Always conscious of his status as the junior partner in the Louvin Brothers (once commenting that, “I hold the paper and Ira does the writing”) Charlie Louvin went on to enjoy solo success for over 40 years after his sibling’s passing. Charlie was born today in 1927.
Charles Elzer Loudermilk aka Charlie Louvin was born in Henagar, Alabama, USA. Inspired by the harmonizing of duets such as the Blue Sky Boys, the Delmore Brothers and the Monroe Brothers, Charlie and his elder brother Ira grew up singing in Baptist church and tuning in to the Grand Old Opry radio show on Saturday nights.
Initially playing guitar, Ira took up the mandolin and handed on the guitar to Charlie and the duo performed together – even after Ira went to work in a Chattanooga cotton mill. Appearing on radio station WDEF in 1942, Charlie’s army callup in 1945 saw Ira relocate to Knoxville, Tennessee and hook up with a band headed by Charlie Monroe – the brother of bluegrass godfather, Bill.
Reforming after Charlie returned from military service, the duo began playing local radio stations in Knoxville, taking the name of the Louvin Brothers in 1947. Recording sessions for various labels would follow, but commercial success would continue to elude them.
While both working in the Memphis post office, their break came with the offer of a publishing deal for Acuff-Rose and a recording contract for Capitol. Their first single for them,“The Family Who Prays” duly appeared and sold moderately well, but coincided with further military service for Charlie – this time in Korea.
Picking up the threads of their career once Charlie returned, Capitol placed the Louvins on the Grand Old Opry radio show, resulting in their popularity spreading across the USA and producing a 1955 top ten country hit with, “When I Stop Dreaming” and follow-ups including “I Don’t Believe You’ve Met My Baby and “Cash on the Barrel Head”.
Despite their popularity however, tensions between the pair remained with the short-tempered Ira’s hard drinking ways causing friction – particularly when Capitol pressurised him into dropping his mandolin in an attempt to make their sound more contemporary, as rock and roll stylings of acts such as the Everly Brothers came into vogue.
The Louvins split in 1963 and both released solo records thereafter, Charlie scoring a hit in 1964 with “I Don’t Love You Any More” but enduring the death of his brother soon afterwards in a car crash. Enjoying further success with singles including “See The Big Man Cry” and “Less and Less”, Charlie also worked with vocalist Melba Montgomery for a time.
Inducted in the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001, he released the well-regarded albums, “The Sound of Days To Come” and “Murder Ballads and Disaster Songs.” Meanwhile, a tribute to him and Ira (“Livin’, Lovin’, Losin’: Songs of the Louvin Brothers”) carried off a Grammy in 2004.
After unexpected collaborations with rock bands Cheap Trick and Cake, “Charlie Louvin” in 2007 enlisted the likes of Jeff Tweedy (Wilco), Elvis Costello and Tom T.Hall for a selection of tunes from his back catalogue including “Great Atomic Power” and “Knoxville Girl”.
2010 then brought “The Battles Rage On” - a patriotic collection of material dedicated to the soldiers, sailors and airman of the USA and featuring an updated reading of Red Foley’s 1940s anthem, “There’ll Be Smoke On The Water”.
Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer Charlie died in January 2011 aged 83, having collapsed while filming a TV special some weeks earlier – but insisting on completing the show. He was buried near Nashville, in the same location as Ira.
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And here’s some footage of Charlie in action: