How Don Everly’s Daughter Inspired Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child”

Don Everly, the older brother in the legendary Everly Brothers passed away on Saturday, August 21st, leaving behind one of the most lasting legacies in the history of American popular music. When you’re inducted into the inaugural class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame alongside Elvis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Buddy Holly and Jerry Lee Lewis, you know you’re musical royalty. The Everly Brothers were also inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001.

But Don Everly also played an inadvertent part in arguably one of the most important ballads in rock and roll history that would come along some 30 years after the Everly Brothers heyday—“Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses. “Sweet Child O’ Mine” was written about none other than Don Everly’s daughter, Erin. Born Los Angeles in 1965, Erin Everly was one of three children between Don Everly and British-born actress Venetia Stevenson. The couple separated in the 70’s due to Don’s issues with drug abuse.

Erin Everly went on to become a model and actress in commercials. In 1986, she met Axl Rose at a party before the band blew up. She was only 19 at the time, and Axl was 24. When they met, Erin was also spending time in New York, but permanently relocated to Los Angeles to continue the relationship. At the time, Erin was the one with money from both her family, and her modeling gigs and appearances in things such as Jordache jeans commercials. She reportedly took care of Axl before the band took off.

“Sweet Child O’ Mine” started as a “circus” riff guitarist Slash was working on at the band’s house on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. Guitarist Izzy Stradlin figured out some chords around the riff, and soon the song began to take shape. Meanwhile upstairs, Axl Rose was listening in, and started incorporating a poem he’d been working on to Erin Everly to fit the song.

To get the right feel for the song, Axl Rose started listening to a lot of Lynyrd Skynyrd songs because he wanted the track to have a genuine, heartfelt feeling. As the muse for the song and a working model, Erin Everly ended up appearing in the video for “Sweet Child O’ Mine” as well, which has the distinction of being the first video from the 80’s to hit 1 billion views on YouTube.

You really can’t emphasize enough how important “Sweet Child O’ Mine” is to American music. For Guns N’ Roses, it legitimized the band in the hearts and minds of many. Their earlier singles, and a lot of the material from their debut album Appetite for Destruction was much more hard-edged, and at times, explicit. It’s by far the band’s biggest song. Erin Everly also appeared in a video the band shot for the song “It’s So Easy,” where she reportedly was seen in bondage gear. But after the success of “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” the video was never released.

When they first met, Erin Everly in many ways was an opposite to Axl and Guns N’ Roses. She came from money, and was much more grounded, and the song she inspired helped to ground Guns N’ Roses, and had both audiences and the band themselves taking Guns N’ Roses more seriously.

After dating for four years, Axl Rose and Erin Everly married at the Cupid’s Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas on April 28th, 1990. Four months later, Erin Everly had a miscarriage. This reportedly caused friction within the relationship, which at times was very sweet, and at others, quite volatile. They divorced 10 months after exchanging vows in January of 1991.

From there, things descended quickly, with accusations of abuse being levied against Axl Rose by Erin Everly. In March 1994, Erin Everly sued Axl, charging that he subjected her to physical and emotional trauma. For Axl’s part, he claimed Erin was just as much of an instigator as he was.

Later Erin dated actor David Arquette, then Anthony Kiedis of The Red Hot Chili Peppers, along with other famous and semi-famous individuals before marrying John C. “Jack” Portman, and moving to Atlanta in the late 90’s. They had three kids before divorcing. In 2010, Erin Everly was arrested for domestic violence for allegedly attacking her then boyfriend with a knife, so maybe Axl Rose’s counterclaims against her were not all embellishment.

In 2013, Erin Everly sold off many artifacts from her relationship from Axl, including love letters, a flannel shirt he wore in the “Welcome to the Jungle” video, and even the couple’s wedding video and marriage certificate.

As for the impact Don Everly had on the life of his daughter Erin, Axl Rose once told Howard Stern in an interview when they were still married, “He really doesn’t have any association with anything. He’s in his own ozone layer. I talk to him more than she does.”

So it doesn’t sound like Don Everly was Father of the Year material. But he did father a daughter who went onto inspire one of the greatest rock ballads in history, giving Don Everly yet another credit in the history of American music. Though ultimately, most of the credit for “Sweet Child O’ Mine” should go to Slash, Axl, and Erin Everly herself.

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