Sad To See You Leaving 2011: Charlie Louvin

by George_East on December 28, 2011

Ira and Charlie Loudermilk, the Louvin Brothers as they were known professionally, were pioneers of close harmony country singing. The Everly Brothers stole their act and popped up the Louvins sound and the millions came rolling in. The Louvin Brothers didn’t have the Everlys puppy dog looks or pushy parents, and had to make do with success on a smaller scale.

The Louvin Brothers’ influence though would be immense – when the Byrds kick started the country revival with their extraordinary 1968 album Sweetheart of the Rodeo the influence of the Louvin Brothers went far beyond the cover of their The Christian Life. After all they had perfect beautiful harmonies in common. The strings-filled countrypolitan Bakersfield sounds of the 1960s that had made country music bland and cheesy was jettisoned for the stripped down purer country sound – channeling Hank Williams, Bill Monroe, the Carter Family and the Louvins amongst many others. The Louvin Brothers would also be a key influence on the seminal recordings of Gram Parsons who was obsessed with them (and who would cover the Louvins’ Cash On The Barrelhead on Grievous Angel) and Emmylou Harris in the 1970s

Alabama born with a strict Baptist upbringing the Louvin Brothers would start out in the 1940s playing purely devotional music. They would record religious music throughout their career, including in 1960 the legendary Satan Is Real album. They started recording secular music in 1955 and opened for Elvis Presley on his last tour on Sun.

The brothers were like chalk and cheese. Ira was the wild child, he had a penchant for smashing up his mandolin on stage (Pete Townsend eat your heart out). Ira was married four times, a notorious drunk. He was shot by his third wife three times following a bout of domestic violence and died in a car crash in 1965 with an arrest warrant still over his head.

The younger Charlie was the opposite. Quiet and god-fearing, it would be Charlie who set up the Louvin Brothers museum in Nashville. He would continue to record songs well into his 80s – recording an album of American Civil War songs in late 2010 as he battled with the pancreatic cancer which would final kill him. A new generation of musicians gravitated towards him in his final decade, recording songs with him – these included Elvis Costello, Jeff Tweedy of Wilco and Alex McManus of Bright Eyes, Will Oldham, Lambchop and Calexico.

He was one of the last links back to the country scene of the 1940s and 1950s which shaped so much of the popular music that followed. His, is a sad loss indeed.

Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: