The new year had barely lifted off when the music community lost one of its biggest and most influential stars with Phil Everly’s passing on January 3. Phil’s last interview with Guitar Player was just a few months ago. He shared some wonderful stories about working with his brother, designing the Gibson Everly Brothers model guitar, and hanging out with other ’50s rockers and country pickers. He also talked about some classic sessions, starting Everly Strings and Cleartone Strings with his two sons, and coming up with his Star Picks. To honor Phil’s memory, those interview outtakes are published here for the first time, and they help illuminate the gracious and humble Everly not just as a rock legend and transcendent singer, but also as a tinkerer, a businessman, and a proud papa.
Launching Everly Strings & Cleartone Strings
“Both of my sons are musicians, and I just thought it would be a real good thing if they had a business to fall back on. It’s tough being a guitar player. There are so many people who are so good, but they never quite get that one break that lets them make a real career out of it. Also, I’ve always had an interest in how things were made, and I thought strings could be improved upon. A lot of people were using older machinery and everybody was outsourcing everything. I thought there was room for a modern approach using the best materials. If you get the best, something’s going to work out. Jason [Everly, Phil’s son] became an expert at it. Jason figured everything out. He runs things and comes up with products that surprise me all the time. I’ve always said my expertise was the money I had [laughs]. Now, I just sort of stand around feeling proud.”
“I had a Nick Lucas pick when I was a kid, and, I don’t know, maybe I’m just plain crazy, but I wanted my own pick. I had used a Moshay pick on the road for years, and it had a circle cut out of it. But the pick would turn in your fingers, and I got to thinking if there were some points in the cut out, you’d be able to get a better grip. So I thought about the star on the Gibson Everly model guitar, and, there you go, I had the idea for the Star Picks. I made the first one myself out of a plastic milk carton. Then, a fabricator made a prototype, and I think he used a milk carton, too, but he charged me $1,000. It’s kind of funny, actually.”
“In those early studio days, Don and I had the best two guitar players you could have with Chet Atkins and Hank Garland. I was always scared of Chet. I was too much in awe, so I’d stand around in the shadows trying to hide from him. Back then, you were expected to get four songs completed in a four-hour stretch. We’d play a song three or four times to get the parts, and then cut it four or five times to get the record. I don’t remember feeling under pressure working so fast. When we did ‘Bye Bye Love,’ the only pressure on Don and I was making sure we got the $64 session fee so we could eat that week [laughs].
“We had some innovative engineers—you had to be, because we were cutting live. For that ‘chick-chick-chunk’ in ‘Bye Bye Love,’ for example, the engineer had to raise and lower the level while Don was playing in order to get that part in the right spots. All the musicians had a mic, but Don and I sang on the same microphone, mixing our harmonies as we sang, just like we did onstage. When we’d hear the playback, we could tell if we were doing it right, or if one of us needed to lean in closer or something. We didn’t use headphones, because everybody was in the same room. We all paid attention to what each of us was playing, and the [microphone] leakage was part and partial to the sound.
“Producers didn’t fuss around forever in those days, either. I remember we did four or five takes of ‘All I Have To Do Is Dream’ when our producer Archie Bleyer walked out of the control room, and said, ‘That’s it.’ I said, ‘But I sang the fifth instead of the third on this note—shouldn’t we do it again?’ He just said, ‘No.’ Archie was a good A&R man. He knew immediately when a take was a hit.”