Country Music Hall of Famer, Charlie Louvin, Takes Us from 1927 to 2010

Charlie Louvin

Photo by Anthony Pepitone

Ira and Charlie Louvin

Ira and Charlie Louvin, Approx. 1958

Childhood

RC) We’re looking forward to getting your reflections on your career in country music and any experiences you can share of growing up in the country.

Mr. Louvin:

Well, I’m sorta livin’ in the country now.   I’m out here on 48 acres.  We love it in the country.  I live 75 miles from Nashville.

I tell people constantly, don’t tell me “You live so far out.”  We live out here by choice.  I wouldn’t want to live in town where I couldn’t stand on the front porch to pee, if I wanted to.

RC) Can you tell me one of your earliest memories.

Mr. Louvin:

Ira was born in April, 1924, and I was born in July of 1927.

Musically, I started singing when I was 8 and Ira was 11.

My daddy loved music, almost any kind of music, especially country or gospel. So, when people would come to see him, he would insist that Ira and I sing these people songs.  We were so bashful, it was pathetic.

In the living room there was a bed.  In every room except the kitchen there was a bed, because there were 7 kids, plus Mama and Papa.

Mama and Papa slept in the living room.   Papa would get up and build a fire.  When we finally got up the room would be warm.

We would crawl under Mama’s and Papa’s bed, which was about 16″ off the floor.  We’d put our hind ends together and we would sing a song. That’s how we learned to phrase together without lookin’ at each other, without steppin’ on each other’s toes, or winking at each other.  It just come natural.

If the song was gonna get too high for me to sing the lead on, at that instant he’d take the high lead, and I would come under him with low harmony. We learned it that way, and it that kinda mystified other duets who were tryin’ to figure out who was doin’ the tenor and who was who was doin’ the lead.

But, back to papa asking us to sing, …

We’d climb out from under their bed after singin’, and beat it, … get outta there.  We wanted to get out of the house before they could ask us to sing for someone.

I always hated it when people would ask you to do something, then they’d ignore you, like asking you to sing, then having conversation and laughter with each other like you weren’t there performing for them.

RC) To get so involved in music at that young age, your home environment must have had a lot of music in it.

5 String Banjo

5 String Banjo

Mr. Louvin:
Well, my daddy played a 5 string. That was the first instrument that Ira picked up on.  That’s not too good to sing with.  So, Ira switched off to the guitar.

My mama was an extremely good 4 note singer.  There was probably 100 songs in this book she had, and she knew every one of ‘em, by heart.  She would sing the notes, the fah soh lahs, and then she’d sing the words.

Of course, she sang while cookin’ dinner, cookin’ supper, or washin’ the dishes.   Whatever she was doin’, she was singin’ an old song.

That’s where the Louvin Brother harmony came from, was the 4 note, Sacred Harp singin’s.

That was the style. We grew up in a country setting and at a time where Sacred Harp singin’ was the thing.  Sure, we had singin’ schools where they’d teach it so you could read the music, but we never did that.

Professionals

You know, they call you a professional musician or singer when you start to get paid for it.  We were getting paid a small amount to appear in Knoxville on the Mid-Day Merry-Go-Round at the Saturday night barn dance, for WNOX in Knoxville.

We played a Kentucky date, sometime in 1946.  It was kinda like our Alabama home.  Didn’t have any electricity – just (oil/kerosene) lamps.  It was pretty chilly.  They had a pot-bellied heater in the building we played in.

Swinging Bridge in Kentucky with Coal Miners' Children Crossing

Swinging Bridge in Kentucky with Coal Miners' Children Crossing

We went across one of those, … what cha call it – a swingin’ bridge.   You couldn’t get to the school with an automobile.  You had to park out across the road and walk across this bridge to the school.

We got in there and sang.  Those people were quieter than a church mouse while we were singin’.

So, we finished up there and packed up to leave.  We was goin’ back ‘cross that swingin’ bridge. Then, meetin’ us at the end, comin’ from the other direction were about a half a dozen coal miners.   They still had the coal dust on their face.  Only thing ya could see was a ring around their eyes and their mouths.

They said, “Is it over?”  Ira said, “Yeah. Yeah. We’re finished.”

