November 28, 2014

Shenandoah’s Phil Everly, of Everly Brothers fame, dead at 74

Phil Everly — who lived in Shenandoah as a child with his family and went on to fame as one of “The Everly Brothers” — has died.  Everly died Friday in California at the age of 74.

The Everly Brothers were famous for their tight harmonies, with Phil singing the higher notes. Bill Hillman of Shenandoah helped organize a homecoming and an Everly Brothers concert in Shenandoah in 1986.

“We named the street after the Everlys, had a big parade with the governor. Everybody in Shenadoah that knew them that were older than them called them ‘the boys,’ so we took the boys around town, showed them places where they used to live and the places they used to hang out in and the concert was great, too,” Hillman says. “Just as the concert got over it started raining and it didn’t quit raining until it gave us about 10 inches of rain.”

Hillman, who owns the Depot Deli in Shenandoah, says if he had to choose a word to describe Phil, it would be “polite.”

“When you were sitting around, like at a bar or something, and someone came up for a autograph, he would always ask them how they were, where they were from, what they did for a living,” Hillman says. “He wouldn’t just brush them off…He was a very nice guy. He was one of the best.”

Sixty-six-year-old Chuck Offenburger, a former Iowa newspaper columnist, is a native of Shenandoah.

“The older Offenburger brothers — Dan, Tom and Bill — used to laugh in later years about how they could remember kidding the Everly brothers…because they were wasting all their time playing that music down on the radio station,” Offenburger says. “…Then, low and behold, by 1957 it was real clear who was going to have the brighter future.”

Offenburger says right after the first Everly Brothers hit — Bye Bye Love — Phil Everly came back to stay a few days with his best friend in Shenandoah who lived a block away from the Offenburger’s house.

“Our parents, of course, were just leaning on all of us little kids in the neighborhood that we could not be over there bugging them,” Offenburger says. “And yet we would get up every morning and go over there and just kind of politely hang out in front…until usually in the late morning or early afternoon here would come Phil out on the front porch with his guitar and he’d sit over there and play and we’d all sing along with him and sing ‘Bye Bye Love’ and you can imagine how star struck we all were when we got to do that.”

The Everly family moved to Shenandoah when Phil was five. The family had their own early morning show on the local radio station in Shenandoah. Offenburger recently listened to the archived version of one of the family’s 1940s Christmas shows on radio station KMA.

“They had each of the boys sing a Christmas song and the one Phil sang was ‘Silent Night’ and it was just heavenly,” Offenburger says. “He was like a boy soprano at the time.”

Hillman says the boys honed their skills while they lived in Shenandoah.

“They started singing nose-to-nose when they were four and five years old with their mom and dad, Ike and Margaret,” Hillman says. “They learned the blues and country music from their dad and how to play guitar and as they got older, they used that to…invent rock ‘n roll music.”

In 2001, Rolling Stone called The Everly Brothers “the most important vocal duo in rock.” The Everly family moved from Shenandoah to Nashville in 1955, when Phil and his older brother Don were still teenagers. “Bye Bye Love” topped the charts two years later, in 1957.

Phil and Don Everly recorded 35 songs which landed on Billboard’s Top 100.  When the Everly Brothers first began touring in the late ’50s, they wore matching suits and identical haircuts. In 1973 the duo broke up — on-stage — during a concert in California. They reunited a decade later. In 1986, more than 8000 people bought tickets for their show in Shenandoah. Offenburger was there.

“It was really special because it was the first hometown concert by the two of them since they’d made it big 30 years earlier,” Offenburger says, “so that was just a huge thrill for Shenandoah.”

One of Phil Everly’s last recordings was a 2006 duet with Vince Gill.  His last public performance was in 2011. Artists including the Beatles and Paul Simon credit songs by the Everly Brothers as inspiring their own work. Paul McCartney has said when he and John Lennon were teenagers, they pretended to be the Everly Brothers and the Beatles once called themselves The English Everly Brothers.