Top 10 sibling acts in country music history
On this day in country music history - July 14, 1973 - Phil Everly threw a dang old fit, smashing his guitar after performing the song, "('Till) I Kissed You" and walking off the stage, effectively breaking up the Everly Brothers while performing at Buena Park, California's Knott's Berry Farm.
The younger half of the Everly Brothers was mad at his older brother, Don, for getting pert'near too drunk to perform, though Don did manage to finish off the set without him. The brothers, famous for their close harmonies and pop/rock/country crossover successes, are said to have been discovered after setting up shop busking in Ryman Alley, near the back door where performers from the famous Nashville stage would cross over before and after shows to drink in the row of honky tonks on Lower Broad. Though they would reunite just a decade later, by the early '70s Don's nervous breakdown and drug abuse by both brothers had led to an increasingly acrimonious relationship, culminating in a Knott's Berry Farm meltdown.
The Davies Brothers, the Robinson Brothers and the Gallagher Brothers have all taught us it ain't easy being in a band with your brother. Here, we explore 10 country sibling acts, from those who've made the transition from sibling love to success without losing the love, to others who've notoriously cursed their sibs all the way to the grave.
The Everly Brothers
Smash! Status: Though they have officially declared their retirement, they still play together occasionally. The Delmore Brothers
Born in 1908 and 1916, Alton and Rabon Delmore were born into poverty, the sons of tenant farmers in rural Alabama. They emerged from their musically-inclined family to become early stars of the Grand Ole Opry, and their song "Blues Stay Away From Me" has been covered by the Everlys, and is regarded by some to be the first rock and roll record. Status: After writing more than a thousand songs together, Rabon died of lung cancer at the age of 36 and one day. His older brother Alton suffered a heart attack, the death of their father, and the death of his daughter all within a three-year period, and after writing a series of short stories and his posthumously-published autobiography,Truth is Stranger Than Publicity
, died in 1962 at the age of 55.
Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters
Three generations of the Carter music family started in the mid-1920s when southwest Virginian A.P. Carter started up a band with his wife Sara, and her cousin/his sister-in-law Maybelle, getting paid $50 a pop to record their tight mountain gospel harmonies to 78. The Carter sibling act, however, came about in the early 1940s when A.P. and Sara divorced and Sara moved west with A.P.'s cousin, leaving Maybelle to perform with her three daughters - June, Anita and Helen. With Chet Atkins eventually joining them on guitar, the five became mainstays of the Grand Ole Opry. Status: The three siblings and their mother continued to play with each other and with June's husband Johnny Cash as well as her daughter Carlene Carter, but plagued with various ailments, they all died fairly young: Maybelle in 1978, Helen in 1998, Anita in 1999, and June in 2003.
The Bellamy Brothers
Born in 1946 and 1950 respectively, Homer and David Bellamy grew up in Darby, Florida, where they were influenced by their father, who was in a local Western swing band, and their sister, who introduced the boys to rock and roll. Appropriately, they're known as well for their country hits as they are for their Number One crossover hit, 1976's "Let Your Love Flow" (and, more recently among Brittany Spears fans for the song she covered - "If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body Would You Hold It Against Me"). The two were more or less discovered by a friend of lesser-known recording artist Jim Stafford. Stafford, who notably played in a band in high school with friends Bobby Braddock, Kent LaVoie (aka Lobo) and Gram Parsons and later married Bobbie Gentry, hit Number Three with "Spiders and Snakes," a song written by David Bellamy, and Howard at one time replaced watermelon comedian Leo Gallagher as Stafford's road manager. Status: The two are likely doin' just fine with residuals from "Let Your Love Flow," often heard in commercials, still likely flowin' in. They still record and tour together; their closest date to Minneapolis will be at my hometown county fair , opening for Josh Turner on August 20th. The Louvin Brothers
Oof-ta. Read all about it here.
The story of the Louvin Brothers presents us with perhaps the most confounding of all country music conundrums. Born in Alabama, elder brother Ira Loudermilk and his younger brother Charlie adopted the name Louvin Brothers in the 1940s as they began a career singing gospel music. However, with their notable close harmonies and proficiency on mandolin and guitar, they quickly gained a popular following, and in 1955 joined the Grand Ole Opry. While gospel themes continued to figure largely into their music, it was in their secular lives that they were destined to claim notoriety - well, Ira anyway.
Though their songs were informed by their Baptist faith, Ira didn't exactly practice what he preached. Known widely for being quick to drink (and even quicker to throw a tantrum) Ira was married four times - his third wife shot him three times in the back after he tried to strangle her with a phone cord. Showing a penchant for strangulation, Ira also allegedly tried to strangle Elvis Presley, who was opening for the brothers at the time, abusing him also using a racial epithet that was probably fairly popular among Elvis' audiences at the time. Ira was known to smash his mandolin on stage when enraged, but at one point bitterly put away the instrument he had mastered when producers urged him to move to guitar, mandolin seeming out-of-date and uncool for the time, one would suppose.
By 1963, Ira's cruel behavior led to the dissolution of the musical partnership. As the story goes, Ira taunted poor Charlie by saying that he'd be nothing without him, and that Charlie would likely have to get a job as a gas station attendant. Fittingly, the song "Must You Throw Dirt in My Face" is the last single the brothers recorded together.
Status: Oof-ta. Read all about it here.
Consider the Everly Brothers, consider the Delmores and of course, the Louvins; it seems near impossible to replicate the hauntingly close vocal harmonies of sibling singing duos.