Kentucky Coal Miners

Kentucky Coal Miners

You could just tell that you might not get across that bridge with your instruments whole, cuz they might stomp on ‘em for ya.

“You know, well, we’d like to hear a couple, three songs.  We’d be glad to pay ya, but we’d like to hear a couple, three songs.”

So, we just laid ‘em down on the ground, took ‘em out of the case, and asked, “What would you like to hear?”

They named the songs that they wanted to hear, and we sung ‘em.  I don’t believe it was more than three songs.  Again, they offered to pay us, but we said, “Naw, that’s just part of the show.”

They left and then we left.

WWII & Korea

RC) You served in WWI, briefly, didn’t you?

Mr. Louvin:

Charlie Monroe Songbook Signed

Charlie Monroe Souvenir Song Book

I got out of the Army Air Force in the later part of 1946. When I got out, Ira was singin’ bass and playin’ the mandolin for Charlie Monroe.

He had a versatile voice.  He could sing Ernest Tubb or Kitty Wells, either one.

So, he quit Charlie, and that’s when we starting singin’ as a duet again.
We were in Knoxville, then.

I was drafted for the Korean War out of Memphis in 1952. Well, I actually got to go over there that time.  Nothin’ happened the first time I was in the military, except trainin’.

Charlie Louvin in Uniform, WWII

Charlie Louvin in Uniform, WWII

I joined the air force in WWII and they made me an auto mechanic!  You never get what you want, you know.

After that, we stayed in Knoxville for awhile.

One day, Ira says to me, “The Monroe Brothers, The Blue Sky Boys, everybody has a lead instrument and then this flat top six string.” He said, “Your gonna have to learn to play the guitar. I’ll show you what chords I know. And you’ll just have to learn the rest of ‘em. I’m gonna get me a mandolin, and that’s the way we’re goin’.”

Anyway, that’s the instrumentation that most duets have. One of the partners will have to play the lead instrument to kick the songs off and turn ‘em around, and stuff like that.

Ira’s Temper

Louvin Brothers

Louvin Brothers

Ira had a hellish temper. If his mandolin got out of tune he’d lose his temper. This started early on in our career.

One day we was doin’ the Mid-Day Merry-Go-Round. Ira’s mandolin got outta tune, and he slung it against the backdrop of the stage, and then he went back there and stomped it.

Lowell Blanchard, the boss, called us in, and told us that he didn’t go for stuff like that, and if it ever happened again, he said, “You don’t have to come see me. You can just go on out that front door.”

Lowell Blanchard

Lowell Blanchard

Well, I knew that it WOULD happen again. So, we started huntin’ for another place.

We went from Knoxville to Greensboro, NC.  Didn’t do too well there.  If it weren’t for my wife, Betty, havin’ a job, we’d have starved to death. We didn’t stay there very long.

A man named Glen Thompson, who lived in Danville, VA, came to our show and offered us a weekly paid job, about $50 each.  So, we went to work for him for a year or so.

Peaked in 1947

Ira Louvin, Eddie Hill, and Charlie Louvin

Ira Louvin, Smilin' Eddie Hill, Charlie Louvin

One morning, we met Smilin’ Eddie Hill, who was good for us, not necessarily good to us, but, definitely, good for us.

Eddie Hill

Smilin' Eddie Hill (HillbillyMusic.com)

He offered us a job that he didn’t even have yet.  He’d gone to Memphis, and convinced them people that he had the best duet in the business and the best band in the business.  He had nothin’, but just talk.

So, only after that did he ask us if we’d come down, … and we did.  And the Louvin Brothers were, I suppose, were the hottest that we ever were when we were in Memphis.  That was 1947.

Eddie stayed there until ’51.  Then Eddie left to come to Nashville, to be a disk jockey – on WSM.  He was the first one that started that all night show on WSM.  So, it kinda interrupted us.

Brief Sag in Momentum in 1951

Then later, we wasn’t doin’ much, music-wise.  I went to barber college, on the government. Ira had moved to Knoxville, where his wife was from.

