The Everly Brothers are hallowed among rock and roll’s first truly great artists, having introduced the world to the rhythmic new sound in the mid to late ‘50s along with Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and Chuck Berry. But the Everlys were the first non-doo wop guitar-based group to infuse rock with crystalline vocal harmonies.
Raised in the Midwest, brothers Don and Phil Everly peppered the pop charts with singles like “Wake Up, Little Suzie,” “Cathy’s Clown,” “All I Have to Do (Is Dream),” “Bye Bye, Love,” and “When Will I Be Loved.” And if you weren’t hip to those hits the first time around, you almost certainly caught the slew of Everlys covers by such ‘60s and ‘70s stars as The Beach Boys, Linda Ronstadt, and Simon & Garfunkel—with whom the Everlys toured in 2003.
Or perhaps you heard A-ha’s version of “Crying in the Rain,” REM’s take on “All I Have to Do (Is Dream),” Eddie Vedder’s spin on “Sleepless Nights,” or Norah Jones / Billie Joe Armstrong duet “Long Time Gone.”
Point is, the Everly Brothers (who were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986) are as timeless as their tunes.
Today, another pair of brothers aims to ensure that not only will the Everlys not be forgotten, but will be adored by a new generation of listeners.
Born to actor-father Adrian Zmed (Dance Fever, T.J. Hooker), California kids Dylan and Zach Zmed are hitting the road this fall to regale intimate audiences with their Everly Brothers Experience. In fact, they’re already out logging highway miles: We rang car-captive Dylan earlier this week to discuss the Everlys’ legacy and learn why he and his brother decided to pick up where Don and Phil left off.
AXS: Tell us how you and Zach started out doing the Everly Brothers Experience. What got you into their music?
DYLAN ZMED: My brother and I started singing together about six or seven years ago. My brother was doing music before me, and I was in the art major world. Our mom is a second-grade teacher in the suburbs of Los Angeles, and she said we should keep at it. So we learned a few songs, and that was the first time we sang together. We realized from that point that we had a similar vocal timbre together that we should foster. The other aspect of how we got influenced by the Everlys stuff is that when we were kids, every summer we’d travel with my dad—he’s an entertainer—he does musical theater. Every summer we’d travel to wherever he was playing, and he was doing the show Grease for a long time. And Grease is set in 1959, so the first music that my brother and I really ever heard was the music of the ‘50s, because when we were kids we thought, “Oh, this is music!” That had a huge effect on us since it was the first music that really struck a chord in us. So with that, and just fostering our singing together, we started learning lots of songs. We’re songwriters as well, but we’d learn a lot of other songs to feature our brotherhood harmony. We’d learn The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, Crosby, Stills & Nash. We realized, “Wait a second, all these huge acts from the ‘60s were all heavily influenced by the Everly Brothers.” So that was the impetus for the project. We’re not impersonators. We’re being ourselves, telling our story, telling how we came to appreciate this music and how we want to share it. So the goal is to honor the aesthetics of the music, and what made it so iconic.
AXS: Most of the acts of the ‘60s and ‘70s who followed owe their intricate harmonies to that Everlys style.
DZ: Yeah! They had the right team around them, they had the right voices. The Everlys were there at the right time. The transistor radio and electric guitar were fairly new inventions. It was this new sound. So they were carrying the torch at the front lines of this revolution in music. It was basically country music meeting R&B—and that created rock and roll.
AXS: How did you learn to harmonize? It’s not easy to learn. And which of you sings which parts? Who is the tenor, who is the baritone?
DZ: Yeah. I mentioned we kind of grew up backstage on Broadway, and dad was doing lots of musicals. So we grew up hearing people sing together, hearing people harmonize. So I think at a young age we started learning what that musical language is. It took us a while to find a rhythm between us, but we knew we had it right off the bat. My voice is a little higher than my brother’s, so I sing the harmony. It’s the same with Don and Phil. Phil sang the high harmony and Don sang the low voice and most of the leads—the solos or main parts. But there are so many nuances to it. I would relate the Everlys music to classical music as well because it’s so particular. There are so many dynamics in it, that it kind of surpasses rock and roll a little, in my opinion!
AXS: Harmony still exists in today’s music, but so much of the harmony in bubblegum music and pop is added after-the-fact, like a studio effect.
DZ: Exactly, yeah! That’s a whole other thing, that method they had of recording. They would just do the takes over and over until they felt they got it in that moment. They were both on the same mic. So I’m right there with you on that!
AXS: Studies indicate that siblings are more likely to harmonize better together, like The Bee Gees or Wilsons in The Beach Boys. You can’t beat genetics when it comes to stacking those tight harmonies.
DZ: I think you grow up together speaking…your voice—and even your dialect—is similar because you grew up together and learned language together in the same household. That has a huge effect. And the sounds you make, genetically, sure. I don’t think we’d be doing this if we weren’t actual brothers. You have to have that brother thing to honor their sound! We were just in Shenandoah, Iowa, where the Everlys moved in 1945 when they were like, 4 and 6 years old. They started their careers on KMA radio. They had an Everlys family radio hour, and their father Ike was an influential guitar player. He kind of taught Merle Travis. But they had this family radio hour, and before school, they would perform live on the radio between 6 and 6:30 a.m. They were only 6 and 8. So even at that young age they had that discipline and became professional musicians. That had a huge effect. They were like a two-headed monster, they were so tight together! It’s intuitive at that point. We got to play on KMA radio and The Armory—which is where their first band ever played. It was an incredible singular experience to marinate in the culture they helped start, in the same place they had their formative years. I think that’s going to inform all of our performances.
AXS: Who will you have in your road band?
DZ: We’ve got our drummer. He’s also our business partner. Burleigh Drummond. We also have an electric guitar player and bass player. We rotate with a few guys, but at this show, we’ll have Devon Geyer on bass and Adam Cotton on electric guitar. They’re all our buddies; we grew up with them, we played with them in our original bands. So we know that these guys have the same respect for the music, for the ‘50s music and culture. So we handpicked. It has to be that personal thing.
AXS: Do you have any favorite Everly cover songs? Tracks other people did to pay tribute to them, as you do?
DZ: Definitely Simon & Garfunkel did a lot. You know the song, “Till I Kissed You.” There’s a version of it in Jamaica that was a #1 hit. This artist named Jimmy London did a reggae version of it! Glen Campbell did a lot of Everlys covers. The Bee Gees did some. And Harry Nilsson. He did an amazing montage of some Everlys songs. The Grateful Dead did “Wake Up, Little Suzie.” The Beatles and Rolling Stones, too. The list goes on. I know Bob Dylan had a huge respect for the Everlys. He said that they started it all, in a way.
AXS: Jeff Lynne of ELO did a solo record a couple years back called Long Wave. He did “So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad).”
DZ: That song is so good. We play that in the show.
AXS: We’ll be checking you out at Music Box in Cleveland. Have you been to town before?
DZ: This is going to be the first time in Cleveland! We’re really excited. People don’t really know who we are, but there’s a huge community of people who want to hear this music. Phil passed away in 2014. So the music isn’t going to be happening anymore from those guys, and their music is so important to preserve. That’s why we do it, for the history and preservation. To keep it alive!