The Everly Brothers came from a musical family. Don the older brother was born on February 1, 1937 in the mining village of Brownie, Kentucky, and Phil was born two years later on January 19, 1939 in Chicago, Illinois. Their father Ike Everly was a multi-generation coal miner in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. He would play music after work and on weekends with his two brothers, Chuck and Len. Ike learned and mastered a unique guitar style from Arnold Shultz, an African-American fiddler and guitarist who is noted as a major influence in the development of the ‘thumb-style’, or ‘Travis picking’ method of playing guitar. Ike later taught this to his neighbor and fellow co miner Merle Travis, who lived in the coal mining community of Rosewood, Kentucky, which is also in Muhlenberg County. Thumb picking style is where the thumb plucks the chord and bass notes, while the index finger picks the melody. Ike encouraged his boys to sing and he taught them to play guitar. Don developed into one of the best rhythm guitarists around, as well as being a great lead singer. Phil became one of the finest harmony singers in rock & roll. Don usually sang the baritone notes and most of the lead parts, while Phil handled the higher range.
After relocating his wife Margaret and his eldest son Don to Chicago, Ike was appearing with a country group, The North Carolina Boys, on KXEL radio. In 1945, Ike Everly and his family moved to Shenandoah, Iowa, accepting a job to work at KMA radio station. At the young ages of 8 and 6, sons Don and Phil began to perform on their parents live radio show. By 1950, the radio show become known as ‘The Everly Family Show’. During the summer of 1952 the family accepted a job at WIKY in Evansville, Indiana. In September of 1953 they packed up the car and moved their radio show to WROL in Knoxville, where they were offered a job on Cas Walker’s show for $90 a week.
Beginning in the mid-1950s, Atkins released over a hundred albums, and earned the nickname Mr. Guitar Man. Guitar virtuoso Chet Atkins was making records for RCA and he was an in-demand Nashville studio musician who started to produce records. In 1954, while in Knoxville, the brothers caught the attention of family friend Chet Atkins, manager of RCA Victor’s studio. He was impressed by the brothers’ song writing abilities, and he gave Don’s composition ‘Thou Shalt Not Steal’, to Kitty Wells, the era’s top female singer, who made it a Top 20 country hit that year. He sent them to Columbia Records, where they did one 1955 session, recording four very country songs. This is their first single, which virtually no one noticed at the time. After a one-song stint on Columbia, the teenage brothers headed to Nashville and to the door of Archie Bleyer’s short-lived Cadence label. In the spring of 1957 their producer, Archie Bleyer, proudly announced The Everlys’ first Cadence label single with a hall-page advertisement in Billboard magazine. In its April 20th issue Billboard said, “The Tennessee teenagers have a distinctive, appealing sound, and could click big in the Pop as well as C&W fields.”
Matilda Genevieve Scaduto was renamed Felice by her husband Boudleaux Bryant. She loved writing poetry, having a way with words combined with Boudreaux’s gift for music resulted in one of the greatest songwriting teams America has known. They spent years living in a mobile home, Felice writing lyrics while her husband Boudleaux was out on the road playing country gigs. When he got back home, they would write music to the words that she crafted, and soon they had accumulated a vast catalog of originals. They tried and failed for a few years to get a country artist to record one of their gems, mailing out about 20 songs a day to various artists. In 1948, their luck shifted when Little Jimmy Dickens recorded ‘Country Boy’, which went to No. 7 on the country charts. It garnered the attention of the publisher Fred Rose, who invited them to relocate to Nashville, which they did in 1950.
Their career simmered slowly at first, but in 1953 Boudleaux Bryant wrote ‘Hey Joe’ which was recorded by Carl Smith for Columbia Records and it spent eight weeks at #1 on the U.S. country music chart. The Bryants also wrote ‘Sugar Beet’ which was recorded by Moon Mullican, ‘Midnight’ recorded by Red Foley and ‘I’ve Been Thinking’ for Eddy Arnold. In 1957, they wrote a string of hit singles for the Everly Brothers, and their place on the country-pop songwriting stage was forever fixed.
The Everly Brothers met Wesley Rose, who was the son of Fred Rose who started a music publication and production business in Nashville back in 1942 (Acuff-Rose). Wesley was a college-trained former oil-industry accountant, who formed the Hickory label and was very successfully releasing records. When Elvis Presley erupted out of Memphis and rock & roll began making inroads into the country market, Rose decided to get a piece of the new action and Rose told the Everlys that he would get them a recording contract if they would sign with him as songwriters. Through Wesley, Phil and Don got in touch with Archie Bleyer.
