I was very sad to hear of Charlie Louvin's passing. Along with his long-deceased brother Ira, Charlie Louvin made some of the greatest country music in its history. The beautiful harmonies make them probably the greatest brother act in American music history. They didn't sell super well at the time, though the song I put here did reach #1. And while they've achieved a cult status since the late 1960s, The Louvin Brothers have hardly reached the iconic level in the minds of more casual fans as Johnny Cash or Hank Williams.
That's too bad because The Louvin Brothers were basically the perfect band. They combined beautiful singing with wonderful songs about love, God, Satan, and murder. This version of "I Don't Believe You've Met My Baby" is a great introduction. My favorite is "While You're Cheating On Me," which is a wonderful tale of both partners cheating. They are probably most known for the crazy album cover on Satan is Real and their murder ballad, "Knoxville Girl," which is really an old English song transplanted to Tennessee.
Like many murder ballads, "Knoxville Girl" is about a man killing a woman for not marrying him, for cheating, or, as in this case, for the hell of it. I saw Charlie Louvin twice. His voice was gone by the 1990s. In fact, he pretty much disappeared from the music industry for a long time after he decided he couldn't work with his crazy brother in the early 60s (Ira died in 1965) and put out a few fairly successful albums that decade. The first time I saw him was in 1999. He was opening for Chet Atkins, in what was Atkins' last show, in Knoxville, Tennessee. It wasn't supposed to be the end--I had a ticket for the show, but Atkins fell and broke his hip just before it was scheduled. It was rescheduled about 6 months later. Chet could still play, but was in clear decline--he couldn't walk well of course and his guitar cord came unplugged and he didn't know it. Atkins never played live again. But Charlie Louvin was great, despite his less than smooth voice.
And then I saw Charlie in, I think, 2008 in Austin. He played "Knoxville Girl," of course. He had a female fiddle player. And when he sang the line about grabbing the girl by the hair and throwing her in the river, he went over and gently stroked the fiddler's hair. This was the most awesome creepy moment I've ever seen live. Loved it.
I'm thinking of my top 10 country acts of all time. Most are probably fairly obvious. But The Louvin Brothers are very, very high.
1. Merle Haggard
2. Bob Wills
3. Hank Williams
4. Willie Nelson
5. Bill Monroe (though one could separate country and bluegrass of course)
6. The Louvin Brothers
7. George Jones
8. Loretta Lynn
9. Johnny Cash
10. Waylon Jennings
That's how great The Louvin Brothers are. I'll tell any of you hipsters out there that The Louvins were better than Johnny Cash. Moreover, I'll bet Johnny would have agreed with me.
Charlie Louvin, RIP