Imagine the Everly Brothers instead were a male and female singing team. If that seems impossible, check out the new Dead Rock West album, “It’s Everly Brothers Time!”
Dead Rock West is the vocal duo Frank Lee Drennen and Cindy Wasserman that has been making albums since 2006. The Everly Brothers, of course, were Don and Phil Everly, who impacted music in the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom in the 1950s and ’60s.
The Everly Brothers not only inspired bands such as the Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, Vince Gill and Emmylou Harris, the duo influenced entire music genres such as rock ’n’ roll, country and pop. “They were the progenitors of all of that,” said Drennen, whose eloquence is matched with his exquisite singing voice. He said the idea to cover the Everly Brothers came from Dead Rock West’s three-time Grammy winning producer Mark Linett, who worked with the Beach Boys and also has produced Brian Wilson, Los Lobos and Randy Newman.
“We were in (Linett’s) studio cutting some demo tracks for some songs we’d been writing when he pitched idea of doing an Everly Brothers song,” Drennen said. “Within the week, the song ‘Problems’ came on the radio and all of a sudden it was like I’d never heard it before. … (and) I realized we needed to just dive into the Everly Brothers.”
So instead of covering one song, they made an entire record.
In true Los Angeles fashion, Drennen and Wasserman practiced singing Everly Brothers songs while driving in their respective cars. They recorded 21 songs that were winnowed to 13 for the album. The unused songs might someday be used on an EP, Drennen said.
“The arrangements were pretty intense,” he said. “We both learned both parts. The Everlys are very hard. They are true, true masters, not only in their tone and phrasing but the choice of harmonies. Like on ‘Cathy’s Clown,’ they started off in unison and that makes it very powerful, and then they split off, like you have an air show.
“It’s different hearing it and having to learn it. That first day was pretty intense because everything was tracked live. We could have tracked vocals later but didn’t, and it really was a magical experience. We were looking at each other with respective microphones and just digging in and singing. It was an exhausting but very rewarding experience.”
Videos taken in the studio were made from six of the songs.
Not only did Drennen and Wasserman have a Grammy-winning producer, they had an all-star team of musicians in the studio: lead guitarist Elliott Easton (who played in the band the Cars), drummer DJ Bonebrake (of the band X), rhythm guitarist Dave Gleason, guitarist Dave Alvin, Cindy’s brother Rob Wasserman and multi-instrumentalists Phil Parliapiano and David J. Carpenter.
The five recording sessions were in Linett’s Your Place or Mine Recording and East West Studios, where the Everly Brothers and the Beach Boys recorded. The musicians worked with vintage equipment that had been used by Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and the Doors.
“The Everly Brothers didn’t just influence rock and roll, they influenced country music,” Drennen said. “Everybody from Vince Gill to Emmylou Harris. That’s just a testament again to their influence. And it’s been strangely forgotten. In the old days, the Beatles, Stones and the Who did a lot of covers. That’s not just a tip of the hat, it’s like saying were you come from. In a way I feel that this is our opportunity to remind people that the Everly Brothers are really great because their songs are so good and their singing is incredible.”
Dead Rock West is on tour with Dave and Phil Alvin and the Guilty Ones. The bands played Tuesday, Sept. 29, in Virginia City at a sold-out show in the Red Dog Saloon. The show at the historic venue is sold out.
Dave and Phil Alvin founded the rockabilly group the Blasters, and Bob Dylan once said Dave Alvin is America’s greatest songwriter. After Phil Alvin had a brush with death, they reunited and have made two albums together.
“This tour has been like the best free school I’ve ever gone to,” Drennen said.” You just have to show up and watch those guys and learn. Phil Alvin’s got the most incredible voice. I would venture to say it’s the best voice in rock and roll. It’s unmistakably powerful, and the band is to die for. They are all playing but it sounds like one giant sound, like a machine that’s coming down the road and it’s big.”
Related story: Dave and Phil Alvin back together. LINK