Charlie Louvin: July 7, 1927 – Jan. 26, 2011

Charlie Louvin, Features, News — By on January 26, 2011 5:50 pm

We were saddened today to hear the news of Charlie Louvin’s passing. He was 83.

We feel privileged, however, to have spoken with him briefly from his home in Wartrace, Tennessee, just days before his cancer surgery last July. Unfortunately, the surgery was unsuccessful. In his honor, we’re re-running the short interview and review of Hickory Wind, his 2009 live recording from the Gram Parsons Guitar Pull in Waycross, Georgia, as well as our review of his last LP, The Battles Rage On and an accompanying video interview, his last.

Thanks for the great music, Mr. Louvin. You will be missed.

Album Review: Hickory Wind, Live at the Gram Parsons Guitar Pull, Waycross, GA (Tompkins Square)

[Originally appeared July 11, 2010.]
This review comes on the heels of some unfortunate news, as Charlie Louvin was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. At 83 years of age, Mr. Louvin is expected to make a full recovery after surgery on the 22nd of this month, two days after the release of this album. When we spoke with him recently from his home in Tennessee he was incredibly upbeat.

“I could ask why me, but then again why not me? I have high hopes that we’ll beat this — I believe that and I truly think that’s half of it: if you are defeated in spirit, it’s possible you will be defeated totally, so you’ve got to keep a stiff upper lip and hang in there. That’s all I can tell you.”

His faith and positive attitude (and the wonderful surgeons in Nashville) will see him through. “I’ve been very fortunate for most of my life [healthwise],” said Charlie, “so I would classify myself lucky and maybe even blessed.”

Yes, Mr. Louvin, you are indeed blessed. So, everyone please say a prayer for him and go buy Hickory Wind.

Charlie Louvin is a living legend. He’s been a star for much longer than anyone else in the recording business. He’s a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Grand Ole Opry, he’s influenced everyone from Gram Parsons to Those Darlins (their song “Wild One” is a nod to the Louvin Brothers) and he’s still out there making the music he loves.

This is particularly apparent on his latest release, a live recording, Hickory Wind: Live at the Gram Parsons Guitar Pull, Waycross, GA (Sept. 19, 2009) featuring Louvin Brothers classics as well as Charlie’s solo material, and his first-ever performance of Gram Parsons’ “Hickory Wind.”

The album opens with the chugging gospel tune “Long Journey Home” at the end of which Charlie shouts, “Yo! Welcome to the shooowwwww!” The gleeful energy in his voice is infectious. He sounds like a man completely in his element. We should be envious of anyone fortunate enough to have been there in person that night.

“There’s a young man whose name is hangin’ on this festival,” says Charlie in the intro to the title song. “He recorded some Louvin brothers songs and we owe him a lot. He introduced our music to rock ‘n’ roll people.” With very little time to practice the song, Charlie apologizes about the possibility of screw-ups. His apology is unwarranted, however, as his version is simply gorgeous.

Many of the highlights of Hickory Wind are Charlie’s intros and backgrounds on some of the songs, especially his story about Jim Reeves and the Louvin Brothers song “If You Love Me, Stay Away”, a song Jim wanted to record but never got around to doing before his tragic death.

Charlie tries to keep the mood light by deciding not to sing “Darling Cory” because he doesn’t want to “kill anybody else right now” with sad songs. He then goes on about the evils of alcohol (something his late brother Ira knew something about) as a prelude to “Wreck On The Highway” and then eases into “The Christian Life,” a song famously covered on The Byrds’ classic Sweetheart of the Rodeo.

Even at 83, Charlie’s voice is surprisingly versatile, with soft and subtle control on the slower numbers like “I Still Miss Someone,” “Think I’ll Go Somewhere And Cry Myself To Sleep,” and “Please Don’t Tell Me How The Story Ends” while gritty and powerful on Merle Haggard’s “Working Man’s Blues,” and Charlie’s own hit “Cash On The Barrelhead.” Also included is Charlie’s 1964 top-five hit “I Don’t Love You Anymore,” a song with one of the best lines in country music: “I don’t love you anymore/Trouble is, I don’t love you any less.”

