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Don Everly RIP, Guns ’n Roses and stories behind the songs

Rest in peace Don Everly, one half of musical duo The Everly Brothers. He died this weekend, seven years after his brother Phil. You will know plenty of their recordings: “All I Have To Is Dream”, “Cathy’s Clown”, “Wake Up Little Susie”. In this 2014 Guardian obituary for Phil Everly, Graham Nash (of The Hollies and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young) is quoted about the effect of hearing “Bye Bye Love” at a school dance in Salford: “It was like the opening of a giant door in my soul, the striking of a chord… from which I’ve never recovered … From the time when I first heard the Everly Brothers, I knew I wanted to make music that affected people the way the Everlys affected me”. This echoes the effect on Keith Richards of hearing “Heartbreak Hotel” for the first time, which I wrote about here: “When I woke up the next day I was a different guy”.

Although you will be familiar with Don Everly’s work, you might not be aware of the connection between him and 80s rock band Guns ‘n Roses, and more specifically the band’s 1988 US #1 “Sweet Child O’ Mine”. Lead singer Axl Rose was in a relationship with Don’s daughter Erin, and his contribution to the song was about her. The couple were married in April 1990 and Rose filed for divorce less than a month later.  The marriage was annulled in January 1991. And they said it wouldn’t last.

I read about this many years ago and have quoted it ever since. I read it in an actual book, my copy of “The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits” by Fred Bronson, pictured here.


It covers Billboard chart-toppers from 1955 up to the end of June 2003. “This is the Night” by Clay Aiken is the last entry. That one passed me by.

I find that many of the things that I read in black and white, in a printed book, are more likely to stick than pieces read, often at random, on the web. At the very least I will find it easier to return to the information.

Over the years, I have heard and read hundreds of stories about successful songs, but right now can only think of a handful of them. “Sweet Home Alabama” is one, written by Lynyrd Skynyrd in response to Neil Young’s “Southern Man”. I heard the Lynyrd Skynyrd song long before I heard “Southern Man”, and it was pretty clear what they were singing about: “Well I heard Mr Young sing about her / Yes I heard old Neil put her down / Well I hope Neil Young will remember / A Southern Man don’t need him around anyhow”. It surprises me when people of my age, who have been aware of “Sweet Home Alabama” for at least 40 years, still have no idea about the connection. Every few years someone will tell me that they have just learnt about it. It’s in the words of course, but many people don’t pay much attention to the words.

By contrast, nobody has ever told me about the connection between “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and The Everly Brothers. I am happy to share it with you.


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