Bob Dylan once said of the Everly Brothers, “We owe those guys everything. They started it all.” John Lennon and Paul McCartney were Everlys fanatics who modeled their own vocal blend after the tight harmonies of Don and Phil Everly. Before the duo known as Tom & Jerry became Simon & Garfunkel, they recorded a song that was clearly inspired by the Everlys. The Byrds, The Hollies, the Flying Burrito Brothers and The Eagles all acknowledged their debt to the Brothers’ unique sound, and the number of singers and bands influenced by those groups is incalculable. Though the Everly Brothers have historically been linked with other pioneers of rock ’n’ roll’s first Golden Era, they always stood apart from the other great innovators because their roots were more in rural Southern white music traditions than the blues and R&B that drove so many of the first-generation rockers. Indeed, Don (born 1937 in Brownie, Kentucky) and Phil (born 1939 in Chicago) were born into a family already steeped in country music. Ike Everly, their father, was a well-respected guitarist who had been raised on both white and black country styles; indeed, he is frequently cited as one of the major influences on the great country axeman Merle Travis. After many years of traveling the mid-South and Midwest, being based first in his home state of Kentucky and then in Chicago, Ike Everly landed a show on radio station KMA in Shenandoah, Iowa, in 1944, and he moved the family there. Shortly after that, Don and Phil began appearing on Ike’s program, and by 1949, they were regulars on the show, lending their angelic harmonies to traditional mountain tunes popularized by influences like the Blue Sky Boys, the Stanley Brothers and the Louvin Brothers. In 1953, the family moved back to Kentucky (this time Knoxville), and the following year Don and Phil got their first break when a family friend, guitarist Chet Atkins, picked one of Don’s early compositions, “Thou Shalt Not Steal” for Kitty Wells to record. Atkins further convinced the brothers to move to Nashville to try to break into the business as a duo act. It was tough sledding in Music City for the Everly Brothers until Wesley Rose, the famed Nashville music publisher, heard a tape of the boys and convinced Archie Bleyer, the owner of the New York label Cadence Records, to make a record with them. Bleyer had made his name and fortune arranging and producing mainstream acts like Arthur Godfrey, but he wanted to open a Nashville office for Cadence, and the Everlys provided him with a much-needed foothold in that city. The first song Bleyer cut with the Everlys was recorded at RCA Studios in Nashville on March 1, 1957—“Bye Bye Love,” written by the hitherto unknown local husband-wife songwriting team of Boudleaux and Felice Bryant, became an instant national smash for the Everlys, making it to Number Two on the pop charts, Number One on the country charts and even Number Five on the R&B charts. Over the next six years, the Everlys would land a staggering number of tunes on the upper reaches of the charts, including a passle by the Bryants—“Wake Up Little Susie,” “Bird Dog,” “All I Have to Do Is Dream,” “Devoted to You,” “Problems,” “Poor Jenny,” “Like Strangers”—and a handful penned by Don or Phil, such as “(’Til) I Kissed You,” “When Will I Be Loved” (which was an even bigger hit for Linda Ronstadt in 1975), “So Sad,” and, Don’s stirring paean to teenage romantic angst, “Cathy’s Clown.” By the time the Everlys recorded “Cathy’s Clown” in early 1960, their recording style was already very well-established, and with just a couple of exceptions, all their hits had been recorded at RCA Studios in Nashville. Archie Bleyer generally liked a spare instrumental sound surrounding the brothers’ reverb-laden harmonies. And he and Wesley Rose hired some of the best Nashville players of the day to accompany the singers, including guitarists Chet Atkins and Hank Garland, pianist Floyd Cramer, bassist Floyd “Lightnin’” Chance and drummer Buddy Harman. When the Everlys jumped from Bleyer’s Cadence label to the fledgling Warner Bros. (signing a ten-year deal worth more than a million dollars, very big bucks for the day), their association with Bleyer ended, and Phil and Don began producing themselves with the assistance of engineer Bill Porter, who came to RCA Nashville in March of ’59, and their manager, Wesley Rose. Porter (who also engineered, “Only the Lonely” by Roy Orbison), almost didn’t get the opportunity to work with the Everlys. On the evening in May 1959 when Archie Bleyer brought the duo into RCA Studio B to cut “(’Til) I Kissed You,” Porter and an engineer from RCA New York, Les Chase, had just finished installing the studio’s new, custom 12-input console (with three output buses and Langevin preamps). Chase flew back to New York on an evening plane, and Porter was behind the board for the downbeat on his first Everlys session. The first take of “(’Til) I Kissed You” seemed to go well, but on playback, there was audible distortion on the vocal. Porter fiddled with some knobs and musicians tried it again—with the same distorted result. Bleyer, who Porter describes as “a very difficult man with the typical New York attitude,” was not pleased. Porter scrambled to check every connection and possible source of trouble he could, but he still couldn’t locate the problem. “Archie was freaking out,” Porter recalls. “He was saying things like, ‘I knew we shouldn’t have come down here.’ Finally I said to him, ‘I’m sorry, Mr. Bleyer, it’s all I can do right now.’ Well, he just went ape! He called off the session and tried to take them across the street to Columbia.” That studio was booked, so the session was scratched altogether. Meanwhile, Porter was feeling the heat from his boss: “He told me, ‘You ruined the session, you jeopardized a client, and if you do this again, you’re gone!’” Finally Porter did find the problem—unbeknownst to him, Les Chase had changed the compression ratio on the studio’s old film limiters which, Porter says, “were prone to distortion if you drove them the wrong way.” Three weeks later, Bleyer and the Everlys came back to Studio B (at RCA’s expense) and Porter engineered the session for “(’Til) I Kissed You.” “I held on to that original [distorted] tape, and I’d play it any time I started to get full of myself,” Porter jokes. There were no such dramas associated with the recording of “Cathy’s Clown,” and since the session was for Warner Bros., Archie Bleyer was nowhere to be found. As always, the session was live with no overdubs, and the instrumentation was simple: acoustic and electric guitar (Porter’s not sure which players), piano (Floyd Cramer), bass (Floyd Chance) and drums, (Buddy Harman), with the Everlys singing into a single Neumann U47. (Other mics Porter typically used in this era were KM54s, KM56s, U48s and M49s.) To get the big, echo-y sound, “I’d use the EMT [reverb] quite heavily,” Porter says. “[RCA] New York was always asking me, ‘What are you doin’? We can’t get that sound up here.’ Basically, I drove the EMT very, very hard—technically incorrect. The EMT was in a room all by itself, and the air conditioning kept that part of the building very, very cold, so the sound just sparkled. I had [the EMT] so tight that the springs would break on a frequent basis. I’d have to go back and put new springs on, because I had it as tight as it would go, literally. But I wouldn’t tell New York what I was doing. I wasn’t going to tell them a damn thing!” Porter did try one interesting sonic experiment on “Cathy’s Clown”: “If you listen closely,” he says, “the drums sound like two drummers playing. I had gotten a tape loop from RCA New York that ran 60 ips, and there were four different playback heads which you could switch in and out and then move them around the tape path. So I heard this rhythm pattern and I thought, ‘God, this would be great for this song,’ so I asked Wesley Rose if I could use the tape loop on the drums. He said, ‘I don’t care.’ So I hooked it up, fed it back into the console and got the balance, and then I switched it off on the verse and on during the bridge. I just did it manually with a switch. It’s right in tempo and right in sync, so it gave the effect of two totally different drum sounds. That became the biggest record they ever had.” Indeed, “Cathy’s Clown” marked an auspicious start for the Everlys’ relationship with Warner Bros. The record was released on April 4, 1960, and by May 23 it had nudged Elvis Presley’s “Stuck on You” out of the Number One slot, and it remained at the top of the charts for five weeks. For the next three years, the Everlys would score a number of other hits for Warner Bros, including “So Sad (to Watch Good Love Go Bad),” a version of Little Richard’s “Lucille,” “Ebony Eyes,” “Walk Right Back,” “That’s Old Fashioned” and, another personal favorite of mine, “Crying in the Rain.” Archie Bleyer continued to cash in on the duo for a while by releasing tunes from the Cadence vaults, including “When Will I Be Loved” and “Like Strangers.” By the end of 1964, though, the phenomenal string of hits had ended for the Everlys, as the British Invasion swept America, and the Brothers’ look and sound suddenly seemed quaint and dated to many people (even though the brothers were still only in their mid-20s). Ironically, the Everly Brothers continued to be wildly popular in England all through the ’60s and up until their acrimonious break-up in 1973. When Don and Phil reunited in 1982, after a decade of solo work, they made their performing debut in London, and one of the first albums they cut after their comeback was produced by British rocker Dave Edmunds (who had once cut an EP of Everly Brothers songs with his buddy Nick Lowe). The Everly Brothers’ place in history is secure, and their influence on the popular music of the second half of this century is pervasive. There are a number of fine anthologies of their work on the market, with the best clearly being the Rhino 4-CD eartaches & Harmonies box. Before hearing that set, I was familiar with most of their hits and a few other tracks here and there, but the Rhino box shows the incredible depth of their catalogue, and the quality of the the material from the mid-’60s to the early ’80s was a real revelation to me. It’s a glorious trip down memory lane.