BY ELLIOT STEPHEN COHEN
The Everly Brothers, who first came into prominence in 1957 with their classic hit, “Bye, Bye, Love,” also influenced many others who followed, including Simon and Garfunkel, The Beatles, The Bee Gees, and Crosby, Stills and Nash.
John Sebastian, the former leader of the popular ’60s band The Lovin’ Spoonful and composer of “Summer In The City,” “Darling Be Home Soon” and “Welcome Back,” was yet another musician who fell under the spell of The Everly Brothers’ otherworldly harmonies. However, the Everlys – older brother Don, who sang most of the leads, and younger brother Phil, who provided the sweet harmonies before passing away on January 3rd from pulmonary heart disease – were almost as famous for their steaming sibling rivalry as their music.
In 1973, Sebastian had a chance to witness this and more when he and producer Paul Rothchild tried reuniting the battling duo for a comeback album, “Stories We Could Tell.” Sebastian wrote the title song, sang and played guitar and harmonica, aided by an all-star cast, including David Crosby, Graham Nash, Warren Zevon and some of the days’ top studio musicians. Despite all of this support, which resulted in a terrific album, it did little to reverse the Everlys’ fading commercial fortunes, or their relationship.
Examiner: What was the original inspiration for this massive recording project?
Sebastian : Paul and I had a long friendship and professional relationship by this time. He called me and said, “Listen to this. I was approached to make a new album with The Everly Brothers, but here’s the thing: They’ve been having all kinds of very, very angry personal problems between them. I don’t know if I want be around them in the studio if they’re going to be going at each other, (like) ‘Here you are again mother…,’ So, Paul says to me, “They like you. Why don’t you let them rehearse in your house?” That’s how the project began: living room concerts that eventually expanded to the studio.
Examiner: As you were only 13 when the Everlys first came out, did you ever pinch yourself, thinking that, when you were a kid, you’d probably never even imagine meeting them, let alone working side by side and being looked upon as an equal?
Sebastian: Absolutely! I had more than one occasion to pinch myself. There was one particular occasion when Paul was not happy with all the bickering that was going on (between the Everlys). He said, “Don, you take one mike. Phil, you take the other one, and John, you just sit in the middle between them and do your guitar part.” So, I’m sitting there between both of them as a kind-of peacemaker, literally pounding away on my f…g guitar, while they’re both singing a song I wrote for them. I’ll tell you, it was better than any childhood dream I could possibly conjure up. Around this time, I also wrote a song called “Friends Again,” which sounds like it’s about a romantic couple, but it was really about The Everly Brothers.
Examiner: So, from having a chance to actually work first-hand with Phil Everly, what impressed you the most?
Sebastian: Phil was always a pure joy to work with. He was one of the most cooperative singers I was ever around. We used to make jokes about how his eyes would almost literally cross with the intensity of watching the lips of whoever he was singing with. Me and Graham (Nash) had the experience of seeing how hard he’d be trying to perfectly duplicate your lead. It was just a part of what that Everly Brothers’ magic was all about.
Examiner: As an aspiring young guitarist in the ’50s, you must have been equally impressed with their rhythm guitar prowess. Keith Richards has called Don Everly one of the greatest rhythm guitarists ever, and certainly Phil’s playing was in the same ballpark.
Sebastian: Oh, for sure. On those early records, to hear the force of those guitars … people had never heard big rhythm guitar sounds like that on records. It was a remarkable, singular, big, nasty sound. That must have been a production decision by Archie Blyer, who also owned the record company. It obviously worked and, of course, those harmonies were totally new to rock and roll. Our generation had never had anything like The Andrews Sisters, or even The Louvin Brothers.
Examiner: There’s a popular misconception that The Beatles and the whole “British Invasion” ended the Everlys’ popularity as hitmakers when, in fact, their last hit record came in 1962, two years prior to the arrival of all the English acts.
Sebastian: If there was anything responsible for killing their popularity, it was mainly because those harmonies were heavily recycled by others. Their sound got translated across the ocean. The Everly Brothers’ legacy is not about how many records they did or didn’t sell during a particular period. There was a whole new musical thing going on in the ’60s that just blotted out most artists that influenced it.
Examiner : Final comments on working with and knowing Phil Everly.
Sebastian: Besides just being near that sweet mike halo in the recording studio with him, personally he was a beautiful, sweet man. It always felt lovely having him at our little family gatherings. We were always cheering for him to sing with his brother again.