Above all else, this album will likely go down as a classic and historic document of an iconic artist of the high lonesome, bluegrass, and country western styles, an artist with a shining spirit.

It’s fitting, too, that Charlie Louvin returned to Waycross, GA to pay tribute to Gram Parsons, who at the age of nine first heard the Louvin Brothers open for Elvis Presley back in 1956.

All of us at Awaiting The Flood wish Charlie Louvin all the best, and look forward to his next album and to seeing him in concert once again.

New Album: The Battles Rage On (Tompkins Square)
Interview with the Legend Himself
Music Video for “Weapon of Prayer”

[Originally appeared November 9, 2010.]

A member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and the longest living member of the Grand Old Opry, Charlie Louvin is a true legend of country music. His work has influenced The Beatles, Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, The Byrds and Lucinda Williams among many others.

Released today (Nov. 9), The Battles Rage On (True North) is a collection of twelve “songs of war, patriotism and sacrifice” and is a tribute to the men and women in military service past and present.

Backed by a solid band that includes his son Charlie (Sonny) Louvin Jr. and Ben Hall on guitar, Mitchell Brown on bass, and harmony vocals by Del McCoury, Louvin’s voice shows its age (he’s 83 after all, and battling cancer) but still retains the passion and depth of feeling it always has. This is by no means a weepy collection of Christian, flag-waving patriotic songs, but is instead an album of simple and emotional story-songs mostly about young soldiers far from home, missing loved ones while enduring the horrors of war.

Standouts include Merle Haggard’s “I Wonder If They Ever Think of Me,” told from the perspective of a prisoner of war, Tom T. Hall’s “What We’re Fighting For” and the Louvin Brothers’ “Mother I Thank You For the Bible” and “Weapon of Prayer.” As Charlie says of the latter song: “Please don’t misconstrue this song and lyrics as pro-war. This is a pro-troops song. No matter how you feel about the current wars there is nothing wrong with keeping the troops in our prayers.” In short, love will prevail.

Recorded in Nashville and produced by Mitchell Brown, The Battles Rage On is as musically pleasing to listen to as it is unabashedly honest and real — it closes, fittingly, with Charlie’s arrangement of “Down by the Riverside.”

In a recent interview with Christian Moriarty, Charlie talks about his service in the Army Air Corps in Korea, his early career with his brother Ira (as The Louvin Brothers), their first appearance on the “Friday Night Frolick” at the Grand Old Opry, shooting the cover artwork to the Louvin Brothers infamous Satan Is Real in a rock quarry in the rain, meeting a 13-year-old and shoeless Johnny Cash.

After the interview, check out Charlie’s first-ever music video (where’ve you been, Charlie?) for “Weapon of Prayer.”

Charlie Louvin Interview from Christian Moriarty on Vimeo.

Charlie Louvin “Weapon of Prayer” from Christian Moriarty on Vimeo.

Charlie Louvin obituary courtesy of CMT.com

Charlie Louvin, a Country Music Hall of Fame member as one-half of the Louvin Brothers, died early Wednesday morning (Jan. 26) after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 83. He received the cancer diagnosis in July.

Louvin got his start as the younger half of the sweet-singing Louvin Brothers, a duo influenced by such earlier sibling acts as the Monroe Brothers, the Delmore Brothers and the Blue Sky Boys. In turn, the Louvins helped pave the way for the Everly Brothers and influenced a wide variety of artists, including Emmylou Harris and the late Gram Parsons.

Charlie Elzer Loudermilk was born on July 7, 1927 in Section, Ala. three years after the birth of his brother and eventual singing partner, Ira Lonnie Loudermilk. (They changed their last name to Louvin in 1947.)

With Ira on mandolin and Charlie on guitar, the brothers were singing together as the Radio Twins as early as 1942. Their musical trajectory was twice interrupted by Charlie’s military service, first in the declining months of World War II and then in the thick of the Korean War.

