Song of the Week 56: Cathy’s Clown – The Everly Brothers

Cathy's Clown

Don’t want your love any more
Don’t want your kisses, that’s for sure
I die each time I hear this sound
Here he comes, that’s Cathy’s clown”

I couldn’t let the passing of Phil Everly go by without dedicating a Song of the Week to the duo. The Everly Brothers were a massive influence on two of my favourite bands, The Beatles and The Beach Boys.

McCartney admitted on a Howard Stern interview this year that The Beatles were reluctant to draw too much attention to the Everly Brothers influence in case they were labelled as copycats.

They were also a big inspiration for harmony groups The Hollies, The Byrds, The Bee Gees, and Simon & Garfunkel, and I had the privilege of seeing Phil and  Don support Paul and Art in a concert called Old Friends: Live on Stage. Though like their proteges, relations between the two brothers were not always friendly. Brotherly Love doesn’t always run smoothly, especially in rock & roll. Still, thankfully it didn’t affect the music they were producing. In fact it was quite the opposite…

“Phil and Don were the most beautiful sounding duo I ever heard… Both voices pristine and soulful.” Paul Simon

They, along with that other early pioneer of rock & roll Buddy Holly, were some of the first performers to write and sing their own material. Being brothers, they also seemed to have an innate gift for close harmony. They merged country music with the emerging sound of 50’s rock & roll.

Graham Nash, of The Hollies, and later harmony supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, describes the night he and Allan Clarke met the duo after a show in Manchester as “a night that changed my life… I decided that whatever music I was going to make in the future, I wanted it to affect people the same way the Everly Brothers’ music affected me.” 

The Everly Brothers inspired the British Invasion, but they had trouble competing with it. After 1962 they never again cracked the US top 30, although they continued to make some great records, in particular their 1968 album Roots. They remained popular in the UK and continued to have chart hits, and were always in demand to play their greatest hits on tour.

Everly Brothers with Black Gibson Guitars

They both played signature black guitars, and although Don was the first to get compositions on their records, Phil soon got in on the act and co-wrote this week’s song.

Their harmony style was mostly based on diatonic thirds, with each line sounding like a main melody in its own right, contrasting with the more classic style of accompanying the melody. Don would generally take the baritone part, while Phil would sing tenor. An exception is Devoted to You, where they switch the low and high part back and forth. Don would generally take the solo lines, but not always.

Boudleaux and Felice Bryant

At first they had one of the great songwriting husband and wife teams behind them, Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, who were responsible for writing some of their first chart topping singles,

“the most beautiful sound you’ll ever hear”. Duane Eddy, long time friend and fellow 50’s rock n roller.

The song I’ve picked is the bittersweet Cathy’s Clown, and I think Nick Cave would approve of the duende on show in this one, the pain of love lost. They were masters of the bittersweet from their very first single Bye Bye Love to the Carole King/Howard Greenfield penned Crying in the Rain.

Cathy’s Clown was a favourite of The Beatles, who had, in the early days, toyed with calling themselves The Foreverly Brothers and once referred to themselves as “The English Everly Brothers”. It was one of the songs they messed around with in the Get Back/Let it Be sessions.John (and Paul) admitted that the descending harmony  he sings in Please Please Me, while Paul holds the high note was a ploy they learned from Cathy’s Clown. 

“I did the trick of remaining on the high note while the melody cascaded down from it” McCartney

Here’s a special treat. Lennon recorded a demo of this song tenderly singing it while playing the piano. He fluffs the words at the end, as he often did while playing for his own entertainment. You can hear he’s enjoying singing the melody, and figuring out the chords of the song for himself.

Cathy’s Clown was the first song The Everly Brothers released on the Warner Brothers label, and the first song released by Warners in the UK. The deal they signed with Warners, after three successful years with Cadence Records, was reputed to be the first million dollar contract in music history. It was also the first to simultaneously top the US and UK charts. It sold a phenomenal 8 million copies worldwide and was their third and last US number one.

The song is attributed to the two brothers, and according to Roger Waters was written about a high school girlfriend of Don’s. The drumbeat and two chord progression of the verse were inspired by The Grand Canyon Suite by Ferde Grofe. Click on the link if you want to listen for comparison. You won’t regret it. It’s gorgeous.

The song has a haunting hypnotic feel to it, with the cascading harmony, drenched in reverb, and the strange delayed drumbeat.

