In his opening remarks he made for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s 19th annual Music Masters tribute in front of a sold out crowd at the State Theatre last night, Rock Hall president Greg Harris spoke about the Everly Brothers, calling their legacy of work “one of the richest catalogs in rock and roll.” It certainly wasn’t hard to see how much of an impact their music has made over the years, as evidenced by the star-studded group of talented performers from many different musical genres who had come to Cleveland to pay their respects to the duo who had done so much to inspire their own work.
Even if they couldn’t all be there in Cleveland, their words were there to represent the love that they felt for the Everly Brothers. Guitarist Waddy Wachtel stepped up to the microphone midway through the evening to deliver a message from Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, who was in Australia and unable to attend. Richards recalled, “My first tour was with you guys,” adding that the experience brought him “more education than ever before.” Folk troubadour Donovan shared both thoughtful words and a song in his tribute, which he sent via video. A quote from Art Garfunkel hailed Phil Everly, who passed away in January of this year, calling him “the door I came in on,” with Garfunkel saying that “I owe him my musical life.”
During an interview with Scene
earlier this week, singer-songwriter JD Souther spoke of the “genetic chemistry” that the Everly Brothers had and how they “pretty much taught everybody how to sing harmonies.” Which meant that the Rock Hall had a hefty task on their hands, to assemble a cast of singers who could replicate not only the songs but also match those great harmonies. But as each combination took the stage, starting with Keb’ Mo’ and the evening’s musical director, Rodney Crowell, who delivered a shuffling take on “Wake Up Little Susie,” it was apparent that each and every participant had been taking copious notes from their musical forefathers. "Wake Up Little Susie," by the way, is just one track from the Everlys catalog that demonstrates the impact that they made with their music — it hit #1 on the pop, country and R&B charts when it was released in 1957.
Watching Peter Asher and Albert Lee perform “Walk Right Back” was one of many moments throughout the evening where the importance of the harmonies that the Everlys had shared really came across. Similarly, songstresses Emmylou Harris and Alison Krauss were perfectly matched for their version of “All I Have To Do Is Dream,” with their harmonies lifting the spirits of the room up high. There were so many good singers on hand to pay their respects to the Everlys’ incredible catalog of music. You could really feel the amount of reverence they all had for the material and the joy that they felt performing the songs was often evident, such as the high five that Vince Gill and Graham Nash shared in the closing moments of “So Sad” when they knew they had nailed it.
Don Everly was in attendance, making his first official public appearance since the death of his brother and he came onstage late in the evening (having already received a standing ovation from the audience when he was first introduced earlier that night) to receive the Music Masters award and although his comments were brief, he spoke enthusiastically about Cleveland, thanked everyone for coming and commented on the award, saying that “my brother appreciates it and I appreciate it so much.” Although Everly was not scheduled to perform, he would indeed end up taking the stage with the collected ensemble of performers for the show closing rendition of “Bye Bye Love,” sharing the microphone and vocals with Nash, to whom he showed his award to prior to the beginning of the song, saying, “I can’t believe it!” The performance of “Bye Bye Love” proved to be an emotional moment which was so good that they had to do it twice — performing it a second time as an encore.
It was a great way to end a wonderful evening featuring two hours of music that had been perfectly executed by both the evening’s performers and the excellent house band assembled by Crowell and the Rock Hall. How will they top this year’s event? With the 20th anniversary looming, we’ll be happy to find out the answer to that question.