How Music Row & Acuff-Rose Killed The Everly Brothers
But unlike Elvis, The Beatles, and other such acts that withstood the test of time to become commercial success stories in multiple decades, The Everly Brothers seemed to hit a wall in the early 60’s, and never really rekindled their popular magic later in life. Why did this happen? How could an act that was so popular, and seemed to resonate so deeply with the American public get lost in the shuffle?
Phil Everly of The Everly Brothers Passes Away
Though The Everly Brothers are considered more a product of the rock & roll world, their publishing and management resided on a multi-block stretch of road in Nashville known as Music Row, and they arguably became one the first, and one the biggest casualties of that campus in the history of music.
The well-known guitar player, producer, and music executive Chet Atkins was a close friend of the Everly family dating back to before the brothers were a duo and were known more as a family band with their father Ike. Chet brokered the brothers’ first record deal with Columbia in early 1956. But when their first single “Keep A’ Lovin’ Me” failed, Columbia promptly dropped the duo.
So then Chet Atkins introduced the brothers to Wesley Rose, son of Fred Rose, the well-known songwriter and founder of Music Row publishing house Acuff-Rose with Roy Acuff. When Fred Rose passed away in 1954, Wesley took his spot as President of Acuff-Rose, and also signed on to manage The Everly Brothers after the introduction from Chet Atkins. Wesley promised the brothers a record deal if they would sign on with Acuff-Rose as their publishing house, and the duo obliged. This led to the The Everly Brothers’ deal with Cadence Records where they finally found success. Then after 3 successful years on Cadence, The Everly Brothers signed a massive 10-year multi-million dollar contract with Warner Brothers, and became one of the biggest names in all of American music.
However in 1961, the brothers had a falling out with Wesley Rose. At the behest of Wesley Rose, the brothers only used Acuff-Rose writers for their material, especially husband and wife songwriting partners Felice and Boudleaux Bryant. But as time went on, The Everly Brothers wanted to record songs that didn’t fall under Acuff-Rose publishing. Wesley Rose adamantly refused, so The Everly Brothers dropped him as their manager. At the time, Acuff-Rose had a virtual monopoly on all the best songs and songwriters in the music business, especially for the type of music The Everly Brothers played. The duo’s access to the Acuff-Rose catalog is one of the reasons they were so commercially successful, and the falling out with Wesley Rose meant they no longer had access to ‘A’ list song material.
But both Don and Phil Everly were songwriters as well, and wrote many of their own songs. However in a strange twist of fate only fit for Music Row, because the brothers were still signed to Acuff-Rose as songwriters, the falling out with Wesley Rose meant that the brothers lost access to their own material as well, and any material they may write in the future. Though The Everly Brothers as performers were free to do what they wanted, Don and Phil Everly as songwriters were still under the thumb of Acuff-Rose. A publishing house that had been set up to protect songwriters, like many of Music Row’s institutions, had become corrupted from money and music business politics.
So The Everly Brothers tried to implement a work around. They began recording cover songs, and started writing under a collective pseudonym of “Jimmy Howard.” However when Acuff-Rose sniffed out what was happening, the publishing house brought legal action against the brothers and obtained the rights to those songs as well. Between 1961 and 1964, one of American music’s most brilliant and popular bands was resigned to singing cover material, and their popularity plummeted. The brothers tried to set up their own record label, Calliope Records, to record solo projects under. Once again Don set up under a pseudonym, “Adrian Kimberly,” while Phil started a group called the Keestone Family Singers with powerhouses Glen Campbell and Carole King. But both projects were unsuccessful, and Calliope Records was shuttered by the end of 1962.
Billie Joe & Norah Jones Tribute The Everlys in “Foreverly”
Ultimately, the falling out between Wesley Rose and The Everly Brothers cost the duo their popular careers. Though the brothers would go on many more years in the music business both as solo performers and with each other, they never came even close to their late 50’s, early 60’s prominence. Even worse, the legal and financial issues created a strain between the two brothers that in many ways would last the rest of their lives, all the way up to the death of Phil Everly.
The tragic demise of The Everly Brothers spurned by the blacklisting from Acuff-Rose is a narrative that has played out many more times since the 1960’s, and speaks to similar practices that still transpire on Music Row today. Acuff-Rose is now known as Sony ATV.