In this respect, and with consideration of their skin-prickling Baptist-influenced songs warning against the sins of inebriation and murder, Charlie and Ira Louvin have become perhaps best known and beloved by those who appreciate their often dark take on gospel and country, and over the years proved a heavy influence on Gram Parsons, the Byrds, Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, Allison Krauss, and more.
Charlie Louvin passed away this morning at the age of 83 after a struggle with pancreatic cancer.
Ira, the elder Louvin Brother, was killed by a drunk driver in 1965, shortly after the inimical dissolution of the band. He himself had a warrant against him at the time for drunk driving, as well as a sordid history that involved drunkenness, smashing mandolins onstage, being shot in the back by his third wife after attempting to strangle her with a telephone cord, and, according to his brother, attempting to strangle a young Elvis Presley, opening for them on tour at the time, while dismissing his music as "trash" and reportedly using a racist epithet.
Charlie led a more peaceful life, married for 61 years to his wife Betty and over the years quietly releasing a number of albums, collaborating with the likes of Elvis Costello and Jeff Tweedy, and touring with everyone from Cake to Cheap Trick. In November 2010 he released his last album, The Battle Rages On, an emotional collection of war songs dating back to the American Civil War.
Creedence Clearwater Revival
Born in Berkeley, California, Tom Fogerty and his younger brother John played in a number of their own bands before joining together with Stu Cook and Doug Clifford to form Creedence Clearwater Revival. After a quick rise to fame, John Fogerty began taking more control of the band's business and artistic decisions, and by the time they'd finished recording Cosmo's Factory and Pendulum, they had two more successful albums on their hands but three men who were very unhappy with John. His brother quit the band repeatedly, leaving permanently by early 1971. He was never replaced, and was later quoted saying that no new member could endure being in the band. Status: The band never matched its past success after Tom quit, and eventually disbanded altogether. Though Stu and Doug have joined to form Creedence Clearwater Reunited, and John Fogerty has very recently expressed interest in reuniting, the band will never be able to reunite in its original form; Tom Fogerty died of AIDS-related complications in 1990, after contracting the virus during a blood transfusion. He never reconciled with his younger brother. The Maddox Brothers & Rose
The children of Alabama sharecroppers, the Maddox Brothers and their little sister Rose hitchhiked and rode the rails west to California during the Depression. While the migrant family picked fruit and cotton, they schemed in the fields about starting a band. Brother Fred had heard a rumor of a band paid $100 to pay a rodeo, brother Cal bought an $8 Sears and Roebuck guitar, and when they promised they'd have a girl singer (eleven-year-old Rose), they found themselves a sponsor. The Maddox Brothers and Rose became known as "America's Most Colorful Hillbilly Band" after winning a hillbilly competition at the Sacramento State Fair and playing big nightclubs all over California, and went from living in a tent in the middle of a field to each driving their own big black Cadillacs, trunks full of expensive Nathan Turk-designed show suits in tow. Status: The band had a strong influence on the direction of country music, especially in California's Central Valley, promoting a rowdy, noisy sound that played well in rough-and-tumble honky tonks. But it was Rose whose influence is perhaps best felt still today - she was one of country music's first frontwomen, with a bold, hoop 'n holler voice that was unheard of then, and is unmatched in the genre still today. By the 1950s, the brothers had settled down with wives and children and stopped touring. While Rose continued to perform and record until her death in 1998, health problems plagued her through her adult years and caused her financial ruin.
Her early life immortalized by the film Coal Miner's Daughter, Loretta Lynn married at the age of 13, was pregnant with her first child by 14, and had three more by the time she was 19. By her 20s, her husband bought her a guitar and and encouraged her to record, and she quickly shot to the top in Nashville. But wouldn't you know it - then she got pregnant with twins. Named Peggy (named after Loretta's sister) and Patsy (after Loretta's good friend Patsy Cline, by then deceased), the two followed in their mother's musical footsteps... and managed to marry young and rack up five husbands and four children collectively by the time they made their joint recording debut in their early 30s. Status: Having received CMA Award nominations for Vocal Duo of the Year in 1998 and 1999, the two perform occasionally with their mother, who in her 70s still tours extensively.
The Blue Sky Boys
Born in 1917 and 1919 respectively, Bill and Earl Bolick began their forty-year career in East Hickory, North Carolina, children of deeply religious parents whose church introduced the brothers to hymns and gospel music. In 1935, they made their radio debut as members of the "Crazy Hickory Nuts," later renamed "Good Coffee Boys" following a sponsorship by the J.F. Goodson Coffee Company. Later sponsored by the "Crazy Water Crystal," the changed their name again to (Crazy) Blue Ridge Hillbillies, before settling on the name "Blue Sky Boys," in honor of their western North Carolina home. After a five year interruption to serve in the military, the brothers kept on recording, but hit a wall when they refused to play in the popular honky tonk style. When RCA asked them to play with an electric guitar, they opted to instead stop recording, and retired in 1951. Status: After working as a postal clerk in North Carolina (Bill) and as an employee of Lockheed Aircraft in Atlanta (Earl), the two reunited in 1962, recording a few albums and playing folk festivals. After sporadically recording and performing for many years to follow, Earl passed away in 1998, Bill in 2008.
The Secret Sisters
Like so many of their musical influences, sisters Laura and Lydia Rogers hail from the south, in this case the musical hotbed of Muscle Shoals, Alabama. After auditioning in 2010 in Nashville, the two were signed and flown to California to record a couple demos - it was Laura's first time in an airplane. They were signed quickly, and have since found backers in the likes of Jack White and T-Bone Burnett, who helped record and release their debut album, and have performed alongside musicians ranging from Elvis Costello to Elton John. Status: They're young, new, and they don't seem to hate each other. We'll see if it sticks.
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