Sunday 30 April 2017

Charlie Louvin

Singer and songwriter who, with his brother, defined duet singing and whose distinctive style inspired later stars

CHARLIE Louvin, who died on January 26 aged 83, was an American singer and songwriter and, with his elder brother Ira, formed one of country music's most celebrated partnerships.

The brothers enjoyed most of their success in the Fifties, but their close harmony style defined duet singing for a generation, inspiring many later stars, notably, the Everly Brothers, who initially styled themselves on the Louvin Brothers' "high lonesome" sound. Other acts who took inspiration from the Louvins include The Byrds, Emmylou Harris and Dwight Yoakam.

Charles Elzer Loudermilk was born in Henagar, Alabama, on July 7, 1927. He grew up in poverty and worked with Ira -- three years his senior -- as a field hand in the Sand Mountain. Avid churchgoers, the boys tried to copy the "shape note" gospel harmony singing they heard in their local Baptist church and were still in their teens when, with Ira learning mandolin and Charlie the guitar, they won a local talent show and started performing together at a small radio station in Chattanooga.

Soon they were playing shows across the American South. They got their first record deal with the Apollo label in 1947, changing their name to Louvin (they thought Loudermilk was too long).

An invitation to sing at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville in 1955 changed their fortunes. The tobacco company sponsoring their set told them not to sing their usual gospel songs because "you can't sell tobacco with gospel music", so they wrote and played their own secular song, When I Stop Dreaming. It became a hit and led to a headline tour which featured a young Elvis Presley as a support act.

A string of other hits followed, including You're Running Wild and the No 1 hit I Don't Believe You've Met My Baby. They never abandoned gospel entirely, however. "I don't think we ever did a show without some gospel music," said Charlie. "Our mother would have thrashed us!"

By the late Fifties, the dawn of rock'n'roll made their sound appear old-fashioned. As attempts to respond with rockabilly failed, the hits dried up and Ira began drinking heavily. Inclined to uncontrollable rages, he took to smashing his mandolin on stage and was later badly injured when shot by his wife during a domestic dispute. Unable to take any more of Ira's temper, Charlie -- a temperate man all his life -- split the partnership in 1963 to launch his solo career (Ira was to die in a car crash two years later).

Charlie reached No 4 in the US charts in 1964 with I Don't Love You Any More and went on to have 30 hit singles over the next decade. His star also rose as other acts exploited the Louvin legacy. Emmylou Harris had her first hit with If I Could Only Win Your Love.

Despite this impact, Charlie Louvin never claimed to be a great singer or instrumentalist. None the less, he enjoyed the respect paid him as an elder statesman of country music and was inducted in the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001. In 2004, when he was 80, a tribute album, Livin', Lovin', Losin': Songs of the Louvin Brothers, won a Grammy. Last year, 60 years after releasing his first record with Ira, Louvin bowed out with The Battle Rages On, a collection of patriotic old country songs about war.

Charlie Louvin is survived by his wife, Betty, and their three sons.

Sunday Independent

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