In 1960 the Everlys signed an historic $1 million ten-year deal with the newly formed Warner Brothers Records
Cathy’s Clown – The Everly Brothers
Warner 5151 (USA) / Warner Brothers WB1 (UK)
Recorded at RCA Studio B, Nashville, 18th March 1960
Released 4th April 1960
Writers Don Everly & Phil Everly
Producer Wesley Rose
USA #1 23/5/60 5 weeks UK #1 5/5/60 7 weeks
One of the pivotal acts in popular music history, Don (born 1937) and Phil Everly (1939) grew up in a musical family and made their first performance on their parents’ radio show when Don was 8 and Phil was 6. Their close-harmony country-rock was an enormous influence on the wave of artists who found fame in the 1960s including Simon & Garfunkel, the Hollies, Byrds, Lovin’ Spoonful, Mamas & Papas, Beatles, Stones and Bob Dylan. Paul McCartney’s first public performance in the summer of 1957, at a Butlins holiday camp, was a rendition of the Everlys ‘Bye Bye Love’ with his brother Mike. The teenage McCartney bought all the Everlys singles as soon as they were released and would later write a song for the duo’s comeback. It’s likely that it was listening to the Everlys that taught McCartney the romantic side of songwriting. Bob Dylan was also a staunch Everlys fan and is quoted as saying, “We owe those guys everything. They started it all”.
An introduction by family friend and Nashville heavyweight Chet Atkins got the duo their first deal with Columbia Records in 1956. A single, ‘Keep On Lovin’ Me’ was released with little success, and the duo were unceremoniously dropped by the label. However, Atkins had faith in the duo and next introduced them to Wesley Rose at the Acuff-Rose publishing company – Rose got them a deal with Cadence Records, became the Everlys manager, and introduced the pair to Acuff-Rose’s husband and wife writing team Felice and Boudleaux Bryant. This combination was to become one of the most successful in pop music history. The Bryants were by no means teenagers – Boudleaux was born in 1920, Felice in 1925. The couple met and married in 1945 at which point Boudleaux began putting music to Felice’s poems, and one of Nashville’s most successful songwriting partnerships was born.
During their lengthy career the Bryants wrote over 1000 songs recorded by 500 artists with sales of over 250 million. In addition to their hits for the Everlys, the Bryants also composed ‘Raining In My Heart’ for Buddy Holly and ‘Love Hurts’ for Roy Orbison (later a big hit for Nazareth.) The first song the Bryants presented to the Everlys was ‘Bye Bye Love’, a song that had already been given the thumbs down by all and sundry in Nashville including, allegedly, Elvis Presley. The session for ‘Bye Bye Love’ was supervised by Chet Atkins and recorded at RCA’s Nashville studios on 1st March 1957, the same studios where Elvis had recorded his breakthrough hit ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ a year earlier. Although the Everlys had been signed to Cadence as a country act, Atkins gave the duo a more rock’n’roll close-harmony sound. This combination proved to be the perfect vehicle for the brothers and ‘Bye Bye Love’ swiftly rose to #2 on the US charts and #6 in Britain.
The Bryants followed up with a string of gems, many of which have since become classics of their genre including, ‘Wake Up Little Susie’, ‘All I Have To Do Is Dream’, ‘Bird Dog’ (all US #1’s) and ‘Problems’ (#2). The Everlys soon began supplying their own hits with ‘(Til) I Kissed Her’ (1959-Don) and ‘When Will I Be Loved’ (Phil 1960). In the meantime, Buddy Holly, another Everlys fan, had written ‘Not Fade Away’ especially for them, but they turned it down! (Incidentally, take a close listen to ‘When Will I Be Loved’, surely a blueprint for the Beatles sound of 1962-1964) In 1960, following a number of disagreements with Acuff-Rose and Cadence over royalties and musical direction, the Everlys signed an historic $1 million ten-year deal*with the recently formed Warner Brothers Records – $100,000 dollars per year. (They switched to RCA when the deal expired in 1970)
The big question was whether Don and Phil would survive without the assistance of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant – while their songs were available at first, after a 1961 dispute with Wesley Rose, their publisher and former manager, the team’s songs were now unavailable to them. In fact, for a while after the 1961 split, they were unable to record their own compositions (!) since these were controlled by Rose who refused to issue the neccesary licences. A number of tracks were recorded for their debut Warners album, but the duo were under increasing pressure to come up with a hit single. The problem was solved when Don wrote ‘Cathy’s Clown’, a song about an old high-school girlfriend, and rumoured to be influenced by Grofe’s symphonic jazz piece, Grand Canyon Suite. Written in about 15 minutes according to Don, he quickly phoned Phil to announce, “I just wrote our next million seller!” (The song was credited to both brothers.) Recorded 2 days after it was written, the Everlys’ Warner debut became their biggest hit. In the UK it was released as the first Warner Brothers single (WB1) and it was the first record ever to top the American and British charts simultaneously.
