Don Everly died over the weekend, and a whole bunch of senior citizens – women and men – felt as if one of the few remaining links to their “Happy Days’’ was gone.
Don Everly was 84. He and his younger brother, Phil, formed the rock and roll vocal duo, the Everly Brothers. Phil died in 2014. Together, they were a couple of young guys with oversized acoustic guitars, a bit of a swagger and about the tightest harmonies you’ll find this side of the Beach Boys, or maybe the heavenly choir.
When I talk about my young days, a time when the ballads of Patti Page and Johnny Ray gave way to the rollicking, raucous rhythms of Elvis, Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee, I don’t always mention the Everlys. They were among my musical heroes, though, as they were for the swinging cats and chicks of the 1950s and early 1960s. Whenever the Everly Brothers are mentioned, it transports me to a time when every small town had teen dances. The 45 rpm platters spun on undersized record players that somehow filled the gymnasium or back room of the local café with the magical music of the time.
Teen-aged girls of my day swooned over the dreamy eyes and thick, combed-back hair of the brothers. Teen-aged boys wanted to own a big-bodied Gibson guitar, tried to figure out how to make their hair as wavy as the Everlys and probably wondered as they danced with their steady girl whether she was wishing Don or Phil held her in their arms. The brothers were among the very biggest superstars of the era. Between 1957, when “Bye, Bye Love’’ began to get air time on radio stations across the country and the middle 1960s, maybe Elvis and one or two others rockers were as popular and successful.
While they were major stars, the brothers had a shyness to them, a kind of down-home appearance. They were good-looking, sure, but they weren’t so impossibly good-looking that a pimple-faced kid like me didn’t dream now and then of being just like them. I couldn’t imagine being Elvis. I could kind of imagine being Don or Phil. While I fumbled around with an “F’’ chord on my Montgomery Ward acoustic guitar, I tried to figure out what other chords I’d need to play “All I Have To Do Is Dream.’’ Picture that, a 14-year-old skinny kid with thick glasses, a crew cut and stick-out ears like the doors of a taxi cab dreaming he might be just like one of the Everly Brothers.
For a while back then, everything the brothers released hit the top of the charts. “Wake Up, Little Suzie,’’ “Problems,’’ and “Walk Right Back’’ were just a few of their hit records. I’m pretty sure every kid in my generation knew every word to every one of their songs. If the girls were pretending their partner was Don or Phill when they danced at the teen canteens, the boys were pretending they were Don or Phil. It all worked just fine.
My friend Myron Lee, who made a rock and roll living for decades with his band The Caddies, tells the story of dabbling in the concert promotion business. He booked the Everly Brothers for a Saturday night in Spearfish. The crowd of eager kids made such a crush at the ticket booth that evening that the workers inside could barely keep up. They’d take money, make change, hand out tickets and drop the remaining bills on the floor of the booth. It turned out to be one popular and successful night for all concerned.
Coincidentally, to make a little money on the way out to Spearfish, the Caddies played a dance in the Gregory armory on the Friday night before. My dad let me quit farming early that evening, and Nancy and I drove to Gregory and heard Myron and his band in person for the first time. It was a magical night for Nancy and me. In a way, then, I have the Everly Brothers to thank for making that experience possible.
Those two guys, huh? They made a lot of dreams come true.