‘Even If I Hold It in My Hand [Hard Luck Story],’ the Everly Brothers’ minor chord mini-masterpiece
“Even If I Hold It in My Hand [Hard Luck Story]” was conceived by the Everly Brothers during the 1967 sessions for their 14th studio album The Hit Sound of the Everly Brothers. Deemed too taboo for its suicidal subject matter, the song, accented by a mind-blowing, extended Glen Campbell guitar solo, remained buried for three decades until Rhino’s box set Heartaches & Harmonies . The exhaustive Bear Family chronicle Chained to a Memory  tracked down take 10 [versus the previously released take 2] which eliminated Campbell’s solo for an unplugged arrangement preambled by cello. Record Collector went so far as to crown it “a minor chord mini-masterpiece” in their four-star review of Cherry Red’s recent Down in the Bottom: The Country Rock Sessions 1966–1968.
Among the 10 artists included in the inaugural class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Don Everly and younger sibling Phil earned national attention when “Bye Bye Love” — has there ever been a greater kiss-off — went toe to toe with Elvis Presley’s “All Shook Up” in 1957. Simon & Garfunkel, the Beatles, and the Bee Gees studied the Everlys’ intricate harmonies and arrangements. Paul McCartney wrote and supplied electric guitar for EB 84’s “On the Wings of a Nightingale.” Robert Plant and Alison Krauss took a crack at “Gone, Gone, Gone” on their Grammy-winning Album of the Year Raising Sand. Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones reimagined the entire Songs Our Daddy Taught Us record as Foreverly.
On January 6, 1967, Don, Phil, touring British bassist-“Bowling Green” songsmith Terry Slater, and alums of the Wrecking Crew [e.g. drummer Hal Blaine, percussionist Gary Coleman, bassist Chuck Berghoffer, organist Larry Knechtel, and guitarists Al Casey, Lou Morrell, Don Lanier, and Campbell] convened inside United Recording on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. United’s Studio B was the duo’s stomping grounds during much of their Warner Bros. heyday starting in 1962 when they decamped from Nashville. From Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” to Beck’s contemplative Morning Phase, United’s musical heritage continues to evolve.
Dick Glasser, the wordsmith for Dean Martin’s “I Will,” assumed leadership of Warner’s A&R department in June 1965. Hit Sound was towards the culmination of Glasser’s production chores for the Everlys — i.e. Beat & Soul, In Our Image, Two Yanks in England, Hit Sound, and The Everly Brothers Sing. Their 1968 country rock opus Roots, the duo’s final studio LP for the label, turned into an early resume credit for Lenny Waronker. The innovative Warner exec signed Prince. None of those LP’s shifted significant units at retail. The Everly Brothers couldn’t give away their records, akin to the radio predicament of fellow founding fathers of rock ’n’ roll like Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, and Rick Nelson. Chasing contemporary rock trends as the Summer of Love beckoned yielded mixed results.
Don and Phil’s career actually took a pivotal nosedive in 1961 when they had a falling out with original manager Wesley Rose, also a respected music publisher at Acuff-Rose. Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, guilty as charged for the Everlys’ definitive hits including “Wake Up Little Susie” and “All I Have to Do Is Dream,” were an in-house Acuff-Rose team. Antsy to cut outside selections and told it was impossible, the duo officially cut ties with the Nashville publisher. Sayonara, Bryants. As performers there were no issues. Writing was a separate matter. Having composed “Cathy’s Clown,” “When Will I Be Loved,” and the cruelly autobiographical “So Sad [To Watch Good Love Go Bad]” on their own, Don and Phil realized too late that they were contractually prohibited to write for another publisher. Original songs penned under pseudonyms and a reliance on covers temporarily worked until Rose sued and won rights for that material, too. In 1963 their business relationship was repaired, but the damage was nearly irrevocable. Joining the Marine Corps Reserve to avoid the draft and the British Invasion further hindered their demographics appeal. Arguments over interminable one-nighters, depleted finances, and silly matters such as who should sing lead spilled over into the public.