The lyric is pretty self explanatory, as is the emotion, so I’ll let you figure it out for yourself. The lyrics are printed below.

ike everly

Don and Phil were born two years apart, the former in Kentucky, the latter in Chicago, Illinois into a musical family. Their father Isaac Milford, or Ike, was honoured along with Merle Travis, Mose Rager and Kennedy Jones with The Four Legends Fountain in Drakesboro Kentucky. He had a show on KMA and KFNF in Shenandoah, Iowa, with his wife Margaret and their two young sons. From the ages of 5 and 7 the two boys sang and toured with their family and appearing on the radio show was their first exposure to the music industry.

After the family moved to Knoxville Tennessee, and the boys transitioned to a duo, they caught the attention of Chet Atkins, who became an early champion of the brothers. He arranged for them to record for Columbia Records in early 1956. Their first and only single Keep a Lovin’ Me flopped and they were dropped from the label.

Atkins kept up his encouragement and introduced them to Wesley Rose of Acuff-Rose music publishers who were impressed with their songwriting talents. Rose told them that if they signed as songwriters they would also get a recording deal. By early 1957, Rose introduced them to Archie Bleyer, who was looking for artists for his Cadence Records label. Their first session in the recording studio for Cadence was in February 1957.

The Everly Brothers - Bye Bye Love

Bye Bye Love, their first single, had already been rejected by 30 other acts, but the Everlys saw the potential in the song and reached number 2 in the pop charts behind someone called Elvis Presley singing Let Me Be Your Teddy Bear. They hit number 1 in the country charts, and number 5 in the R&B charts.

Here are the pair performing live on the Alma Cogan Show along with Buddy’s old band The Crickets (Jerry Allison, Joe B. Mauldin, Sonny Curtis) in 1961. Wake Up Little Susie, All I Have to Do Is Dream, Bird Dog and Problems were all written by the Bryants and were all big hits for the duo. Don’s own (Till) I Kissed You also reached number 4 in the US pop charts.

They toured extensively with Buddy Holly during 1957 and 58 and were responsible for the change in style for Holly and the Crickets from Levis and t-shirts to sharp Ivy League suits. Don claimed Holly was a generous songwriter. He wrote Wishing for the pair. Phil later  about Holly and themselves that they “were all from the South. We’d started in country music.”

“We’re not Grand Ole Opry…we’re obviously not Perry Como…we’re just pop music. But you could call us an American skiffle group!” NME Nov 1960

After signing the new contract with Warner Brothers, they went on to have a string of top 10 hits and by the end of 1962 they had earned $35 million from record sales.

However, signing with Warner led to a fall out with their manager Wesley Rose, and his music publishing company, so they were shut off from the Acuff-Rose songwriters, particularly Felice and Boudleaux Bryant who had written the majority of their hits up to that point, as well as not being able to write themselves, as they were still contracted to the company. They recorded a mix of covers and songs by other writers in order to avoid paying royalties to Acuff-Rose, and also used the collective name Jimmy Howard on a couple of tracks, a move which backfired when it was discovered and Acuff-Rose legally assumed the copyrights.

Their last US top ten hit was 1962’s That’s Old Fashioned, which had been previously recorded but unreleased by the Chordettes. They also enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserve in late 1961 for 6 months rather than being drafted into the Army for two years active service, which took them out of the spotlight for a while. While on-leave they performed Jezebel and Crying in the Rain on the Ed Sullivan Show, but from there on their United States chart success was limited, although they remained popular in the UK, Canada and Australia.

The Hollies backed them on the 1966 album Two Yanks in England and also wrote many of the album’s songs.

1968’s Roots has been critically acclaimed as one of the finest early country rock albums, but the 1970’s would see their popularity wane even more, in spite of being the summer replacements for Johnny Cash’s television show in 1970. Don released his solo album that same year, but it was not a success. Their final performance together during the 70s was on July 14th 1973. Tensions began to surface during the show when the band skipped several songs, and the brothers started arguing on stage. Phil smashed his guitar, said “I’m through being an Everly Brother” and stormed off the stage, while Don went on playing the numbers by himself. He ended up telling the crowd “The Everly Brothers died ten years ago.” They reportedly didn’t speak to each other for almost a decade, save for at their father’s funeral in 1975.

They both performed solo in the coming years with Phil being the more active, and more successful of the two.

One of the highlights of his solo career is his recording of The Air That I Breathe, which predates the Hollies version (who, unlike Phil, would ironically have a hit with it), was arranged by Warren Zevon and produced by Duane Eddy. Click on the link to hear Phil’s tenor voice taking the lead vocal.

