Monday, January 6, 2014

Baby Phil Sings With The Angels

The news came early in the morning of January 4, 2014: Phil Everly had passed at the age of 74. Complications of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. COPD. One too many cigarettes of the tobacco kind (a distinction that must always be made when speaking of musicians).

He was the fresh-faced younger half of the Everly Brothers, often called "Baby Phil" right to his face onstage by brother Don. Sometimes he looked as if he didn't like it, but that quickly passed when they launched into the next song. Any song. Didn't matter if it was one of theirs or if someone else had written it, they owned it. They wrote the book on two-part harmony, sung as only blood relatives can. Sometimes they sounded like one voice, other times you'd swear there was three of 'em, but you'd never mistake 'em for anyone else. Two notes and you knew it was the Everly Brothers.

They came from that mystic borderland between Country and Rock And Roll, a place inhabited by Johnny Cash, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins and, later on, Creedence Clearwater Revival. They could jump either way and just flat nail it, same as their peers. With their high-piled pompadours and matching black Gibson guitars--not to mention killer good looks--they were the concentrated Essence of Teenage Heartbreak. Love Hurts? You dang bet it does! They knew it and the kids knew it. Every time they sang, ten million teenage hearts sang right back. Even in bleak and grimy Liverpool, there were four kids paying rapt attention to the Everly Brothers, learning how to sing.

The Everly Brothers are one (two?) of the few artists who were not first brought to me by KAAY. That honor goes to my cousin Wanda Lou, a woman of impeccable musical taste, who must have had every 45 the Everly Brothers put out--along with Johnny Cash and Flatt & Scruggs. Wanda's got to be ten years older than her brother Calvin and me, but she'd let us use her record player any time we asked. And we asked plenty; her record collection was a treasury of white girl soul in the late 1950s!

Right from the 1962 get-go, KAAY did Souvenier Weekends, solid gold blasts-from-the-past mixed in with the hits of the day. Boy, the Everly Brothers sure knew how to jump out of a two-inch speaker! Bye Bye Love, Wake Up Little Susie, Let It Be Me, they figured large on any given weekend--and I knew 'em by heart, thanks to Cousin Wanda. For me, the ultimate goosebump-skin-tingle-stand-every-hair-on-end moment was Cathy's Clown, wherein the Brothers taught us that the word "love" had five syllables.

In that First Era, KAAY was never afraid to go out on a limb for a new record, so I got to hear lesser-known Everly works like Gone, Gone, Gone and The Ferris Wheel. Had it not been for those four kids from Liverpool, both songs might have landed in the Top 10. Ah, but it was 1964--and we all know how that turned out!

So, while the angels up there part in the middle to make him a place in that choir, as we hand him off to the Skywave to groove unto Infinity, let us all raise a Glass of Whatever(ly) to Baby Phil and give thanks for the gift of magnetic tape.

David B. Treadway
Doc Holiday VII
The Last PD

(I, and many others, enjoy David B. Treadway's prose...I have been pestering him to write a book and I would be first in line, elbowing my way up the line!  Too often, he's commemorating someone's or something's passing, so we need to encourage him to write of things positive!  Thank you, David B.!  Bud S.) 

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