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Remembering Charlie Louvin

On Jan. 26, 2011, Charlie Louvin died from pancreatic cancer. It is hard to believe it has been three years since his unmistakable voice was silenced. However, his impact on the music industry still rings loud and clear.

Louvin served his country, teamed with his brother, Ira, to form the Louvin Brothers and tasted success as solo artist. Born in Alabama, the Louvin Brothers began singing at a young age and developed their close harmony by listening to records of other brother acts. In 1941, the duo, still in their teens, performed in Flat Rock, Ala., marking their first paid performance. The following year, they won a talent contest, giving them their initial on-the-air exposure via WDEF in Chattanooga, Tenn.

The brothers continued to work in that area from 1943 until Charlie entered the Army in 1945. After his time in the service, the Louvin Brothers were signed to record for Capitol Records as a gospel act in 1952.

“We did not mean to start that way. We had always mixed our music on our road shows and school-house shows but when we got a chance to get a recording contract, Capitol Records had just signed Jim & Jesse. Capitol told us that they already had a secular duo but if we wanted to record, they would sign us as a gospel duo. We wanted to record, so we took the deal. It took about three years or so for us to deviate from gospel music,” Louvin said in a 1999 phone interview.

Once they did record mainstream country albums, the Louvin Brothers still found time for an occasional gospel release. Their standout gospel recordings include “Satan Is Real,” “The Christian Life,” “Kneeling Drunkard’s Plea,” “Great Atomic Power” and “Keep Your Eyes on Jesus.”

In 1955, the Louvin Brothers had their first top 10 hit, “When I Stop Dreaming.” That same year, they became members of the Grand Ole Opry. For the next eight years, they would go on to land such hits on the country charts as “I Don’t Believe You’ve Met My Baby,” “You’re Running Wild,” “Cash on the Barrel Head,” “My Baby’s Gone,” “Knoxville Girl” and “Must You Throw Dirt in My Face.”

The Louvin Brothers went their separate ways in 1963. Charlie stayed with Capitol Records and began a solo career. Ira started a career of his own, but it was tragically cut short when his car was struck head-on in Missouri in 1965.

Following Ira’s untimely death, Charlie remained a Grand Ole Opry regular and a popular performer. As a solo artist, his most noted hits were “I Don’t Love You Anymore” and “See the Big Man Cry.”

In 2001, the Louvin Brothers were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Two years later, countless country and bluegrass performers teamed for an outstanding tribute album to the Louvin Brothers’ deep catalog of fine material.

Soon after, the floodgate opened and countless performers, especially alternative country and rock acts, were showing a major interest in Louvin Brothers’ music. As matter of fact, Louvin was selected to tour with Cake, Cheap Trick and the Detroit Cobras in 2003. That was followed by a stint of him being the opening act for Lucinda Williams on her nation-wide tour.

In his later years, Louvin recorded a series of critically acclaimed albums for Tompkins Square Records, including two that received Grammy nominations.

Stardom never altered Louvin. His down-to-earth and from-the-heart style was stamped on everything he did. Following his death, a documentary, “Charlie Louvin: Still Rattlin’ the Devil’s Cage,” was released. The film highlighted his life and career. Unquestionably, he was one of American music’s greatest treasures.

Beebe native Charles Haymes is a member of the Country Music Association and the International Bluegrass Music Association. Email him at charleshaymes@gmail.com.

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