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| posted on 5/24/2007 at 02:05 AM|
|Growing up I heard lots of Louvin Brothers has my father was a big fan of the duet. Matter of fact, I still have his copy of the Louvin Brothers "Satan is Real". Anyway, glad to see Charlie Louvin having a "well deserved" comeback. btw, thanks to Asheville's Mountain Xpress for this article.|
Charlie Louvin is real
Legendary artist still recording at age 79
by John Schacht in Vol. 13 / Iss. 43 on 05/23/2007
The best thing about the latest Louvin Brothers’ revival is that this time around, Charlie Louvin’s smack in the middle of it.
The surviving Louvin brother is riding high on this year’s Charlie Louvin, a collection of collaborations with Louvin Brothers’ fans young, old and famous—ranging from George Jones and Tom T. Hall to Elvis Costello and Jeff Tweedy, as well as more recent converts like Tift Merritt and Clem Snide’s Eef Barzelay.
Contributions from musicians like Will Oldham, who weren’t even born when the Louvin Brothers split, please Charlie the most.
“I still have some gray-headed fans like me,” the 79-year-old says, speaking from his home in Manchester, Tenn., where he’ll be playing the Bonnaroo festival in June, “but it thrills us to know that we’re doing something that the young folks can enjoy.”
The truth is, since the Louvin Brothers’ 1955-63 heyday, during which they landed 12 singles on the country charts, successive generations of young country rockers have kept the Louvins’ flame alive. Musicians from Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris to Rank and File, Uncle Tupelo, The Lemonheads, Beck, Jack White and Neko Case have paid homage (Case even took Charlie out on tour in 2003). Yet it took the Grand Ole Opry 14 years to accept the brothers Louvin—nee Loudermilk—on country music’s most hallowed stage, and it wasn’t until 2001 that the Country Music Hall of Fame pulled its collective head from its collective rear and inducted the brothers after four previous unsuccessful nominations.
“I only wish Ira were there to enjoy it,” Charlie says.
Because of Ira’s alcoholism and erratic behavior—he dismissed Elvis Presley as a “white nigger,” killing a proposed tour—the brothers broke up in 1963. Ira and his incomparable high tenor were snuffed out two years later in a car accident that also killed his fourth wife. But before that, the brothers created some of the most memorable close-harmony singing ever recorded, including classic mixes of gospel and secular music like Tragic Songs of Life, their debut, and Satan Is Real, with its infamous cover featuring a 12-foot plywood Satan cut-out and piles of burning tires.
Born in Henager, Ala., the Louvins were inspired by the harmonies of the Monroe Brothers and Blue Sky Boys. But Ira and Charlie walked miles every Saturday night in the ‘30s to hear another pair of brothers, Alton and Rabon Delmore, on Grand Ole Opry radio broadcasts.
“In my mind, they were the greatest, and we adored their work,” Charlie says.
The Delmores’ “Blues Stay Away From Me” is one of the 20 tracks recorded for Charlie Louvin, 12 of which made the final cut (plans are in already in the works for another set of collaborations). In addition to Louvin standards like “The Christian Life,” which Gram Parsons brought to the Byrds’ seminal Sweetheart of the Rodeo sessions, “Great Atomic Power,” a staple of alt-country pioneers Uncle Tupelo’s repertoire, and “When I Stop Dreaming,” recorded by everybody from Tammy Wynette to Freakwater, the record includes cuts from country legends the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers.
The tracks, as well as most of the guest spots, were coordinated by Tompkins Square label head Josh Rosenthal, another longtime Louvins admirer. Though Charlie had veto power, he saw no reason to use it, only adding an old Carter Family nugget – “Grave on the Green Hillside” – and a gorgeous new elegy for his brother, “Ira.” Under the relaxed production of Lambchop’s Mark Nevers, Charlie and the backing band knocked out 18 of the songs in one no-nonsense stretch of six hours that should have old-time Nashville studio hands smiling.
“Josh said that if I recorded those songs, he could get ‘em played on college radio,” Charlie says. “I like the way it turned out.”
No wonder. Charlie’s voice can’t reach the same notes it did 50 years ago, but his smoke-cured vocals carry so much character they typically outshine his younger duet partners, despite some fine efforts from Oldham, Barzelay, Tweedy and Paul Burch. And the studio band, which included vets of Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash sessions, and a handful of Lambchoppers, was top-notch.
But to assume that time-worn voice belongs to a tired man is a big mistake. Louvin’s memory is more than sharp; when asked about the stunning shape-note singing on the brothers’ 1957 take of the traditional “This Little Light of Mine,” he doesn’t hesitate when remembering that the brothers turned to an oxygen tank to get them through the song’s one-breath-only verses.
“It takes a powerful vocalist to get through that,” he says, “and it was the only time we ever did that.”
Charlie shows no signs of slowing down, either. He knocked out a 23-date cross-country tour in April to promote the record, and he’ll be celebrating his 80th birthday in July with an in-store performance at the Ernest Tubb Record Shop, a Grand Ole Opry appearance, and a set at the Midnite Jamboree to end the day.
“Everybody wonders ‘how the hell do you that at 80,’ and I tell ‘em I’ve never been 80 before, so I don’t how 80’s supposed to feel.”
[John Schacht is a freelance music writer and regular contributor to Harp magazine.]
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| posted on 5/24/2007 at 03:04 PM|
|One of my prized possesions is the Louvin brothers box set from Bear Family.|
You can usually find them for a good price on ebay.
Still waiting for a delmore brothers box set.
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| posted on 5/24/2007 at 03:18 PM|
|Good to see Charlie still playing and singing. The Louvin Brothers were some of the best songwriters in American music history, and folks will be grabbing those tunes up for many years to come. Cool that Charlie will be at Bonnaroo, that should be a trip. I just interviewed another half of a legendary 'brother act' with Jesse McReynolds of Jim and Jesse fame, and Jim died a few years ago as did Ira Louvin. I brought Charlie up to Jesse when I asked him what it was like to play with your brother for all of those decades and then have to decide whether to keep going after their death. It was hard with him not being on the stage next to him, especially because Jim handled the stage announcing and bookings, but Jesse figured out one day that if it had been the other way around, Jim would sure as heck of moved on and kept playing without him, so he kept going as well. The same with Charlie Louvin. Better than sitting around, I reckon.|
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