The Everlys immediate success at Warners would in fact save the label which was $3 million in debt at the time, having been set up in 1958 – Warner studio head Jack Warner was on the point of cutting his losses and shutting down the loss-making label – Warners had previously left the record business in the early 1930s having made a $6 million loss with their Brunswick label, mostly due to the 1929 depression and the arrival of radio. Following further big hits with ‘Ebony Eyes’, ‘Walk Right Back’ and ‘Crying In The Rain’ (1962 – by Howard Greenfield & Carole King and updated by Norwegian band A-Ha in 1990), the Everlys’ somewhat lost momentum. They spent some months in the US Marines, and like many of their contemporaries suffered at the hands of the British beat boomers of the early 1960s, though while their US hits dried up, it was ironically in Britain where success continued.
Don had a nervous breakdown on a 1963 UK tour that Phil was forced to continue alone. In 1964, Warner decided to put together a compilation entitled The Very Best Of The Everly Brothers. Warner approached Cadence to license the Everlys early hits, but Cadence had already sold the tapes to another artist, Andy Williams. Williams had bought his recordings to prevent Cadence from competing with his new recordings for Columbia – a problem that the Everly Brothers themselves had suffered from when they joined Warners. Consequently all the pre-1960 hits on the compilation were re-recordings. The duo’s last US Top 10 hit was in 1962, though in the UK where their popularity continued, they hit #2 in 1965 with the co-written ‘Price Of Love’ and #11 the same year with a cover of ‘Love Is Strange’.
Don and Phil continued touring until 1973 but personal problems and differences of opinion took their toll, they’d been living in each others’ pockets for 18 years, and it all came to a head in July 1973 at the first of three concerts at Knott’s Berry Farm, California. Phil, disgusted at Don’s lacklustre performance, smashed his guitar and stormed off stage during the first show, leaving Don to continue alone, telling a stunned audience, “The Everly Brothers died ten years ago”. Though it was Phil who left the stage, it was in fact Don who quit saying, “It’s over. I’ve quit. I’ve been wanting to quit for three years now and it is finally time to just do it”. It was a bitter parting and the brothers didn’t speak to each other for the next ten years – the only time they met during this period was at their father’s funeral.
It took ten years for the wounds to heal, but the brothers were finally persuaded to bury their differences in 1983 and performed a series of re-union concerts at London’s Royal Albert Hall. A new studio album, The Everly Brothers (EB 84 outside the UK), was released the following year. Produced by Dave Edmunds the album included a specially written single, ‘On The Wings Of A Nightingale’, composed by fan Paul McCartney. While the Everlys haven’t had any chart success since the mid- 1980s, their position as true innovators in the history of popular music is ensured. They were inducted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall Of Fame in 1986 and have continued touring and recording. They received rapturous applause when they appeared as special guests of Simon & Garfunkel on a 2003 world tour. In 2013, Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones released a total remake of the Everlys’ 1958 album Songs Our Daddy Taught Us under the new title, Foreverly. Sad to report the death of Phil, aged 74, in January 2014.
*While the Everlys’ $1 million deal with Warners in 1960 is often touted as the first such arrangement in the history of the music business, it would appear that legendary Italian tenor Enrico Caruso was given the exact same deal – a guarantee of a minimum $100,000 dollars per year for 10 years – by Victor Records as far back as 1919! In other words, a million dollar deal, and in 1919, $1 million was a HUGE amount of money. Unfortunately for the great singer (and the world of operatic music), Caruso died two years into the deal in 1921.
Copyright © 2017 SongStories/Tony Burton