They  were coaxed back together for a triumphant reunion show on HBO in 1983, with Dave Edmunds producing the album and McCartney returning a long overdue favour by writing their comeback single On the Wings of a Nightingale, and the album EB ’84 achieved considerable success.

Before teaming up with Simon & Garfunkel in 2003 they had virtually retired, but were persuaded to come back out to tour with their friends, where luckily I got to see them.

“I said ‘Phil, look, if you’re going to retire, you might as well come out one more time and take a bow and let me at least say what it is that you meant to us and to the culture.'” Paul Simon, Rolling Stone Magazine

“When we were kids, Artie and I got our rock & roll chops from the Everlys. Later, as Simon and Garfunkel, we put ‘Bye Bye Love’ on Bridge Over Troubled Water, and much later, Phil and Don both sang on the song ‘Graceland’.” Paul Simon

You know, the Everlys have a long history of knocking each other down, as brothers can do. So in a certain sense, it was hilarious that the four of us were doing this tour, given our collective histories of squabbling. And it’s amazing, because they hadn’t seen each other in about three years. They met in the parking lot before the first gig. They unpacked their guitars — those famous black guitars — and they opened their mouths and started to sing. And after all those years, it was still that sound I fell in love with as a kid. It was still perfect.” Paul Simon, Rolling Stone

Keith Richards rated Don’s rhythm guitar playing very highly in his autobiography Life. He also had a go at singing the song.

“Nobody ever thinks about [it], but their rhythm guitar playing is perfect… And beautifully placed and set up with the voices.” Richards

“The Everly Brothers come out and there’s a soft light… The band plays very quietly, and their voices, that beautiful, beautiful refrain – almost mystical. ‘Dream, dream, dream…,’ slipping in and out of union and harmony.” Richards

The song is mentioned in the opening line of Elliot Smith’s song Waltz 2 (XO) the title track of his 1998 album XO.

Here’s a documentary on the duo.

The Hollies sang, “he aint heavy, he’s my brother…” (I’ll come back to the story behind that song some day). They spent years touring together, sharing the stage together and often singing into the same mic. Singing together fosters a closeness, but as the years roll on, tensions build up. It’s hard enough being in close proximity with friends. When it’s family, it can be even more difficult. There many examples in rock history; from the Davies in the Kinks to the Gallaghers in Oasis. But in spite of their falling out, they were still brothers. In the Everlys case you could hear the warmth through the music.

I’ll leave Don with the last word…

“I was listening to one of my favorite songs that Phil wrote and had an extreme emotional moment just before I got the news of his passing… I took that as a special spiritual message from Phil saying goodbye. Our love was and will always be deeper than any earthly differences we might have had.”

“I loved my brother very much… I always thought I’d be the one to go first. … The world might be mourning an Everly Brother, but I’m mourning my brother Phil Everly. My wife Adela and I are touched by all the tributes we’re seeing for Phil and we thank you for allowing us to grieve in private at this incredibly difficult time.”

R.I.P. Phil 1939 – 2014 and thank you.

Lyrics for Cathy’s Clown:

Don’t want your love any more
Don’t want your kisses, that’s for sure
I die each time I hear this sound
Here he comes, that’s Cathy’s clown

I’ve got to stand tall, you know a man can’t crawl
For when he knows you’re telling lies
And he hears them passing by
He’s not a man at all

Don’t want your love any more
Don’t want your kisses, that’s for sure
I die each time I hear this sound
Here he comes, that’s Cathy’s clown

When you see me shed a tear
And you know that it’s sincere
Don’t you think it’s kind of sad, that you’re treating me so bad?
Or don’t you even care?

Don’t want your love any more
Don’t want your kisses , that’s for sure
I die each time I hear this sound
Here he comes, that’s Cathy’s clown
That’s Cathy’s clown, that’s Cathy’s clown

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11 thoughts on “Song of the Week 56: Cathy’s Clown – The Everly Brothers

  1. Here’s the tribute from Paul:

    “Phil Everly was one of my great heroes. With his brother Don, they were one of the major influences on The Beatles. When John and I first started to write songs, I was Phil and he was Don.

    “Years later when I finally met Phil, I was completely starstruck and at the same time extremely impressed by his humility and gentleness of soul.

    “I will always love him for giving me some of the sweetest musical memories of my life.”

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