1973: The Everly Brothers Break Up On Stage At Knott's Berry Farm
Phil Everly and Don Everly in 1972, on set of LWT TV show (Photo by Tony Russell/Redferns)
As one of the most crucial American pop acts of the 20th century, the Everly Brothers bridged the gap between rock and country music. Throughout the 1950s and ‘60s, Don and Phil Everly performed an early mix of country, rock and roll, and pop that influenced artists as varied as Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys, and Simon and Garfunkel. As hard as it is to be in a band with someone, it’s even harder when that someone is your brother.
Following years of in fighting, label switcheroos, and secret drug addictions, the brothers decided to break up. They agreed that their two night stand at Knott's Berry Farm on July 14, 1973 would be their last gig. Rather than end up as a quiet goodbye to their fans, this show became one of the most spectacular flame outs in rock history.
Don and Phil Everly were performers from birth
As boys, the Everly brothers toured the country with their parents, performing as members of a family band. They attended school like everyone else, but they were destined to be performers. In 1955, when the brothers were still in their teens, they moved to Nashville and were hired as songwriters for Roy Acuff's publishing company, Acuff-Rose. After some initial success, the brothers recorded a single for Columbia, but it was their version of “Bye Bye Love” in 1957 that made them stars. The song went to number two in the United States and charted across the globe. Their sound, a mix of burgeoning rock music with soothing country vocals was exactly what the world was waiting for.
Their success was compounded with business issues
With success comes money, and money changes everything. The brothers’ earliest hits were scored on Cadence Records, but after a dispute over royalties the duo moved to Warner Bros., scoring a lucrative deal and selling $35 million worth of music. From 1957 to 1962 the group scored a top 10 hit every four months, and earned four number one hits. In 1962, the group’s luck faltered after a fallout with their publishing company over using songwriters who weren’t connected to the company.
The Everly Brothers recorded under pseudonyms and even set up their own label, but a lawsuit and their enlistment in the Marines more or less put a stop to their chart topping success. After the duo was discharged from the military in 1963, they went back to releasing music but never returned to the success of their early career. The duo moved to RCA records and even hosted a summer TV show, but life began grating on the Everlies as the ‘60s came to a close.
Don's addictions nearly ended the group before '73
After constant touring and never really having alone time from one another, the brothers turned to drugs as a way to escape. Don was especially hooked, he was put on “Ritalin therapy,” essentially hopping him up on injections of the stimulant and letting him loose. Rather than help him focus, Don said that it pushed him to the limit. He told Rolling Stone:
People didn’t understand drugs that well then. They didn’t know what they were messing with. It wasn’t against the law: I saw a picture of my doctor with the president, you know? But it got out of hand, naturally. It was a real disaster for a lot of people, and it was a disaster for me. Ritalin made you feel energized. You could stay up for days. It just got me strung out. I got so far out there, I didn’t know what I was doing.
He ended up suffering a nervous breakdown due to the drug and had to be hospitalized. After receiving shock therapy, he was sent to a psychiatrist who helped ween him from the drug over a series of long, hard months. Even in that time the band was still recording and performing.
The Everly Brothers didn’t break up so much as fall apart
Don and Phil decided to call it a day at the end of their two night concert series at Knott’s Berry Farm on July 13 and 14, 1973. Before the shows, the Don called Phil to let him know that not only did he want to end the group but that he felt they should take a couple of years off from seeing one another. The show on the 13th went off without a hitch, but on the night of the 14th Don went into mourning for the group and he turned to alcohol to numb the pain. He told Rolling Stone:
I was half in the bag that evening – the only time I’ve ever been drunk onstage in my life. I knew it was the last night, and on the way out I drank some tequila, drank some champagne – started celebrating the demise. It was really a funeral. People thought that night was just some brouhaha between Phil and me. They didn’t realize we had been working our buns off for years. We had never been anywhere without working; had never known any freedom. We were strapped together like a team of horses. It’s funny, the press hadn’t paid any attention to us in ten years, but they jumped on that. It was one of the saddest days of my life.
The group’s entourage knew something was going to happen
On the night of the group’s final show of the ‘70s, everyone knew that something was amiss. With Don drinking heavily so shortly after dealing with his Ritalin addiction it was clear that things were going to go sidewise. Even so, when Don forgot the words to several of their biggest hits and slurred his words, it was a shock to everyone who knew him. The Everly’s keyboardist, Warren Zevon, brought his wife, Crystal, along for the show and saw the band fall apart from the side of the stage. She said:
I’d seen Don perform with the flu and a temperature of 103. I’d never heard him hit a sour note or be anything short of professional in front of an audience. But, this night, he walked onstage dead drunk. He was stumbling and off key and I remember Phil trying to restart songs several times. It was embarrassing.
As the audience turned against the band, Don lashed out at the crowd and his brother. Phil, exhausted and ready for the night to be over, walked off stage and threw his guitar down, smashing it. According to Zevon’s then-wife, Phil told the promoter, “I’m really sorry, Bill, I have to go. I can’t go back on stage with that man again.”
Don tried to soldier on by himself, telling the crowd, “The Everly Brothers died 10 years ago.”
The Everly Brothers didn’t play together for more than a decade
After splitting up, the brothers lead wildly opposite lives. Don moved to Nashville and continued playing music, but he took more time for his hobbies. By all accounts he took up cooking and went fishing as much as possible. On the other hand, Phil recorded moderately successful solo albums, although none of his singles reached the heights of his work with Don. The two finally got back together in 1984 after a decade away from one another. The Everly Brothers reformed to film a TV special about their reunion concert in London. The performance was hailed as a success, and it was like Knott’s Berry Farm had never happened.
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