Bleyer liked the Everlys’ songs but he also wanted them to try a tune that he and Rose had been holding for some time. It had been written by two of Acuff-Rose’s most prized staffers the team of Boudleaux Bryant, a Georgia songwriter who had started out as a classical violinist, and his wife, Felice, a former Milwaukee elevator operator. The Bryants song ‘Bye Bye Love’ had been turned down by just about every other artist in Nashville. Phil and Don were both hungry and desperate, so they accepted the song and they were paid $64.00 to do the session. They played around with the song trying out various rhythms. Don had an arrangement of a song called ‘Give Me a Future’, which had this catchy guitar riff in it. They decided to put that into the beginning of this song and this start really made the difference and on March 1, 1957 history was made in the RCA studios in Nashville. ‘Bye Bye Love’ enjoyed a 22-week run on the Billboard pop charts, peaking at #2 and it went to #1 on the Country charts and #5 on the R&B, and this record became The Everlys’ first million-seller, sending The Everly Brothers spiraling towards stardom.
The Everly Brothers third album The Fabulous Style Of The Everly Brothers was released in 1959 on Cadence Records. The big hit songs on the disc are ‘All I Have to Do is Dream’, ‘Bird Dog’, ‘Devoted to You’ and ‘Let It Be Me’. Today I am writing about ‘Take A Message To Mary’ from this album, which was a #16 Billboard chart hit and it went #27 in the U.K. ‘Take A Message To Mary’ features haunting minor harmonies and this song is often over-looked. It is a rather obscure ballad, and it is a haphazard selection, but it fits in with my current theme of writing about songs with Mary in the title. The Everly Brothers had this incredible knack for turning a mediocre song into a jewel, and this song seems to grow on me each time that I listen to it.
This convict is asking his friend to send a message to his fiancé from jail. He is guilty and has already been convicted, or else he would be asking for help, or he would be in need of a lawyer. I guess that he tried to rob a stagecoach and someone got killed with his gun. The condemned man doesn’t want Mary to find out what he has done. He is separated from his lover, stuck in jail for the rest of his life, but he wants her to move on and not wait for him to return. The stripped-down ballad is accompanied by little more than the clacking of what sound like stirrups, marks another stunning change of pace. The band tapped a screwdriver against a coke bottle as percussion. This record might be the closest that anyone has ever come to singing in perfect harmony.
The Bryants had a way of tapping into the Everlys’ brotherhood unison vocal style, but unfortunately, because of silly contractual arrangements they weren’t allowed to record any more new Felice and Boudleaux songs. This meant that The Everly Brothers had to write more of their own songs, which they did and ‘Cathy’s Clown’, one of Don’s, became their biggest selling single.
The Everly Brothers were not only among the most important and best early rock & roll stars, they also had a genuine influence on rockers of any era. They set unmatched standards for close, two-part harmonies and infused early rock & roll with some of the best elements of country and pop music. Over the years they released 21 studio albums, two live albums, 29 compilation albums and 75 singles. They are also #43 on the list of UK Best selling singles artists of all time. The Everly Brothers have had 35 US Billboard Top 100 singles, with 26 being Top 40 singles. They hold the record for the most US Top 100 singles by any duo. In 1986, they were among the first 10 artists inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 1997, they were awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. They were also inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001 and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2004. Their pioneering contribution to the genre has been recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. The Everly Brothers have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 2004, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked The Everly Brothers #33 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. On January 3, 2014, Phil Everly, a lifelong smoker, died in the Los Angeles suburb of Burbank at the age of 74.
These are the words of a frontier lad
Who lost his love when he turned bad
Take a message to Mary
But don’t tell her where I am
Take a message to Mary
But don’t say I’m in a jam
You can tell her I had to see the world
Or tell her that my ship set sail
You can say she better not wait for me
But don’t tell her I’m in jail
Oh, don’t tell her I’m in jail
Take a message to Mary
But don’t tell her what I’ve done
Please don’t mention the stagecoach
And the shot from a careless gun
You can tell her I had to change my plans
And cancel out the wedding day
But please don’t mention my lonely cell
Where I’m gonna pine away
Until my dying day
Take a message to Mary
But don’t tell her all you know
My heart’s aching for Mary
Lord knows I miss her so
Just tell her I went to Timbuktu
Tell her I’m searching for gold
You can say she better find someone new
To cherish and to hold
Oh, Lord, this cell is cold