Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Charlie Louvin and Tragic Songs of Life

Two small bits of bidniz…

First, I want to send a Deadly Mantis-size thank you to my good buddy Norm Partridge for being so kind to plug A Schmuck with an Underwood, in his great blog American Frankenstein. If you’re not familiar with Norm’s writing, buy, beg, borrow or steal a copy of his novel Dark Harvest right away. Or for that matter any of his books. It will be well worth any prison time you may have to serve as the result of the acquisition.  Trust me on this…

My personal goal is to get a new bog entry up every week, but a really good freelance opportunity came through for me two weeks ago with a very short deadline, which is why there was no new entry for last week. (And rest assured I will be shamelessly plugging the magazine when the stories I wrote appear in print!) While I’m working on this week’s entry, and it should be up no later than Friday, I wanted to go ahead and get something posted about Charlie Louvin, hence today’s entry.

I just found out this morning that Charlie Louvin passed away. If you don’t know who Charlie Louvin was you really need to get yourself educated. As one half of the Louvin Brothers (with his older brother Ira) Charlie was one of the biggest country music stars of the 1950s. The Louvins were, and still are, one the most successful and most influential duo acts in country music.

Over the years the perception has grown up that Ira was the “wild-ass” of the two brothers – hard-drinkin’, mercurial, onry, and a ladies man.  The truth was hardly that simple. Charlie could be just as mercurial, onry, and a ladies man (at least as far as harmless flirting was concerned) – just without the drinkin’ and a whole lot more common sense. After the brothers split in 1963, Charlie went on to a successful solo career with thirty chart hits between 1964 and 1973. However, through the seventies and the eighties, the Louvin Brothers and Charlie seemed to slip from the consciousness of country music.

I first heard of the Louvin Brothers in early nineties when I was engaged in a full speed, whole-hog emersion into the history of country née hillbilly music. I don’t even recall where I read about their album Tragic Songs of Life, but I knew I had to find a copy. I finally did, granted a copy of the Rounder Records late-eighties reissue which had one of the ugliest covers you’ve ever seen, but the music, oh my!  It was of those defining moments where you hear music and you mind cannot comprehend how it could be that you have lived as long as you have without knowing about this!

I first met Charlie at the opening ceremonies for the new Country Music Hall of Fame in 2000.  We were in the VIP section, but there was a red carpet ceremony for all living Hall of Fame members, which astonishingly, did not include Charlie. I spent some time talking to Charlie who was friendly, but something was obviously bothering him.  As the ceremony began I said, “You should be walking down that red carpet, Charlie.”

“Damn right I should be,” he said without skipping a beat.

Fortunately, the powers at be did induct the Louvins into the Hall of Fame in the very next year, and the last ten years has seen a major revival for Charlie as a solo artist and for recognition of the Louvin Brothers.  But the best way to remember Charlie is with the music he did so well…

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