Ike Everly - guitar, vocals; Phil Everly - guitar, vocals; Don Everly - guitar, vocals
One of the most imitated and influential guitar players of the 20th century, Ike Everly and, to a lesser extent, his wife Margaret, were well-known in the South and the Midwest as folk and country music performers. Originating from the coal-mining region of Muhlenberg County in rural Kentucky, Ike and his neighbor Mose Rager are largely responsible for developing a unique three-finger guitar style that has since been imitated far and wide. Ike's neighbors also included a young Merle Travis and while working together in the coal fields, Ike taught Travis how to use his thumb for the bass strings while playing the melody on treble strings. Although the style would come to be known as "Travis picking," Ike was equally responsible for its early development.
Initially becoming an established performer in Chicago, Ike played country and western music with his brothers on the local honky-tonk club circuit. Ike and Margaret wanted to raise their children in a smaller rural community, so in 1944 he accepted a new job performing on Waterloo, Iowa's KASL radio station, and relocated his family there. A year later, the family would relocate again when Ike and Margaret joined on at radio station KMA in Shenandoah, Iowa. Their sons Don (age 8) and Phil (age 6) first began performing on their parents' show during this time, introduced to the listening audience as "Little Donnie" and "Baby Boy Phil." With Margaret often joining in, they created beautiful four part harmonies that enamored listeners every time they performed together. Featuring a mix of C&W, gospel and Appalachian folk melodies, the Everly family's material conveyed an instinctual sense of timing and harmony; this would give the sons, Don and Phil, a major head start on the competition in the years to come.
By the dawn of the 1950s, The Everly Family Show was becoming increasingly popular and the family accepted a job offer from WIKY in Evansville, Indiana in 1952. Unfortunately, the times were also changing, with radio stations finding it more economical to pay a single DJ to play records, rather than to hire live musicians. Within a year, The Everly Family Show began looking for a new home. They found that home in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1953 when they signed on to Cas Walker's show on WROL for $90 a week for the entire family. Two years later, Ike and Margaret decided to end their musical careers, with Ike becoming a barber and Margaret a beautician. One of Ike's frequent customers was guitarist Chet Atkins, who would help Phil and Don when they soon moved to Nashville to pursue their own musical careers as The Everly Brothers.
The brothers would soon be among the most important and influential acts of the early rock & roll era, setting new standards for close, two-part harmony singing and infusing their songs with the best elements of country and pop music. The big crossover success would come in 1957 with their smash hit, "Bye Bye Love, " which would begin an incredibly impressive string of hits lasting into the early 1960s. Every subsequent rock or country act that featured vocal harmonies, from The Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel to legions of country and roots rockers in the decades to follow, are examples of The Everly Brothers' influence and legacy.
George Wein, the impresario behind the Newport Jazz Festival and the Newport Folk Festival (which began in 1954 and 1959, respectively) is responsible for showcasing younger, older and rediscovered jazz, blues and folk musicians alike. His vision also included adding complimentary elements to the festivals, which presented figures from the regular Newport Festival programs at morning and afternoon workshops on the festival grounds. One of the most fascinating and enjoyable workshop sets in the history of the Newport Folk Festival occurred in 1969, when the program featured the long-retired Ike Everly, once again accompanied by his sons Don and Phil, performing an impromptu workshop set before an intimate and appreciative audience.
With the exception of the first song, of which only the tail end was recorded, presented here is the newly located master recording of that event, unedited and in its entirety. Performing together for a full hour, this unplanned and spontaneous set captures Ike, Phil and Don Everly on stage together for the first time in 15 years! For fans of Ike Everly, who never recorded much, this is indeed somewhat of a holy grail, with his performances, storytelling and off-the-cuff exchanges with Phil and Don a priceless addition to his legacy. For Everly Brothers fans, this recording provides a remarkable opportunity to hear the brothers reflecting on their roots and engaging in material rarely heard in such an intimate and spontaneous context.
Initially focusing on Ike Everly's undiminished talent as a musician, the first several songs prove what a hot acoustic guitarist he is. This begins with the blues licks of "A-Blues;" followed by a taste of the Merle Travis instrumental, "Blue Smoke;" and ending with his most famous composition, "Ike Everly's Rag." The latter song is particularly enjoyable to hear from the hands of Ike himself, as it is primarily known from cover versions, most notably Merle Travis' rendition. One listen to these three numbers and it becomes clearer how influential Ike Everly was. His contribution of passing along the Travis picking technique to Merle Travis himself is worthy of legend alone, but so many of his radio listeners grew up to be musicians and continued developing his style, that his legacy continues to influence generations of acoustic guitarists, far too numerous to mention.
The stage banter found here is often as interesting as the performances, with Ike reflecting on the family's days on the radio and spontaneously playing examples of songs that established their reputations outside the scope of recordings. Two prime examples follow with Don and Phil joining in at this point. "Going Down The Road Feeling Bad" and "I Am A Pilgrim" follow, two songs that will be familiar to fans of The Grateful Dead and The Byrds, with Ike front and center and now accompanied by his sons. After these numbers, Phil and Don encourage Ike to play some of the oldest songs that he knows, which begins a particularly captivating sequence as Ike dips farther back into his repertoire. "Step It Up And Go" comes next providing a fine example of Ike's clawhammer technique, followed by a dynamic arrangement of "Nellie Gray" that starts off real slow and then shifts into overdrive, providing a fine example of the dancing music he so often performed live on the radio. "Bass Fiddle Rag," "Dirty Guitar Blues" and another time-shifting instrumental follow, providing more fine examples of Ike in action.
Following all these showcases of Ike's talent, he encourages Phil and Don to lead the way and they begin spontaneously whipping out vintage gems, beginning with a taste of "You Done Me Wrong" and a captivating "Lightning Express." The performances, with Ike still providing excellent guitar work throughout, just get better and better with the brothers harmonizing on the Delmore Brothers' "Don't Let Our Love Die," "Born To Lose" and their catchy cover of Buddy Holly's "When Will I Be Loved."
Another engaging sequence follows as The Everly's investigate their country and bluegrass roots. This includes a version of Charlie (brother of Bill) Monroe's "Down In The Willow Garden," The Bailes Brothers' "Oh So Many Years" and Ike's arrangement of the traditional "Ground Hawg." Following some final chatting with the audience, Phil and Don finish things up with the song that launched their careers twelve years prior, "Bye Bye Love."
One would be hard-pressed to find a more enjoyable educational primer for the thumb picking style that developed in Muhlenberg County. This recording clearly conveys Ike Everly's influence in a number of ways. For one it makes a clear case for his influence on Merle Travis (and vice versa) as their style of playing is nearly identical. The open-G tuning that Ike favored and taught Don Everly is another significant contribution, as this tuning and variations of it gave many of the The Everly Brothers songs their unique tone and style. The complex vocal harmonies and country inflections of Ike's two sons would become one of the key building blocks of an entire era in American rock and country music. Phil and Don's contributions laid the groundwork for groups like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and The Eagles and provided a foundation for every modern country or country/rock based vocal group working today. This recording provides listeners with many fine examples of how it all developed within one incredibly talented family.
-Written by Alan Bershaw