Having performed at the Surf Ballroom in the 1950s, Phil and Don Everly (The Everly Brothers) took center stage once again in Clear Lake, Iowa last month as part of the Surf Ballroom's Winter Dance Party program. The special exhibit and presentation Phil & Don Home Again! was held at the Clear Lake Arts Center on February 2nd, one day after surviving brother Don's 80th birthday.
Appropriately titled after the book by Jerry Spies, Phil & Don Home Again! addressed the brothers' formative years in Shenandoah, Iowa and their historic 1986 homecoming concert. An update was also given on the current effort to restore their childhood home. Restaurateur and preservationist Bill Hillman, a man synonymous with Shenandoah's heritage, was the presenter.
My twin sister Sheryl, who was recently hired as Interim Museum Director of the Iowa Rock and Roll Music Association (IRRMA), came up with the idea. The Everly Brothers have always been on our radar. We love their music and enjoy singing their harmonies. As natives of a small town in Southeastern Ohio, the Appalachian part of the Midwest where coal-mining used to be the primary industry, we relate all the more to Don and Phil's sound and biography.
When Sheryl discovered that Bill Hillman was an IRRMA Board Member, the game was on! The day after the Buddy 80 event in October, Sheryl and I drove to Shenandoah to meet with Bill and his wife Deb. He gave us a memorable tour of the home and Everly-related sites that included a ride around town in his 1965 Thunderbird convertible! Sheryl visited Bill again in January to assess artifacts and finish prep work for the exhibit and presentation.
Bill is Project Lead of the Everly Brothers Childhood Home Foundation. He was also Chair of the 1986 Everly Brothers Homecoming Committee through which he became friends with Phil and Don as well as their mother Margaret. Bill has an extensive collection of Everly Brothers memorabilia on display at his Depot Restaurant (lounge and listening room) located across the street from the historic concert site and childhood home.
Although I was unable to travel to Clear Lake, I assisted Sheryl and Bill remotely with planning, content and outreach. Both program sessions were full or nearly full and by all accounts a success! Attendees were from across the United States as well as Canada, England and Australia. We received coverage in the local press, including an article in The Valley News. While we didn't charge an admission fee, donations were encouraged, and a generous sum was received in support of IRRMA and The Everly Brothers Childhood Home Foundation Preservation Fund.
Attendees enjoyed Bill's humor, knowledge, stories and exclusive photos and memorabilia. Many Everly fans in the room didn't realize the extent of Phil and Don's relationship with Iowa and how their early performances on local stages and local radio (KMA and KFNF) built the foundation on which their careers excelled. Watch this video with commentary from Rick Fredericksen, KMA Correspondent and Audio Documentary Reporter, that includes excerpts from the Everly family's radio show on Christmas Day 1946 when "Baby Boy Phil" was 7 and "Little Donnie" was 9!
The brothers never forgot their Midwestern roots. In this excerpt from their final concert tour in 2005, they talk about their late father Ike Everly and introduce him via a segment from their family radio show. Don and Phil join in and sing along with their young teenage voices to "Don't Let Our Love Die." When Don called into KMA 's offices in 2016, he mentioned how the professional experience they gained in Shenandoah paid dividends when they went to Nashville (Read article).
The following quotes in the book Ike's Boys: The Story of the Everly Brothers are further evidence of their affection for life in Iowa. Upon leaving Shenandoah for Knoxville in September 1953:
"I didn't want to go," says Don. "It gave me a sense of stability, like the kind you read about in Lake Wobegon Days by Garrison Keillor. The Midwest is wonderful. It's like its own ocean. I love the Midwest...the farming communities. It's part of me."
Phil stresses, "America cannot afford to lose the people of the Midwest... the breadbasket of the world. It's not only their ability to grow things that's important, but their ability to grow people."
We're so grateful to Dan Borland (Dan Borland Videography, LLC) who generously volunteered his time to film and photograph our program. Dan also helped us capture special moments for The Surf Speaks: Voices of a Living History and Buddy 80 event. Watch the video of Bill's presentation.
Our accomplishment in Clear Lake represents a significant step towards elevating the profile of their Shenandoah heritage while raising funds to complete the preservation of their childhood home, the only house museum devoted to the Everly family and its world-renowned duo. Shenfest in September will be the next platform through which we'll further our cause, and with 2017 being the 60th anniversary of rock and roll's flagship year of 1957, the reason and opportunity for celebration is even greater. It was this month, on March 1, 1957 to be exact, that Phil and Don recorded "Bye Bye Love" at the historic RCA Studio B in Nashville. This song became their first #1 hit and the rest, as they say, is history!
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