updated 01/07/2014 AT 8:50 AM ET
•originally published 01/07/2014 AT 1:00 PM ET
Before his death Friday at age 74 from complications due to COPD, Phil Everly was recording music, focusing on his family and was humble about the Everly Brothers’ legacy as rock and country legends, his widow and son tell PEOPLE.
Phil had three homes: one close to family in Burbank, one near his roots in Nashville, and a summer beach house in Alabama, says his son, Jason Everly, 47. Phil was “the best harmony singer that’s ever lived,” Jason says, and part of a duo, with brother Don, that laid the foundation of rock music.
Jason says his dad loved sharing stories about touring with Buddy Holly and performing rock ‘n’ roll before the term had been coined. At the time, the brothers didn’t see themselves as trail blazers, he says – they hoped their 1957 debut single, “Bye Bye Love,” would simply make them enough money to buy a new guitar case.
A year later, Phil Everly wrote “When Will I Be Loved,” about Jason’s mom back when she and Phil were dating – arranging it in a sultry, crooning style imitative of Elvis. Jason says his father was impressed when others, including Linda Ronstadt, gave it a more uptempo treatment.
“They were two cool guys that set trends in the ’50s, designing their own suits and trying everything,” says Jason. “That generation – Chuck Berry, the Everly Brothers, Bo Diddley – you can’t give these guys enough due, and unfortunately these guys don’t get their due until their passing.”