I was downloading some country videos last night and saw a post beneath a Charlie Louvin video that mentioned his death. I don’t get much Nashville news here in El Salvador and was stricken with conflicting feelings of sadness and joy. I immediately Googled “Charlie Louvin” and learned he had passed on January 26th. I read a few of the articles and comments on his life and reflected on my own memories of this gentleman.
If the name is not known to you, let me inform you that Charlie and his brother Ira were arguably the foremost country duo during the golden years of our music. They split as an act in 1963 and Ira was killed in a car accident in 1965. Like the Beatles, we knew they would never again reunite to sing in their unique fashion. Ira was the high tenor on mandolin, Charlie the baritone on guitar. Their sound was augmented by one of the premier guitarists of that day and this, Paul Yandell. Their strength was in keeping their music within the context of their lives. Their gospel songs were perhaps more popular than their folk and secular music due to their Christian upbringing and love of the Lord.
Charlie continued to perform into his 80s but never resurrected his career to the point of popularity as he had once enjoyed. Still, he was one of the most loved and respected people associated with country music. His generosity during an era when performers were paid in the hundreds of dollars for a gig (minus expenses for musicians and travel) extended to borrowing from the bank to help someone in need.
In the late 50s, my then wife Doris and I went to see the Louvin Brothers at Rac’s Hut in Jackson Mills, NJ. I’m sure her memory will better recall if we had just one or two daughters at the time. It was an outdoor concert that seemed more like a back-yard picnic than some of today’s giant meadow concerts with video screens and humongous speakers blaring. It was a time when performers were still regular people and enjoyed meeting their fans, signing autographs, and posing for photos. There were no more “real” people than these two men from Alabama.
We went to talk to Charlie and he picked Dixie up and told us how he missed his own children from all the time they had to travel. In those days, they rode in cars with instruments on the roof. No Silver Eagle buses or private jets. Both men were so genuine in enjoying our little family.
Some twenty years later, I read in the paper that Charlie would be appearing for one night in a club not far from our home in Milltown, NJ. I decided to take my now adult daughter to see him. I believe it was one of his sons singing Ira’s part with his small band. I could see the love of his music on his face as he performed for a small audience in a small club. Still, it saddened me to see how his career had diminished over the years. He was still one of my heroes whose songs I never failed to sing at my own performances.
During his break, I took my rather shy daughter to meet him. I recounted our first meeting and it struck a vague memory for him. How could he remember us among the countless thousands he must have met for all the years he’d been in the business. Then he asked Dixie to dance. My heart jumped with joy. I felt I had been honored that he should ask my daughter to dance.
This was a truly humble man. The Louvin Brothers are members of the Country Music Hall of Fame as is their due. I can hear their harmony as I write this blog. I no longer have my record collection with many of their albums and I’m thankful for YouTube so that I can listen if not see them perform their great hits. God now has both Ira and Charlie to sing His praises in that great Ryman in the sky. Charlie, I’m glad I got to know you and I hope to see you again before too long.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4KfJo5ZdV7s “Nearer My God to Thee” by the Louvin Brothers
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PFoVn3H_yZo&NR=1 “Lord, I’m Ready to Go Home” by the Louvin Brothers
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xr3T3VilCoE&feature=related “Lord, I’m Coming Home” by the Louvin Brothers
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJOz_a9IRy8&feature=related “I Just Steal Away Somewhere and Pray” by the Louvin Brothers
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=joa0k63PJ9E&NR=1 “Praying for Someone Like Me” by the Louvin Brothers
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=joa0k63PJ9E&NR=1 “River of Jordan” by the Louvin Brothers
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wlh-2O0dPkg&feature=related “If We Forget God” by the Louvin Brothers