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.
August 24, 2021 @ 9:04 am
Interesting sidepoint: Axl Rose has the greatest recorded octave range of any singer in pop muaic. At least several sources claim so. I do know that his vocal gyrations in Sweet Child are pretty impressive.
Celebrity marriages are usually a joke. Two competing ego-maniacs both selfish= D.I.V.O.R.C.E. Add in substances and general mental instability, and it seals the deal. Sounds like she and Ax deserved each other.
August 24, 2021 @ 9:35 am
Even more than Chris Cornell?
August 24, 2021 @ 9:58 am
Axl was never a bad looking dude. I can’t come to terms with why that guy with his background who seemed on the opposite end of fakeness ended up being another whacked out plastic face case. LA? Drugs? LA and Drugs? LA is kind of a drug itself I suppose.
August 24, 2021 @ 10:43 am
Off topic, but Charlie Watts has died at age 80.
August 24, 2021 @ 12:32 pm
On the topic of the “circus riff.” The story I heard was that Slash used the opening riff of the song as a practice/warm up exercise. Guitarist will know, and if you watch him play it live, it’s a lot of string skipping and complicated finger movements. Great for getting both hands ready to rock.
When the other guys in the band heard it and (very obviously) knew it was good, they started working it into a song. As the legend goes, Slash HATED the idea that his dumb sounding finger exercise made it into a hit.
August 24, 2021 @ 1:03 pm
Soo…. are we going to talk about country Music or Rock music because there’s alot of news about rock related stuff on here lately. Just confusing…
February 25, 2023 @ 11:14 pm
I was working one night maybe in 1987 or 1988 at a club called “The Hitchin’ Post” in Paterson, NJ when in came 3 or 4 guys that looked biker/ rocker and a guy with long straight blonde hair walked up to the stage and took his leather jacket off and asked if I’d wear it while I danced, I was embarrassed and didn’t know what to think. The dancer on the stage with me knew who they were and started reaching for his jacket. Alx said no to her and handed me his jacket. I put it on and danced and when done just handed it back to him. The other dancer told me that was Guns N’ Roses.
August 24, 2021 @ 1:50 pm
Lmao, my youngest daughter and her husband got married the same year that this song came out, and ironically, they divorced the same day that Axl Rose and Erin Everly divorced.
August 27, 2021 @ 8:52 am
Um if she was born in 65 and met Axl in 86 she was 21 not 19.
August 28, 2021 @ 7:42 am
“Don Every” Nope
“30 years after the Every Brothers heyday” No again
“other famous and semi-famous individuals others” Not sure what happened here.
January 25, 2023 @ 5:38 pm
Never heard of anyone named Every. Who is it you’re talking about?
February 7, 2022 @ 11:51 am
Why can’t they just be honest after all these years and finally admit that the song was ripped off from an another Geffen band at the time: Australian Crawl. Listen to the original and GNR version will never sound the same anymore.