Between and after these career detours, the Louvins sang at radio stations in Chattanooga, Knoxville and Memphis, Tenn., and Birmingham, Ala. Early on, most of their repertoire was gospel songs, and they performed regularly at churches. But finding it impossible to support themselves on church offerings, they turned increasingly to secular music.

Prior to striking it big on Capitol Records in the mid 1950s, the Louvins recorded briefly for Apollo, Decca and MGM but charted on none of these labels.

Even so, they had achieved enough prominence by 1955 that they were invited to join the Grand Ole Opry. Later that same year, they had their first Billboard chart record with their self-penned “When I Stop Dreaming.” The song peaked at No. 8.

The next year, the Louvin Brothers scored their only No. 1, “I Don’t Believe You’ve Met My Baby.” At the height of their fame, just before the wave of rock ‘n’ roll inundated country music, the Louvins counted Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash among their opening acts.

Between 1956 and 1963 — when the Louvins split up over Ira’s drinking and disruptive behavior — the brothers charted 10 more singles, including the Top 10s “Hoping That You’re Hoping,” “You’re Running Wild,” “Cash on the Barrel Head” and “My Baby’s Gone.”

Following their breakup, each brother pursued a solo career. However, Ira charted only one single — “Yodel, Sweet Molly” — before he and his wife were killed in a car wreck in 1965.

Charlie Louvin continued to appear on the Grand Ole Opry and charted singles at least once a year from 1964 through 1974 (and intermittently thereafter). His biggest hits were “I Don’t Love You Anymore” (No. 4, 1964) and “See the Big Man Cry” (No. 7, 1965).

The rock world took notice of the Louvin Brothers in 1968 when the Byrds, urged on by new member Gram Parsons, recorded “The Christian Life” on their Sweetheart of the Rodeo album. Parsons and Emmylou Harris covered the Louvins’ “Cash on the Barrel Head” in Parson’s posthumously released 1974 collection, Grievous Angel.

Fellow Alabamian Harris also turned to the Louvins for “If I Could Only Win Your Love,” her first Top 5 country single, in 1975. Indeed, Harris became one of the Louvins’ most passionate advocates. She and Louvin had a minor chart record in 1979 with the duet “Love Don’t Care.”

Louvin’s final chart singles came in 1982 and 1989 in recordings with Jim & Jesse (“North Wind”) and Roy Acuff (“The Precious Jewel”), respectively.

In 1992, Louvin paired with Charles Whitstein for the Louvin Brothers Music Celebration tour. (The Whitstein Brothers — Robert and Charles — were greatly influenced by the Louvins and, in 1969, recorded a tribute album, The Whitstein Brothers Sing Gospel Songs of the Louvin Brothers.)

In 1996, Louvin emerged again with the album The Longest Train, which featured guest vocals by Jim Lauderdale, Katy Moffatt, Rosie Flores, Barry and Holly Tashian and others.

For the 2003 album of Disney favorites interpreted by country stars, O Mickey, Where Art Thou, Louvin recorded “I Will Go Sailing No More” from Toy Story. That same year saw the release of the Grammy-winning tribute album, Livin’, Lovin’, Losin': Songs of the Louvin Brothers, featuring Dierks Bentley, Ronnie Dunn, Joe Nichols, Vince Gill, Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton and James Taylor, among others. Also in 2003, Louvin expanded his presence in the contemporary rock world as an opening act for Cake’s Unlimited Sunshine tour.

During the past decade, Louvin recorded a series of albums for the independent Tompkins Square label, including a self-titled project that featured guest appearances by Elvis Costello, Jeff Tweedy, Tom T. Hall, George Jones, Bobby Bare, Tift Merritt, Marty Stuart and others. His most recent release, The Battles Rage On, was released in November.

A video documentary, Still Rattlin’ the Devil’s Cage, was shot in December at a Nashville nightclub to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Louvin Brothers’ classic album, Satan Is Real. It is expected to be released this spring on DVD.

The Louvin Brothers were inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1979 and the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001.

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