On hearing of the death of his brother Phil, Don Everly told The Associated Press, “I was listening to one of my favorite songs that Phil wrote and had an extreme emotional moment just before I got the news of his passing. I took that as a special spiritual message from Phil saying goodbye. Our love was and will always be deeper than any earthly differences we might have had.”
January 4, 2014 @ 2:20 pm
good write up…the brothers are natives from about 40 miles down the road here and i’ve had the pleasure of watching them perform at the Everly Brothers Festival in Muhlenberg County, John Prine was also a annual festival regular back in the day. The festivals went on for 15 years. This area is also Prine’s home turf.
January 4, 2014 @ 5:53 pm
Excellent write-up. I had never heard this story about the Everlys getting screwed by Music Row. I had wondered why their popularity fizzled and this makes perfect sense.
I’m a fan of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant… they did great work. But the Everlys deserved to record whatevever they wanted. It seems like Wesley Rose would have ultimately made more money if he had allowed the Everlys more creative freedom and presumably a longer run as successful pop artists.
January 4, 2014 @ 6:26 pm
I’m not defending Music Row, by any means, but I think some of us are looking at the Everlys’ battles with the Nashville establishment through modern eyes. In the early Sixties, Music Row, and the music business in general, were still ruled by the major record companies and music publishers. Artistic freedom was unknown except for the biggest stars, and even they were constrained by the realities of the business. I’m not saying that the Everly Brothers shouldn’t have chosen to move to Warner Brothers, as they did. But they should have realized, or been told, that there was likely a price to be paid. That’s the way things worked back then.
January 4, 2014 @ 9:08 pm
Everything you said here I think applies to the modern day Music Row climate as well. In fact a couple of days ago I ran a story about how Clay Walker was complaining that labels like Big Machine co-opt all the best songs, and people on labels like Curb just get the scraps.
I’m not sure The Everly Brothers were supposed to know that they would be taken advantage of, because they were one of the very first cases of the business getting the better of artists. Acuff-Rose was set up to protect songwriters and account for their royalties, not to be a monopoly and a speed bump to their creative freedom who would disallow them from putting out any original material. “They should have known” I don’t think is fair to them, or any artist who gets put in one of these situations that is inherently unfair. Wesley Rose was not just the owner of their publishing house, he was their manager. He was probably the one who drafted their contracts, as well as the man responsible for making sure they didn’t enter into any damaging relationships. They entrusted him that their contracts were written up in a fair, equitable manner. Talk about a conflict of interest. It was wrong back then, and it’s wrong now, and it continues to happen because artists are inherently trusting individuals who are not business or legal savvy, and the individuals that run labels and publishing houses are and will take whatever advantage is given to them.
January 5, 2014 @ 12:30 am
The one positive change is that artists today have far more bargaining power in their contracts due to the rise of the Internet eroding the labels’ status as gatekeepers.
Also, I have heard that some states have passed laws limiting the number of years for which a contract is valid. That model needs to be emulated nationwide.
January 4, 2014 @ 9:15 pm
It’s sad to see brothers lose their relationship over money.
I didn’t know that this happened with the Everleys.
It did with John and Tom Fogarty.
January 4, 2014 @ 11:26 pm
There’s nothing new under the sun.
This reminds me of Tim McGraw’s nightmare.
January 4, 2014 @ 11:40 pm
Great history lesson Triggerman. Hell, I thought Curb was the first prick of Music Row…he just inherited the crown.
January 5, 2014 @ 8:07 am
I did an interview with Don Everly during the 70s in which he described some of Acuff and Rose’s efforts to “get even” with them. I’ve posted it online. http://alanleatherwood.com/fanzine/doneverly.htm
January 5, 2014 @ 11:05 am
Thanks for posting that Alan. I love Don’s line about hairspray and puffed sleeves. Nice looking site, btw.
January 6, 2014 @ 1:15 am
GREAT! Thanks for the share.
January 5, 2014 @ 11:05 am
Great article. Never knew anything about this Acuff Rose business. I just assumed that their run of hits ended because of the Beatles & the British invasion.
