Friday, December 30, 2011

In Memoriam: Charlie Louvin

Louvin Brothers

The Louvin Brothers: When I Stop Dreaming

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Charlie Louvin:"What Are Those Things (With Big Black Wings)?"

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The grand arbiter of what's popular and significant in music (a/k/a Billboard) would have us believe the Louvin Brothers were a minor act in country music. The Louvins scored just one number one hit and had only 11 other charting singles. (About the same as the O'Kanes.) Record sales don't accurately reflect the Louvins' far-reaching influence. Their harmony-soaked sound is echoed in the music of the Everly Brothers, the Byrds, Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris and others. Charlie and Ira Loudermilk began singing as the Louvin Brothers after WWII, achieving their greatest popularity (and Opry membership) in the 1950s. By all accounts, Charlie was a saint and Ira was a jerk. Ira's high-maintenance personality and carousing broke up the act in 1963. Charlie went on to have a productive solo career, logging many more Billboard-certified hits as a soloist than he did as a Louvin Brother. Most of those records, weighed down by 1960s countrypolitan arrangements, are forgotten. The music he made with his brother remained Charlie's claim to fame. While Gram Parsons was the first hipster to cover the Louvins (starting with the Byrds), it was Emmylou Harris's championing of the Louvin catalog that brought Charlie back into the limelight. He toured and recorded with Lucinda Williams, Elvis Costello, Cake and Cheap Trick, among others.

Official recognition by the Country Music Hall of Fame was strangely slow in coming -- the Louvins weren't enshrined until 2003, 40 years after they disbanded. Charlie continued to record and perform live until the end; he succumbed to pancreatic cancer in January 2011.

Guest post by Mt Vernon Mike

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