If you don’t know who the Louvin Brothers are, then you’ve missed some of the tightest, most sublime harmonies in Country/Gospel music. Ira Louvin—one of the biggest sinners in Gospel music, no offense to Hank Sr—died in 1965 in a car crash. Charlie died yesterday.
The first time I ever really became aware of the Louvin Brothers was a mention by Patterson Hood at my first ever Drive-By Truckers show at the Duck Room in St. Louis. (Like 2004-ish?) They were about to play the song, “Dead, Drunk and Naked” and Patterson was telling one of his trademark stories to get into it. He said he wrote it about a musician-friend of his whose family sent him to a Baptist Church’s rehab program because they couldn’t afford a real rehab program. As part of his recovery, he wrote Gospel songs. Apparently (and I think I’m pretty close on Patterson’s exact quote), “That sum-bitch wrote the prettiest damn Gospel songs I ever heard.” He then went on to say that they were the type of songs that the Louvin Brothers would’ve written. At the time, I’d heard their name in conjunction to people like Johnny Cash covering their music. In subsequent years, I’ve investigated them further…and I haven’t heard the songs Patterson Hood’s friend wrote…but I can’t imagine them topping the Louvins.
Many of you will be familiar less with the Louvins’ music than you will an obscure, bizarre record cover that has made many lists on the Internet. It has been praised as one of the most iconic images of the genre for its time…and also as one of the weirdest/silliest covers out there. Hank Williams III does a brief cover version of the title track as the intro to his “Straight to Hell” record (incidentally, the last III record I really liked). Ladies and gentlemen… Direct from Wikipedia, I present to you the cover of “Satan is Real.”
Unfortunately, that seems to be how most of the Interwebs has chosen to remember Charlie Louvin this week. I choose to remember him differently. First off as a wonderful songwriter…but more than that as someone who never forgot who he was, where he came from, or his family.
Below is a video I hope you’ll watch. It’s touching. It’s a tear jerker…and its promise has been fulfilled. Following is Charlie’s 2007 tribute to his brother Ira. Get your hankies ready. You’re gonna need ’em. (Link working as of time of posting…sorry if it’s gone in the wonderous World of Tomorrow.)
Edit: Dammit! You’ve got to watch it on YouTube due to copyright stuff… Direct link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lIT0Xe1qaoI
Rest in peace Charlie. Heaven’s harmony just got a little bit better.
(And seriously…read up on Ira’s life story some time. People think Cash had demons…yikes…)