January 5, 2014 @ 11:40 am
Not directly to this point, but I’m reminded of Paul McCartney’s documentary, “The Real Buddy Holly Story”, where Don Everly is shown commenting on the conflict between Buddy and producer Norman Petty, which caused Buddy to leave the Crickets, and which, due to Petty’s financial control, also forced Buddy to embark on that final tour.
January 5, 2014 @ 3:59 pm
Not only did Wesley Rose screw things up for Don & Phil , his greed and pettiness also put a big dent into Boudleaux & Felice Bryant’s earnings. No telling how many more hits they would of had together.
January 6, 2014 @ 8:41 am
I read something about Loretta Lynn vs the Wilburns on the weekend. This story seems right up your alley. http://ca.eonline.com/news/48404/loretta-lynn-s-songbird-suit
January 6, 2014 @ 12:01 pm
Wesley Rose was no chip off the old block. He was a bean counter, first and last. He knew nothing about music, and was a self serving drip who , had he not been Fred’s son, would have been a cashier at a Kroger’s.
January 8, 2014 @ 12:40 am
I guess “bean counter” & “drip” are justified grounds for your argument. It sounds like his integrity was a few cups short of a full pot…!
January 6, 2014 @ 5:22 pm
I caromed around Nashville like a pinball during the 70s, having some moderate successes and hearing myself singing my songs on the radio. One of the problems then was being “signed and shelved” by record labels, effectively ending your career if they didn’t release anything. After refusing a couple of deals with major labels because if their reputations for doing that, I ended up leaving town disillusioned.
In the music biz, there are probably as many bad deals as there are artists. The story of the Everly Bros. has a familiar ring to it…what might have been just wasn’t, for no one reason. RIP Phil.
January 6, 2014 @ 9:17 pm
just ask the dixie chicks or c c r..
January 7, 2014 @ 11:27 am
Don sang on a demo of mine back in the 70’s at Acuff Rose Studios. They had a studio in the office complex on 8th Avenue. I also ran into Roy Orbison there occasionally. Wesley actually kept Fred’s office desk and other office supplies on the second floor in the exact order they were when he was alive. He was keeping it to give to the Hall of Fame. What happened to Don and Phil is now the main business model. Publishers and labels today sign “younger” people to contracts not only because of longevity but because they are more naive and easily manipulated. They even recommend lawyers to them who they schmooze with. My best friend’s son made it to he semi finals of American Idol and his entire immediate family had to sign a contract saying if they profited from anything related to music American Idol got a percentage. It’s a racket that is undermined daily by the internet and the labels are scared. They’re losing their grip on distribution. I attend meetings on the “Row” and that is the sentiment. They are lobbying Congress all the time to change regulations to limit the average person from profiting off of their creativity. It’s ridiculous because the access of quality recording is available to the average person at a low cost. When 4g video becomes available to the average person the movie industry will change. It already has. Mike Curb entered the Belmont University angle so young people with stars in their eyes would be conditioned to accept the music business norm. You can’t throw a rock on Music Row without hitting a Belmont Music business graduate. I just wish this revolution had happened when I was young but as they say, “Them’s the breaks.” There is strength in numbers and the best will rise to the top in spite of the greed that permeates the business of profiting from people’s dreams and creativity.
January 8, 2014 @ 1:01 am
With the kind of odds of which you speak the only way the “best’ can rise to the top” is through sites like this as well as people like yourself and your involvement in what’s going on on Music Row. It breaks my country music lovin’ heart to see & hear what big business has done to my gawddamn radio as well as the talent that should be on it.
January 8, 2014 @ 10:00 am
went to listen to your tunes”¦. very nice!
May 17, 2014 @ 9:36 am
Smoking article. Smoking comments.
November 24, 2015 @ 7:51 am
Came across this article while trying to find who produced “Cathy’s Clown” which took me on to Wesley Rose. I’m not a country “fan” though I like many country records, but your story of the machinations of Nashville was most instructive. You could do worse than update the Everlys’ Wikipedia entry with this stuff – or will you get sued by Sony!
July 3, 2020 @ 9:11 am
There is a lot of misinformation in this article. However, mostly true.