Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014 | 10:30 a.m.
Phil and Don Everly made beautiful music together. That is when they were not feverishly arguing with — or barely speaking to — each other during a long-running period of disharmony, the roots of which can be traced to a 1973 Las Vegas rehearsal brouhaha between the two.
During that rehearsal session at the old Sahara Hotel showroom, the siblings got into a bitter shouting match, then turned on their co-headliner Nancy Sinatra, shouting at Frank's daughter, leaving her visibly shaken.
Later that summer, Phil smashed his guitar and walked off stage during a concert at the John Wayne Theater at Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park, Calif., after drunken Don kept screwing up the lyrics to "Cathy's Clown." Alone on stage, Don later metaphorically proclaimed to the crowd, "The Everly Brothers died 10 years ago."
Phil Everly died Friday in California from complications of COPD — chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a severe lung disorder often brought on by years of smoking. He was 74.
While another Las Vegas mainstay Elvis Presley was proclaimed to be the King of Rock 'n' Roll, the Everly Brothers, at least in the 1950s and '60s, were considered the crowned princes of pop music with hits including "Bye Bye Love," "Wake Up Little Susie," "All I Have to Do Is Dream," "Let It Be Me" and "When Will I Be Loved?"
As most great acts do, the Everlys eventually found themselves headlining on the Strip, most notably in 1970 at Caesars Palace, then the brightest jewel of the desert oasis.
But around that time, it became obvious that neither Phil nor Don had many warm and fuzzy thoughts about the neon entertainment capital, as evidenced in their 1972 recording of "I'm Tired of Singing My Song in Las Vegas."
The song goes in part, "Turn the wheel and let it spin. / Tip the glass and see the bottom. / Can't you see you'll never win. / Oh, I'm tired of singing my song in Las Vegas. / Where's the last real place you've been? / Getting here is lots of trouble. / Oh, I'm not coming back again. / Oh, I'm tired of singing my song in Las Vegas."
But they did come back, which brings us back to that pivotal fight during the Las Vegas rehearsal.
In an Oct. 11, 2002, Las Vegas Sun story, singing impressionist Bob Anderson recalled arriving in Las Vegas in his 10-year-old Volkswagen bug and decided to pull into the Sahara on a whim to watch Nancy Sinatra and the Everly Brothers rehearse for their upcoming engagement there.
Anderson said as he watched the rehearsal, Phil and Don got into a fight with each other and then turned on Nancy ("These Boots Are Made for Walking") Sinatra, screamed something at her, then stormed off stage. Anderson described Nancy as being "panic-stricken" by the ordeal.
In a matter of weeks, the battling Everlys were at it again, this time before a whole lot of witnesses at the California theme park famous for its jellies and jams.
Twenty years of constantly performing together and producing 19 Top 40 hits, including four No. 1 singles ("Bye Bye Love," "Wake Up Little Susie," "All I Have to Do is Dream" and "Bird Dog"), obviously had taken its toll on the boys, and this would be the last straw.
Before the concert, Don, for whatever reason, downed several margaritas on an empty stomach and was so tipsy on stage he could not remember the lyrics to his own songs, according to Comcast.net. Phil, in a rage over Don's self-induced condition, smashed his guitar — several inaccurate reports say it was over Don's head, but actually it was against the ground — and walked off stage.
"I'll never get on stage with that man again," Phil was reported to have said as he made his way to his dressing room.
The show's promoter took the stage and told the stunned audience that the remainder of that night's show was canceled because Don was "too emotional" to perform, according to Comcast.net.
The next night, a sober Don Everly took the same stage to perform by himself and told the audience that the Everly Brothers had been dead for a decade.
The brothers spoke to each other only once during the next 10 years — at the funeral of their father, Ike Everly, a noted country-western performer. During the years that the brothers performed as solo artists, Phil Everly lived in Los Angeles and Don resided in Nashville, Tenn.
In 1983, the Everly Brothers reunited for a concert at Royal Albert Hall in England before a crowd of 12,000 screaming fans.
The reason for the reunion was said to be primarily financial. They needed money despite generous royalties they were still receiving from their earlier hits. Their purported payday for the reunion concert was around $1 million, and the concert was made into a live performance album, the Everly Brothers' 20th of 24 lifetime LPs.
But their wounds had not fully healed, as in the coming years the two reportedly took different planes to performance venues and rode in separate limousines to concert halls.
They eventually returned to Las Vegas, performing at the Orleans in 1997 and 2001.
During the mid-2000s, the Everly Brothers performed as the warmup group for the Simon & Garfunkel "Our Friends" series of concerts. Ironically, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel also are well known for their feuding, as well as for several breakups and several efforts to reunite.
Simon & Garfunkel long credited the Everlys as being their musical inspiration.
In November 2003, the Our Friends show came to the MGM Grand Garden Arena, where the Everlys did four of their 1950s hits: "Wake Up Little Susie," "All I Have to Do Is Dream," "Let It Be Me" and "Bye Bye Love."
In July 2004, the Our Friends concert series returned to the MGM Grand Garden Arena, where the Everly Brothers again sang "Wake Up Little Susie," "All I Have to Do Is Dream" and "Let It Be Me." Then the brothers were joined on stage by Simon & Garfunkel and the quartet sang a rousing and memorable rendition of "Bye Bye Love," receiving a standing ovation.
Phil quit performing in 2011. The Everlys are enshrined in both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Ed Koch is a former longtime Las Vegas Sun reporter.