Phil Everly's Badass Guitar Stories

January 30, 2014

As the Everly Brothers, Phil and his older brother Don’s steel-string acoustics and close harmonies thrilled the rockin’ youth culture of the ’50s, and left a mammoth and indelible imprint on rock and country music. The brothers were elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.

In the Studio

“In the ’50s, you’d rehearse a song three or four times, and then you would cut it four or five times. You were expected to get four songs in a three-hour session. But after you had a hit, they’d let you get by with two or three. Isn’t that funny? To tell you the truth, the only pressure on us when we cut ‘Bye Bye Love’ was making sure we got the $64 session fee so that we could eat that week.

“Engineers were an integral part of the process back then, because you were cutting direct to tape, so all the mix moves had to happen as you were cutting the track. Take that ‘chick-chick-chunk’ fill that Don does in ‘Bye Bye Love.’ During run-throughs, the engineer would say the part wasn’t barking the way he wanted it, so Don would have to lean closer to the mic for those parts, and the engineer would have to raise the mic level at the same time.

“Don and I would sing on one mic, and then there would be a mic for his guitar, and the other musicians would get their own mics, as well. We played live and no one used headphones. The leakage was part and parcel to the sound, and everyone was paying attention to what each other was doing—which was one of the great things about the way recording sessions used to be.”

One mic, two voices—Phil (left) and Don create their harmony-vocal magic.

“I hate to brag about it, but Donald’s chord inversions, fills, and rhythmic things on songs such as ‘Wake Up Little Susie,’ ‘Bird Dog,’ and ‘Bye Bye Love’ are very important, and his style is still emulated today. You have to think about the history of it. That kind of playing didn’t exist in rock music back then. We had our dad showing us things, and we had Bo Diddley’s rhythmic thing, and Don kind of melded together those rhythms with his own ‘incongruous’ chords. That’s when a song like ‘Bye Bye Love’ jumped to life. My playing, compared to Donald’s is like a joke. I can’t say I did anything special.”

Comrades In Arms

“My favorite guitar event was in the parking lot of the Grand Ole Opry when it was at the Ryman Auditorium. Merle Travis was in town, my dad was there, Chet Atkins was there, and so were Don and I and about ten other players. They formed a circle behind the Ryman, all sitting on their haunches, and they passed the guitar around and played. Your jaw would fall open. Some people got in the circle, but when it came their turn to play, they’d chicken out, and pass the guitar [laughs]. It was something to see. I’ve never forgotten it.”

The Gibson Everly Brothers Flat-top

“I thought up the pin-less bridge—which was one of the first, if not the first—because of Don breaking strings. I’d take his guitar, try to find the bridge pin on the floor, and then restring it so that we had two guitars working. I thought of the Fender bridge, and wondered if you could do it that way for an acoustic guitar. We presented some ideas to Gibson, and within a few months we had our pin-less signature model with the big pickguard and star inlays.”

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