Once known as “Little Donnie and Baby Boy Phil,” Don and Phil Everly started singing together as young boys, first with their parents and, later, on their own. Their childhood years in Iowa led to teenage years in Tennessee, eventually landing them in Nashville. Chet Atkins took a liking to the lads and got them a deal with Columbia Records in 1956 that didn’t last past one failed single. Later that same year, Acuff-Rose signed them as songwriters and connected them with Cadence Records.
Felice and Boudleaux Bryant’s “Bye Bye Love” became a huge hit for the Everly Brothers, though more than 30 other artists had taken a pass on the cut. The Everlys recorded more tunes by the Bryants — including “Wake Up Little Susie” and “All I Have to Do Is Dream” — but they also found success with their own compositions, songs like “(Till) I Kissed You” and “Cathy’s Clown,” the latter of which came after a move to Warner Bros. Over the next few years, hit after hit flowed from the Everly Brothers, until a dispute with Acuff-Rose and an enlistment in the Marine Corps Reserves halted their momentum. Though the Everlys never got back on the same track after, their contribution to music landed them in both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Country Music Hall of Fame.
As a contemporary duo that relies heavily on harmony, Dead Rock West found a natural kinship with the Everlys. Although their four previous releases were cut from more of an alt-country/roots rock cloth, Cindy Wasserman and Frank Drennen both grew up with an affection for the Everly Brothers. Their new release, It’s Everly Time!, puts that fondness front and center. Produced by Mark Linett and recorded with a band that included Elliott Easton from the Cars, DJ Bonebrake from X, Dave Alvin, Rob Wasserman, and others, the album is a lovely homage to a time and a duo that forever changed music.
It has been an interesting year, so far, musically. Quite a few records harken back to the late ’60s and early ’70s. But your passion project goes even further back. Why the Everly Brothers?
Cindy Wasserman: [Laughs] Frank …
Frank Drennen: The simple answer for that is that, as a singing duo, we just had to do it. I’ve immersed myself in the Louvin Brothers, in the past, and we just had to do it. It’s changed our songwriting. It’s changed how we sing. And, on top of the fact that it’s helping us grow as artists, I really feel like people need to hear these songs. There’s been a resurgence of so many great American artists in the last 10 years, 15 years, but never the Everlys.
The Everlys, essentially, helped start pop music, as we know it. They were the bridge between Buddy Holly and the Louvin Brothers. They were contemporaries and friends of Buddy Holly. They grew up listening to the Louvin Brothers. And they loved Bo Diddley. Everybody from Vince Gill to Emmylou Harris to the Beatles has been influenced by the Everly Brothers. They are probably one the most influential duos in the history of popular music.
And they did it all in, basically, four years. The chunk of their career was in that window.
FD: Yeah. Like with Elvis, they were in the Marines. And, when they came back, nobody really wanted them. A lot of the songs that we recorded on this record are from a period in their career that they should’ve been wildly popular, but they just weren’t the flavor of the day, I guess. It’s a shame, really.
They had that kerfuffle with their publisher, Acuff-Rose, in ’61 that ended their run on the charts. Then they joined the Marine Reserve Corps for two years, got out and got addicted to amphetamines, and it was all downhill from there.
CW: Yeah, yeah. That’s true.
FD: And it’s weird, too, because these guys were writers. They weren’t just procurers, though they were very good at procuring — like the Sonny Curtis stuff we covered on the record. I have the utmost respect for Emmylou Harris and Johnny Cash, but neither of them wrote nearly as much as the Everlys. That’s taking nothing away from them. I’m just trying to make the point that the Everlys were so … they did everything from country to soul to rock ‘n’ roll to straight pop. They did everything. They are a true American treasure.
“Bye Bye Love” was number one on the country charts, number two on the pop charts, and number five on the R&B charts. What is it about the songs — or maybe it was the time that they came out — that made it all so universally appealing?
FD: It’s the riffs, the beginning riff. It’s straight Bo Diddley and they mixed it with those sweet harmonies. It’s happy, but they’re singing about something sad, just like a country music song. We listen to that song now and go, “Oh, how cute.” But it changed music. It changed the way people thought about popular music because nobody was doing that. Listen to country music in the ’50s, man, it was totally different. Faron Young and Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell were making hit records in the ’50s, but their records sounded nothing like the Everlys.
I talked to Will Hoge a couple months ago about Ray Charles. In a weird way, he’s a similar kind of cat because he was crossing all the genres, as well.
FD: Totally. Absolutely. And that’s the thing: True American music pulls from all of it. That excites me because then it’s not in some little bro country box. It’s not in some stupid pop-punk box. You’re allowed to be what you want. And that’s true artistry. The rest is consumerism.

So, you guys didn’t do “Bye Bye Love” on your record, but you did take on the Everlys’ biggest-selling hit, “Cathy’s Clown.”
CW: We did. And we actually did do “Bye Bye Love.” We did a supplemental live recording at East West Studio, but we’re not releasing it yet.
FD: We recorded what was it, like 20 songs total? We spent about three months researching their songs because our producer, Mark Linett, had worked at Capitol many, many times over the years and he was our guiding light. That guy knows so much about the Everly Brothers, it’s crazy. He turned us onto songs that, probably, nobody’s ever heard. [Laughs]
It was really hard to pick songs, but in the end, the key that they sing in is the same key that our voices are made for. As soon as we started to realize the different perspective of when a man and a woman are singing that song, it changes it from a man pouring his heart out to somebody to a conversation happening inside the song. That was unexpected.
How did it feel to approach such iconic tunes?
FD: Intimidating.
CW: That’s a good question. Frank and I, in the process of studying the songs, went about it in similar ways where we studied them separately then came together. It was kind of like, “Okay, here we go. Let’s just try it and see what happens.” We wanted to stay true to the songs, but with our own flavor because we weren’t trying, in my opinion, to take one of the songs and twist it around. They are so amazing how they are that the approach was just to keep it pretty true to what it was. The big difference is that it’s a man and a woman singing the songs instead of two guys, which is a huge difference because it shifts around lots of the meaning.
FD: We also chose songs that we wished we’d written, that we want to play in our set. It’s not a novelty for us. I take these songs seriously and we sing them with our hearts. We’re not doing an exercise.
What I did find interesting — and maybe some of them are in the bonus tracks — but there’s nothing from the country-rock, 1968 Roots LP.
CW: You know, we auditioned songs from that record, but in the end, we just went with our gut. It was really hard to choose, to be honest, because we fell in love with so many songs.