"I always thought I'd be the one to go first," the elder Everly says in a statement to PEOPLE

By K.c. Blumm
Updated January 04, 2014 05:00 PM
Credit: WENN

Like most siblings, Don and Phil Everly had their differences from time to time, but underneath it all the hit-making duo loved each other.

As the music world reacted with sadness to the death of Phil, the younger member of the Everly Brothers on Friday at the age of 74, Don released a statement to PEOPLE that touched on their sometimes fiery relationship.

“I loved my brother very much,” Don, 76, said from his home in Tennessee. “I always thought I’d be the one to go first.”

Don revealed that he was playing some of Phil’s music when he learned of his brother’s death from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

“I was listening to one of my favorite songs that Phil wrote and had an extreme emotional moment just before I got the news of his passing,” he said. “I took that as a special spiritual message from Phil saying good-bye.”

The pair, who found fame in the 1950s, split in 1973 amid quarreling, but reunited in 1983.

“Our love was and will always be deeper than any earthly differences we might have had,” Don said. “The world might be mourning an Everly Brother but I’m mourning my brother Phil Everly. My wife Adela and I are touched by all the tributes we’re seeing for Phil and we thank you for allowing us to grieve in private at this incredibly difficult time.”

Reporting by HOWARD BREUER