Give the devil his due

On the Internet, the prevailing meme regarding The Everly Brothers is “St. Phil and Devil Don.” Check fan sites for The Everly Brothers if you need confirmation. The sites are for the most part echo chambers for Phil Everly’s most adamant fans, primarily elderly women. I call them Philophiles. Apparently, they can only fully appreciate Phil’s goodness by demonizing his more talented brother. Where Don Everly is concerned, they are without compunction or compassion. To most of them, Don is the devil, and they will not even allow the devil his due.

This is not one of those typical EB fan sites. Go to one now if you need a Phil fix.

Although I want to make my perceptions of Phil and his fans clear, I also want to dispense with those observations in this article so that I can move on to other points. My overall focus on this site is Don Everly. What I write about Phil Everly or Margaret Everly, for example, only to shed light on Don Everly’s experiences and the issues of interest to his fans.

Identifying traits of the Phil worshipper. Philophiles can be both asinine and funny, and they are sometimes both at the same time. Their responses to absolutely any photo of Phil Everly are invariable: “Phil was so cute” or “Phil was so handsome.” They will say this about photos of Phil taken when Phil was in his sixties, by which time he looked like a homely old woman with wooly worms for eyebrows.

It is a principle of Philophile doctrine that—all evidence to the contrary—everything about Don Everly and Phil Everly was “equal.” Philophiles believe the brothers were equally talented, equally good songwriters, equally good guitarists, and equally handsome.

Philophiles apparently silently subscribe to Margaret Everly’s “sharing” concept, which mandated that all Don achieved should be considered Phil’s work also. When Philophiles post music to YouTube, they will include photos of Phil to illustrate recordings made by Don Everly. They will even identify a recording as “Everly Brothers” when it is a recording of Don alone, even for songs committed to tape during the decade of the brothers’ professional estrangement.

Recently a Philophile said I was being “negative” for asking her to revise the inaccurate title on her YouTube post. The post consisted of six songs that featured Ike Everly playing and singing and Don Everly accompanying his father on rhythm guitar. She used a photo of Ike with both of his sons and a title that described Phil as part of the performance. After all, she said, there was another YouTube post somewhere with all three of them performing together.

If you are getting the sense that Philophiles are “feelers” and believers, you are on the right track. This is anathema for those of us with a penchant for evidence and logical inference,

If a normal person praises anything about Don Everly, a Philophile will reflexively assert that Phil Everly had the same attribute to the same degree. If a normal person says, “Don Everly was an excellent rhythm guitar player,” a Philophile will immediately say, “So was Phil.” If a normal person says, “Don Everly had beautiful dark curly hair,” a second later, one of these nutjobs will say “So did Phil.”

And, of course, Philophiles believe that Don bullied Phil because they think stage jokes are real insults. When Don would state that he was the “intelligent one” and then follow that line by saying that the difference in his and Phil’s ages was only six months, a Philophile will not get the joke. She will already be expressing outrage that Don thinks he is smarter than Phil and announcing that “Phil is hurt, I can tell.” Yes, even though they cannot detect irony, Philophiles can discern and interpret Phil’s innermost thoughts.

My personal assessment of Phil. Phil Everly wrote several very good songs, including “Dare to Dream Again,” “Captain, Captain,” and “Made to Love.” He wrote two outstanding songs, “Up in Mabel’s Room” and “When Will I Be Loved.”

And Phil Everly also wrote a great number of mediocre songs and a number of songs that were juvenile and sexist. Frankly, Phil relied so much on co-writers that it is difficult to assess his songwriting talent as a whole.

I have never seen or heard evidence that Phil Everly was a guitarist of anything more than rudimentary skill. For most of the performances as The Everly Brothers, Don and Phil wore identical suits and ties, and Phil’s guitar was little more than a costume accessory that matched the guitar Don played. Phil’s guitar was never amplified.

However, the most important point about Phil Everly was his voice. In Phil’s youth, that voice was a magnificent high tenor that created astonishing harmony for his brother’s wide-ranging tenor/baritone lead vocals. The act called The Everly Brothers was built on the harmony of the two voices, a pairing that has been endlessly imitated but never matched.

