Everly Brothers was so iconic growing up. I’ll never forget one of the greatest duos in history that hails from my home state.” – JD Shelburne