Just before waxing a raucous, hypnotically dark cover of the Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun” as the 12th and final addition to Hit Sound, “Hard Luck Story” was attempted. Carlyle Hughey and William H. Smith, best known for penning “Rose Garden” queen Lynn Anderson’s second Top Five country hit “Promises, Promises” [Smith exclusively composed Johnny Cash’s Sun Records-era “Blue Train”] depict a protagonist grappling with a broken relationship. Lying in bed as the first rays of the morning light emerge and clutching a picture of his baby, he contemplates death with a bullet to his head. “I thought that I’d found paradise, now that it’s over I even doubt that there’s a sunrise, even though I see it with my eyes…” Phew, heavy imagery.
Maybe “Hard Luck Story” elicited painful memories. On October 14, 1962, hours before they were scheduled to go onstage in London, Don overdosed on Ritalin. Combining remarks from a 1986 interview with Rolling Stone’s Kurt Loder and the Everlys’ turn of the century A&E Biography, the dark-haired acoustic guitarist candidly said, “Ritalin made you feel energized. You could stay up for days. You get so stoned you don’t know what you’re doing. I was a young hillbilly, and I was addicted. Of course, you weren’t supposed to be addicted…it’s all in your head. It wasn’t against the law. I saw a picture of my doctor [Max “Dr. Feelgood” Jacobson] with the president [John F. Kennedy]. I remember getting to the point where I didn’t wanna live. ‘Let me out.’” Second wife Venetia Stevenson, previously Audie Murphy’s costar in Seven Ways from Sundown, came to the rescue. In spite of having his stomach pumped, that same evening Don tried to extinguish his life another time. Newspapers were briefed that he experienced food poisoning. Don was forcibly flown to New York City and placed in a hospital’s mental ward, where he received controversial electroconvulsive therapy that “knocked me back for a long time. I thought I’d never write again.”
Regardless of why the long-lost diamond was shelved, Richie Unterberger, the ink slinger behind Won’t Get Fooled Again: The Who from ‘Lifehouse’ To ‘Quadrophenia’ as well as the Collectors’ Choice series of Everly Brothers original album CD reissues, reckons in an email exchange that “take 2 of ‘Hard Luck Story’ is fine pop-rock that almost sounds hit-bound if not for the suicide note lyric. I prefer this early version. When it was first released on Heartaches & Harmonies, the liner notes stated, ‘Don and Phil have no recollections of cutting this track, which was never mixed for release at any time.’” Phil succumbed to COPD breathing complications at age 74 in 2014. Eighty-four-year-old Don is officially retired, maintains a low profile, and presumably in fair health. Perhaps he will eventually comment on the caliber of “Hard Luck Story” if so inclined.
Addendum: Inconsistency mars the songwriting attribution for “Hard Luck Story.” Unterberger divulges, “The composition credit reads ‘Smith/Hughey’ on Heartaches & Harmonies, yet when it came out on Bear Family’s Chained to a Memory box, the liner notes stated the composer ‘remains unconfirmed.’ Down in the Bottom  lists ‘Don Everly, Copyright Control’” [i.e. the owner of the rights to the song cannot be determined]. A search of BMI’s online repertoire database found no results when inputting “Even If I Hold It in My Hand” or slight variations. However, inserting “Hard Luck Story” proved effective. Carlyle Hughey and William H. Smith materialized. No trace of Don or Phil as writers for any of the searches. Sony/ATV and Acuff-Rose Music hold the publishing on the Hughey/Smith entry, which gives plausibility to the notion that the Everlys would have had first dibs on earmarking it for recording.
“Even If I Hold It in My Hand [Hard Luck Story]”
Music and Lyrics by Carlyle Hughey and William H. “Billy” Smith
© Sony/ATV and Acuff-Rose Music, BMI
I thought your love would last forever,
I thought that I’d found paradise,
Now that it’s over I even doubt that there’s a sunrise,
Even though I see it with my eyes,
I thought that you could never leave me,
I built a world of dreams and plans,
Now that you’re gone I even doubt I see your picture,
Even though I hold it in my hands,
I thought that you could never hate me,
I thought that talk was just a lie,
But now that you’re here telling me you’ve never loved me,
I even wonder if I’m still alive,
I thought that you could never hurt me,
And as I lie here in my bed,
There’s even a doubt and a fear this gun will kill me,
Even when I hold it to my head.
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