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Life's a Breach

Everlys Remain Distant in Private but Continue Their Onstage Harmony to Show They Still Have It

May 12, 1999|MIKE BOEHM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Don Everly's enthusiasm for creating new music in the bosom of his family has been rekindled, but it's as an Everly husband, not an Everly Brother.

His Hall of Fame partnership with younger brother Phil continues--the two will play extremely rare small-club concerts Friday and Saturday in Santa Ana and San Juan Capistrano. But speaking from his home in Nashville recently, Don, 62, said he doubts their artistically scintillating but personally strained relationship will yield any new songs or recordings (their last album together, "Some Hearts . . .," dates from 1988).

Don, the darker-haired lead singer, and Phil, whose soaring harmonies complete one of the most instantly recognizable and influential twinnings of two voices in recording history, still tour together for three or four months a year, playing shows in which Don says the chief point is to prove they've still got it.

But Don, a folksy, open talker, says his spark has been lit again for making new music in the old-fashioned way taught to him by his father, Ike. For that, he credits his fourth wife, Adela, a 30-year-old woman he met five years ago in a Nashville musicians' bar. She and her twin sister had come to Nashville from Texas to make their way as country songwriters.

"She inspires everything I do now, every move I make," Everly said. "I was hanging out with other songwriters, drinking and carousing around. I think it was 'cause I was bored.

"Now my life's opened up. I'm playing the guitar, writing songs. We hang out in the kitchen and get the guitars out and sing. When Adela came into my life, all of a sudden the guitars got into tune and there was recording equipment. It brought me back."

Everly said he bought his wife a Fender Telecaster for Christmas 2 1/2 years ago and began playing it himself, relearning the finger-picking techniques handed down by his father, who is said to have influenced Merle Travis, who in turn influenced Chet Atkins, who in turn inspired George Harrison as well as most of the pickers in Nashville.

"It's been very rewarding to rediscover at this time of my life," Everly said.

And it may lead to his first recording project since the Everly Brothers' three-album comeback in the '80s that ended a thaw in which they barely spoke to each other for 10 years.

Everly said his friend Dan Goodman heard his new, folksy stuff, much of it focusing on his home state of Kentucky, and proposed a Kentucky-roots project akin to Los Super Seven, the acclaimed tejano all-star band Goodman helped organize last year with Freddy Fender, Flaco Jimenez, David Hidalgo, Cesar Rosas, Joe Ely and others.

"This project's close to my heart," said Everly, who grew up mainly in Iowa, but was born in rural Kentucky and was steeped in the mountain-music traditions of his father. "I can't mention the other people involved [because] there haven't been any contracts [signed]. But a lot of people from Kentucky made music, and I hope we can get together."

Part of being an Everly Brother is being asked repeatedly how the duo that harmonizes so tightly gets along away from the stage lights.

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Fans who hear the inspired vocal blend that was a crucial influence for the Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel and many others want to believe, no doubt, that life imitates art when it comes to brotherly closeness and cooperation.

"Wherever I go, it's 'Are you still mad at each other?' I say, 'Do you have a family? Do you have a brother?' "--the point being that the Everlys' frictions and differences are commonplace. And most siblings were not joined at the hip from childhood--as Don and Phil Everly almost literally were as they shared a single microphone.

"We give each other a lot of space," Don said with a chuckle. "We say hello, we sometimes have a meal together" while on tour.

In fact, Don said, outside of music, he and Phil have always gone their own ways. He can't remember playing childhood games together--only music. Don said he and Ike Everly enjoyed father-son hunting outings; Phil didn't join them. Phil was into sports during his school days, going out for basketball and track--an interest Don didn't share.

"Everything is different about us, except when we sing together," Don said. "I'm a liberal Democrat, he's pretty conservative."

Don Everly knew from age 8, when he first performed as "Little Donny" on his father's radio show in Iowa, that he wanted to be a musician and appear on the Grand Ole Opry. The Everly Brothers, who had finished school in Knoxville, Tenn., moved to Nashville in 1955 at the behest of Chet Atkins, a friend of their father.

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