Southern Gospel vs. The Rest of the World: The Everly Brothers and the Booth Brothers

This series has a dual purpose—to prove that southern gospel can stand on its own two feet next to some of the best artists mainstream music can offer, and to expose strictly southern gospel listeners to some music that might fall outside their regular rotation. So what better way to continue the column than by pairing up the most influential duo in country/rock-and-roll with arguably the most popular southern gospel artist at this time? Of course I have my opinion, but I’ll let you readers decide. One thing I will say is I consider it a compliment to both groups for me to compare each to the other. So, let the history lesson/rambling commence!

It’s hard to convey the impact of the Everly Brothers, but here’s one way to put it: Simon & Garfunkel probably wouldn’t exist without them. In fact, most rock acts that rely on harmony wouldn’t have developed the same way without them. True, their songs were essentially the 60s equivalent of Justin Bieber’s “Baby, Baby,” but then a lot of love songs are. What was distinctive about them was their sound. It was a blend you couldn’t possibly mistake for anyone else. Though their artistic lifespan was fairly short, they left an indelible mark on popular music, fusing sharp country vocals with a rock and roll beat. In some ways they were ahead of their time. And when they caught the ear of two young schoolmates in Queens, younger than the Everlys themselves in this early clip, they ignited a new flame. The influence is undeniable:

The groundwork is already there—not yet fully formed, a bit green and nasal, but very professional.

The Everlys polished their sound further through incessant practice and became very popular with young listeners, though even their upbeat songs had that country sting to them. Presley did country tongue in cheek, but this was less self-conscious and hence more biting. (Witness the irony of “Gone Gone Gone,” [EDIT: A broken link has been removed] another cynical “done me wrong song” disguised as a dance number, complete with teens obliviously rocking out on the floor.) But they could also tug heart-strings with the best of them on a tender ballad (see “Crying In the Rain” ). My favorite of the latter is this middle-aged TV appearance with Johnny Cash on “Silver-Haired Daddy.” You can tell the blend is richer, more assured, yet somehow the same. The slight mis-match in closing consonants and brief lyrics slip are the only indicators that this isn’t a pre-recorded vocal. It’s so simple, but the effortless perfection on display here just leaves me gobsmacked:

Here are two more favorites from their in-between years. Come to think of it, the Booth Brothers should really cover “Ebony Eyes.”

Unfortunately, private discord and shifting music styles caused the brothers to part ways before the decade was out. Ironically, their inter-personal squabbles have become almost as legendary as those of the iconic duo they inspired. Though humorously enough, Paul Simon coaxed them out of retirement in 2003, and all four musicians did a reunion tour together! The experience seems to have been a good one for all concerned.

Now the Booth Brothers don’t need much introduction to regular readers, but for any newbies who are perchance not familiar with them, here’s a thumbnail sketch: The Booth Brothers are currently composed of two actual brothers and a “third wheel” (Jim Brady) who blends like one. Harmony runs in the Booth family. In fact, the original lineup consisted of brothers Michael, Ronnie, and their father Ron Sr., who sang with a quartet called the Rebels. Although current tenor Michael Booth is the group’s front-man today, he used to be afraid to sing at all and learned gradually how to harmonize from the ground up. It’s a testament to his talent and work ethic that he now blends so effortlessly with the others.

The Booth Brothers’ sound is tight, gorgeous and tremendously easy on the ears without being saccharine. The easy warmth of their vocals, combined with their personal likability, have been two key factors in their success. Getting picked up by Bill Gaither probably also helped. A little. Stylistically I would classify them as straight-forward country/gospel, but early recordings also show some rockabilly influences, and baritone Jim Brady now brings a light pop touch to the group. In the old days, papa sang tenor while Michael sang baritone. Check out this vintage clip of “What a Happy Day.”

One of my favorite country numbers of theirs is this cover of “If We Never Meet Again.” In fact, this was one of the very first Booth Brothers songs I ever heard:

The number “I’m Going Back” is one of the more challenging harmonies they’ve tackled, but they rise to the challenge seemingly without trying.

However, the ballad form brings out their very best. These two examples need no introductions:

Okay, it’s getting late so now I yield the floor to you. Assuming you made it through all my ramblings, leave your thoughts in the comments!

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11 Comments

Filed under Commentary, Old Stuff, SG vs. The Rest of the World

11 responses to “Southern Gospel vs. The Rest of the World: The Everly Brothers and the Booth Brothers

  1. I discovered the Booth Brothers through the song, “The Blind Man Saw It All” – absolutely still my favorite song of theirs. Byt the way, John & Paul of the Beatles at one time were a duo who fashioned themselves after the Everly Brothers…their influence does indeed run deep.

    • Yes, I read that as well! Amazing considering how different the Beatles’ ultimate artistic identity was. But just compare “You’re My Girl” with “I Want to Hold Your Hand” (for example) to see the resemblance.

  2. Norm

    I grew up with the Everlys and their influence on other artists is unbelievable. Here’s a link to one of my favorite YouTube clips of them:

    Sorry I don’t know how to imbed it. It’s rare to find many younger writers like you discovering old music. I might be old but I’m also a big fan of he Booth Brothers.

    • Hi Norm, good to see you! Thought you might like this one, though I didn’t know you literally grew up with the Everlys. :-P I embedded the video for you, so don’t worry about that. Wonderful piece. Which guitarist is the Bush Jr. doppelganger?

      I know, I’m an oddity, but it’s definitely a good kind of oddity to be. :)

      • Norm

        The guitarist, besides Chet Atkins, on :Why Worry is Mark Knopfler from Scotland who achieved fame in the 70s and 80s in the band Dire Straits. He’s the writer of that song and a highly ranked rock guitarist. Only time I saw him in person was about four years when he toured and recorded a CD with Emmylou Harris. You mentioned the song Gone, Gone, Gone. There is a great cover you should check out by rocker Robert Plant and Alison Krause who toured and did a CD a couple of years ago.

      • Dire Straits, of course! “Do the walk, do the walk of life…” (Only song I know of theirs, ha!) I checked out that cover and I have to say I much prefer the original, although the weird music video didn’t help. I think Robert Plant rubs me the wrong way with his style and mannerisms. Alison will always be beautiful and classy but this didn’t seem like her.

  3. WIBBFan

    I enjoyed that interesting discussion. I like “I’m Going Back” – do not remember it on the Louisville DVD, nor have I seen them sing it in concerts. What do you mean when you twice say “cover” in the write-up – “this cover of……” and “should really cover….”? (I’m also not sure exactly what songs are considered ballads – but I’m so glad they’ve been singing “The Secret Place” this year.)

  4. I love this “rest of the world” series … some sweet memories here and there ;)
    The Everly Brothers were a part of my youth too. I wasn’t really that much of a fan as I liked the “heavier” stuff more at the time. It’s still a bit too soft for me.
    The Booth Brothers should be too soft for me too but here’s the strange thing … I like them a lot! I guess lyrics play quite an important part in liking music. And personalities. At least for me :)

  5. Melissa Selby

    I’m a little late to the conversation, but I thought I’d share a Youtube of yet another pair of Booth Brothers and their dad (along with their uncle and another “third wheel”) taking on “I’m Going Back”. Doesn’t look like these two ever showed much real interest in following in their father’s footsteps, but you never know!

    • WIBBFan

      How neat to see that! Joseph Smith was the baritone in this video. That would be Michael’s son Christian at the end, he has played guitar with them on occasion.

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