Phil Everly's Last Interview: Thoughts on 'Foreverly,' Gene Autry, Being 'Happy at 74'

Everly Brothers L
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“Everybody’s happy. I am, at 74,” Phil Everly declared last month in an interview that Paste says is “what we believe to be his last.” Without ever alluding to the illness that would take his life on Jan. 3, Everly was affirming that he and his brother Don were content in their retirement and had no plans to ever tour or record as the Everly Brothers again.

“You couldn’t get me to go travel around and sit in a hotel room again,” Everly told the web magazine. “I have no interest in doing that. So everybody’s happy. I am, at 74. Some people like doing it, but I never was much for that, anyway. It’s a lot of work. So the only thing I miss about all of it is the camaraderie of the tour, but that doesn’t offset the rest of it. So it’s not something that we’re going to do.”

Returning to the studio also held no interest for the Everlys, who released their last album a quarter-century ago. “Whenever people talk about Don and I recording again, which almost everybody usually mentions, I always say ‘Well, there’s plenty of things that you haven’t heard! Plenty of things out there to discover!’” He singled out a “strange damn title” from 1972 to recommend. “Have you heard our Pass the Chicken and Listen album?... Anybody who’s actually interested in our stuff and wanted to hear something, they ought to listen to that album.”

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The reason Paste dialed up Everly a few weeks before his passing was to get his take on Foreverly, a newly released tribute album by Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones. (The salute by that unlikely duo was one of three Everly tributes released in 2013, the others being A Date with the Everly Brothers by the Chapin Sisters and What the Brothers Sang by Dawn McCarthy & Bonnie “Prince” Billy.)

Phil Everly was high on the Armstrong/Jones homage, though he admitted to only having heard a sampling. “The two pieces that I have heard are just really, really sensational, really good,” he said. “In the beginning of rock & roll, there was always innovation. Artists were always trying to do something new and something different. And I find that true for Billie Joe Armstrong -- it’s very unusual for him to have done this.”

The most unusual aspect of Foreverly is that it’s a song-for-song remake of the Everlys’ 1958 Songs Our Father Taught Us, which was itself a tribute to the folk songs the brothers grew up under the tutelage of their dad, Ike, who led a family band. Asked by Paste if the boys hadn’t found some of those old death-themed ballads like “Barbara Allen” a little morbid as kids, Everly replied, “You know, it’s a little like… like gore. When you’re young, you really like gore anyhow, so I think I just found those songs really interesting.”

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Conceding that Songs Our Father Taught Us was “such a strange album,” Everly admitted that there may have been other reasons than just artistic ones for a collection of somber folk tunes having been the brothers’ second LP release. Like, maybe, it being a contractual obligation album. “I think it was at the transitional period where we had another album to do for [first label] Cadence, and then we were going to go to Warner Brothers. So all of that comes into play,” Everly said. But “it was so much a part of our life, our heritage. So it’s kind of nice to see somebody who’s brave enough to do the same thing, all over again.”

To return the favor to Armstrong -- who came up with the concept for Foreverly, then enlisted Jones as his duet partner -- Everly told the magazine he was “seriously considering” Green Day’s “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” “because that song is very similar to a Boudleaux Bryant song,” he said, referring to the writers of most of the brothers’ biggest hits in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s.

But his only recordings of late had been “some Christmas things” he did at his son’s studio, he said, apparently referring to a video version of “Silent Night” released on YouTube in December 2012.

Everly added that one of the songs from Songs Our Father Taught Us and Foreverly, “That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine,” brought up “emotional feeling(s)” and was “hard to sing” when the brothers performed it as part of their final concert dates in England in 2005.

“Silver Haired Daddy” had been Gene Autry’s first hit in 1935, four years before Phil Everly was born. Funnily enough, he said he’d been renewing his Autry fandom recently. “In my old age, it’s kind of funny -- at night, what I like to do is watch TV when I go to sleep,” Everly told Paste. “And what I really like is to put on a Gene Autry film, because he sings really well. So he sings me to sleep.”

Twitter: @chriswillman