Working in Harmony

coffisbrothersSanta Cruz’s Coffis Brothers channel the Everly Brothers

Two years ago, if you had said the Everly Brothers were as influential as the Beatles, Bob Dylan or Neil Young, you’d have been mercilessly mocked. In 2014, though, you’d get a surprising number of knowing nods.

Part of that has to do with the sudden slew of Everly tribute records released in the last year. Part of it is the fact that one of the brothers, Phil, died in January at age 74. Following his passing, many people learned for the first time that while he and his brother Don had never been considered icons like John Lennon, Dylan or Young, all three of those artists admitted to spending a significant amount of time trying to copy the Everly Brothers.

In Santa Cruz, another set of brothers was taking notice.

“After Phil died, everyone seemed to be talking about how important they were to music,” says Kellen Coffis, who with his brother Jamie makes up the core of the five-piece Coffis Brothers band, about the Everlys.

To Kellen and Jamie, however, it wasn’t a surprise. And to hear the harmonies in their roots-tinged rock, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that they too were influenced by Phil and Don

“We used to listen to them when we were four or five, so it’s kind of ingrained in us,” says Kellen of the Everlys’ sound.

But while they certainly familiar with more of the Everly Brothers’ music than the average person (who at most probably know 1957’s “Wake Up Little Susie” and 1958’s “All I Have to Do is Dream”), they had never dived too deeply into the other brothers’ catalog as adults.

But that changed after they appeared a few times on KPIG’s Sunday live music show Please Stand By. Host John Sandidge would often tell them they reminded him of the Everly Brothers—again, more because of the harmonies than their style, per se. So they learned an Everlys song here and there to play when they came on the show. Then this spring, Sandidge suggested to them that they play a whole show paying tribute to the Everly Brothers—and by that time, they were hooked.

“We jumped on the idea,” says Kellen. The result is “The Coffis Brothers Tribute to the Everly Brothers,” a show this Saturday, Sept. 27, at the Kuumbwa in Santa Cruz, which is being presented by Sandidge’s Snazzy Productions.

The brothers—who released their second album, the Kickstarter-funded Wrong Side of the Road, in February—will perform the show with their full band, which also features Kyle Poppen on lead guitar, Aidan Collins on bass and Henry Chadwick on drums. In preparing the setlist, they scoured the Everlys’ work, first agreeing on 10 or so classics from the duo that had to be included. Don and Phil Everly first got their start in country music; their first hit was in 1957 with “Bye Bye Love,” and quickly established a crossover early-rock sound that put many of their hits on the pop, country and R&B charts at the same time. Their parade of hits was impactful, but relatively short, with their last big hit “Crying in the Rain” coming in 1962.

It was some of their lesser-known gems, however—like the crazy-rockin’ title track off their 1964 album Gone, Gone, Gone—that got Kellen the most excited.

“Some of my favorite ones we’re doing are the deep cuts,” he says.

In the course of preparing for the show—which has included extra-long rehearsals in order for the band to get together and listen to every version of each song they can find, in addition to practicing them—something interesting has happened. The tight melodies and punchy songcraft that distinguished the duo (and the best of early rock, in general) has led to the Everly Brothers having a whole new kind of influence on the Coffis Brothers.

“I think it’s making us a better band,” says Kellen.

He also appreciates the across-the-board, high-energy appeal of the music; the way the Everly Brothers openly preached the gospel of pop while still producing songs so enduring they have had everyone from Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones to Robert Plant and Alison Krauss to Bonnie Prince Billy and Dawn McCarthy joining up to cover their songs.

“Everyone likes the Everly Brothers, even if they’re not diehard fans. Their songs are great—catchy, short and just good hooks,” he says.

“This isn’t like we’re doing a Pink Floyd album.”

The Coffis Brothers perform their tribute to the Everly Brothers at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 27, at the Kuumbwa in Santa Cruz

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