At times the brothers’ voices blended in such as way that there seemed to be more than two people singing, yet it was the closeness of the harmony that also created a sense of a single persona. This “single persona” quality allowed The Everly Brothers to sing love songs like “(All I Have to Do Is) Dream” without the cognitive dissonance the listener often experiences when duos or quartets sing songs written in the first person.

Essential is not equal. Phil’s voice was essential to the sound of The Everly Brothers, but that did not make his contribution to the act equal to the contributions his brother made. The evidence is available on recordings and videos to any objective individual.

Don was the greater contributor. Don was the front man and lead singer of The Everly Brothers. He had a singing voice of wide range, and in the early years, he sang many solos in a tenor voice infused with a baritonal warmth. Don’s voice moved into baritone range smoothly and seductively.

In contrast to his brother’s girlish whisper, Don’s speaking voice was sexy and soft yet unmistakably masculine. In retrospect, it is easy to understand why Don had to handle the stage announcements. The Everly Brothers became a household name in the 1950s. Had Phil been the onstage speaking voice for the act, he would have been ridiculed for his effeminacy. (Phil himself acknowledged that the recording of his attempt to deliver the recitative on “Ebony Eyes” sounded “like Minnie Mouse.”)

Don’s artist’s eye developed the visual look for the act, taking it from their Country casual clothing to an Ivy League look and impeccable tailoring. The brothers were among the early rock era’s sharpest dressers. They took the stage looking as though they had prepared for a formal event or a very special date.

Most of all, it was Don’s talent that developed the music: he did most of the arranging, created the signature riffs that introduced the initial hits, and wrote some of the act’s best-known songs and best-selling recordings. He played an excellent acoustic rhythm guitar that attracted the attention and the praise of his contemporary musicians.

While Phil was a practitioner, Don was not only a first-rate practitioner, but also a great artist.

Back to the Internet meme. Needless to say, I do not see anything saintly about Phil. He had a wonderful voice that intertwined remarkably with his brother’s, and he destroyed that voice with cigarettes. Beyond that, his professional achievements are not remarkable. He appears to have been an outgoing, “one of the guys” sort of person, and he was a man that Fortuna treated very well indeed. Given that he has hordes of adoring fans elevating him to sainthood, I think I can be excused from feigning an interest in him on this Web site.

About this site. Don Everly, the devil figure of the Internet meme, is the topic of this site, which exists to promote (off-line) discussion and debate for his fan. Don was awesomely talented and a creative genius. I have been a fan of Don’s for sixty years, loving his voice, his songs, his intelligence, and his wit as well as his awesome good looks, which sustained my fantasies from the first time I saw him on television, singing “Bye Bye Love” in 1957. In recent years I have done my best to research and understand him, but the man may be the most elusive personality in the history of American popular music.

There is no comprehensive book about The Everly Brothers, much less what I would prefer: a biography of Don Everly. There is nothing to suggest that anything more will be written about the brothers unless Phil has left behind a manuscript for future publication. Don has largely withdrawn from public view and has given no hint that he will produce a memoir. It is sickening to think that the meme established by Philophiles will likely be the lasting narrative of The Everly Brothers and the Everly brothers. In near despair, I have been driven to compose The Saga of St. Phil and Devil Don, a fictional account of The Everly Brothers, available to read on this site.

What I now know of Don Everly’s life, career, and struggle with addiction constitutes not only a compelling story, but also evidence of a strong and admirable character. While Phil Everly let his addiction to cigarettes destroy his voice and ultimately kill him, Don Everly conquered his amphetamine addiction. It appears to me that Don, in childhood and especially as he reached adulthood, was not well served by his mother, a woman Philophiles revere. Margaret Everly’s vision of her sons working together prevailed over any dreams Don himself had. I think Don is amazing to have survived his family, much less the other obstacles he faced. And yet, he not only survived, but dozens of utterly brilliant songs and a recorded voice of that remained passionate and beautiful until the day he retired.

This site is one fan’s appreciation of Don Everly, presented for the benefit of his many other fans. The opinions and conclusions are my own.

Rebecca Miller
April 22, 2017