8/7/2007 On a recent Saturday afternoon in Nashville, a diverse throng packed the narrow aisles and spilled outside through the open doors of Grimey's record store. Twenty-something hipsters pressed against bespectacled grandmothers; veterans from Music City's Country establishment stood alongside Nashville resident newcomers including Jack Lawrence, bassist with alt-rock supergroup The Raconteurs. All were held rapt by a legendary 79-year-old from Henagar, Ala.
As Charlie Louvin and his band played hits from a catalog that spans more than half a century, this crowd testified to the impact of the long musical partnership he sustained with his late brother Ira as The Louvin Brothers and to its endurance on Charlie Louvin, the latest album from the Country Music Hall of Fame member.
He was born Charles Elzer Loudermilk in 1927. Along with Ira, three years his senior, Charlie sang gospel music in churches around Henagar. Influenced by the tradition of shape-note singing, and by family gospel groups including the Blue Sky Boys and the Delmore Brothers, they developed their unique close-harmony style and accompanied themselves on guitar and mandolin.
As teenagers, the brothers started playing on a small radio station in Chattanooga, Tenn., until Charlie's service in World War II interrupted their career in the early 1940s. Upon his return from the Army, they moved to Knoxville, where they sang on the WROL and WNOX radio stations. From there, the brothers moved to Memphis, where they were featured regularly on WMPS.
The Louvin Brothers' recording career began in the late 1940s, with a series of sides for Decca Records and later for MGM. When these failed to make significant commercial impact, Charlie and Ira returned to Memphis and took day jobs while continuing to perform in concerts and on the radio. After changing their surnames from Loudermilk to Louvin to avoid confusion with their cousin John D. Loudermilk, who wrote and performed classics "Tobacco Road" and "Abilene," the duo signed with the Acuff-Rose publishing company, which led to a new recording contract with Capitol Records.
Their first Capitol single, "The Family Who Prays," was released shortly before Charlie was recalled to active military duty in the Korean War. Upon his discharge, The Louvin Brothers resumed their recording and performing career, and in 1955 became members of the Grand Ole Opry.
Then, as they began to intersperse their gospel music with secular songs, the hits started to come. In 1955, they had their first Top 10 single "When I Stop Dreaming," and the following year scored four more with "Cash on the Barrelhead," "Hoping That You're Hoping," "I Don't Believe You've Met My Baby" and "You're Running Wild."
Through the 1950s, as rock 'n' roll grew into a cultural phenomenon, The Louvin Brothers continued to record, though they hit the jackpot less frequently than in their boom years. The Everly Brothers, who were influenced by the Louvins, emerged during this period, and their singles began to eclipse those of Charlie and Ira on the airwaves.
Still, The Louvin Brothers enjoyed success with "I Love You Best of All" and "How's the World Treating You" during this period, while releasing the classic albums A Tribute to the Delmore Brothers and Satan Is Real. After their single "Must You Throw Dirt in My Face" peaked in 1962, the brothers decided to pursue solo careers. Ira, who had struggled with alcohol for many years, released several singles and one album before dying in an automobile accident in 1965.
Charlie, however, flourished as a solo artist, scoring Top 20 hits with "Will You Visit Me on Sundays" and "Something to Brag About." He also broke into the Top 10 with his first solo effort "I Don't Love You Anymore" and the classic heartbreaker "See the Big Man Cry."