Post Office Seal Prior to USPS

Post Office Seal Prior to USPS

We were livin’ in Memphis, and I was workin’ at the Post Office.  I asked the Postmaster what would be the chances were of Ira gettin a job at the Post Office.  It was a pretty good payin’ job. He said, “Bring ‘em down.  We’ll make him a postal clerk.”

Ira didn’t have a phone.  So, we drove up to Knoxville, which totaled up to be about 390 miles, one way.  He was workin’ at Cas Walker’s grocery.  He came on back to Memphis with us, and went to work at the post office with me.

RC) Well, what were you doin’ at the post office?

Mr. Louvin:

I was a postal clerk – part time – then I got up to the point where I was runnin’ one of the neighborhood post offices, called the “Hollywood” neighborhood there.

RC) Sounds like you could deliver a man’s mail, fix his car, give him a hair cut, and sing him a song, all at the same time.

Mr. Louvin:

Heh heh. Well, you need a lot of things in life.  You can never center on just one thing, too much.

RC) Did you started doin’ the Grand Ole’ Opry when you got back from the Korean War?

Mr. Louvin:

No.  I got back from the Korean War – I believe you had 30 days to go back to the job you had before.

When I got back, Ira was still workin’ at the Post Office, but Ira couldn’t pass the multiple question thing.  So he was still a temporary clerk.  I found it very easy, myself.  Just common sense would give ya the right answer.  So, I had become a certified civil employee when I got back from Korea.

Birmingham – Almost Ready to Give Up

Ira wanted to go to Birmingham, of all places, … said we could get sponsor money there, like $100 per week.  We didn’t think about the fact that we’d have to hire two musicians to go on the road with us.  So, there went the $100.00 right there.

Birmingham AL

Birmingham, Alabama

We didn’t do well in Birmingham, cuz uh, there was a duet there, Rebe and Rabe, the Gosdin Brothers – one of ‘em was Vern Gosdin’s first cousin.

And they sang nothin’ but Louvin Brother’s songs.  And they was on the same radio station we was on.  And if we had a Capital release at 10 o’clock in the mornin’, they’d listen to it and put it on their 12 o’clock show.

So, when we got there and started singin’, they thought we were impersonating Rebe and Rabe.  And they just burn’dt the country up, and we didn’t do well at all.

RC) Did you get any royalties from their performing your music?

Mr. Louvin:

That was before that was in place.  BMI started in 1945, and we got BMI.  So, if the radio station played it, you got royalties, but if someone sang it live, no one kept up with it back then.

RC) When Rebe and Rabe were singing your songs, did they ever make records with your songs?

Mr. Louvin:

Nah.  They never was on records, but just doing ‘em in person on a 50,000 watt station – well listened to station – you could work a 100 mile radius around Birmingham with that one station.

RC) What happened next?

Mr. Louvin:

Then, things just got way down, completely on the bottom.  We talked about quittin’.

Ken Nelson

Ken Nelson

We’d auditioned no less than a half-a-dozen times for the Grand Ole’ Opry … to Jim Denny.  We thought he was the boss, but it turned out that he was just a stage manager.

Blackwood Brothers 1955

Blackwood Brothers 1955

So, we decided we was goin’ to quit if we couldn’t get on the Opry, and I said, “Well, let me call Ken Nelson.”  He was our A&R man, and our gospel music was seemingly going good – makin’ the label money, and we was getting a few little checks here and there.

We couldn’t play, like, with the Blackwood Brothers.  The only instrument they used was a piano.  So, the gospel people looked at us as if we were a carnival act.

We played those old stringed instruments.  So, we was just right down on the bottom.  So, like I said, was gonna call Ken Nelson before we officially quit.

Finally Booked at the Grand Ole’ Opry

Jack Stapp

Jack Stapp

I called Ken and told him we were going to quit if we couldn’t get on the Opry, and asked him if he knew anybody who could get us on the Opry.  He said, well, I know Jack Stapp.  Jack was really the head then, but we didn’t know that.
Old Rotary Pay Phone

So he said, “Give me your number and I’ll call you back.”  And, I said, “I’m callin ya from a pay phone, but I’ll stay right here until you call back.”

I guarded that pay phone for at least 30 minutes. Then he called back.

He had told Jack Stapp that he had this duet on his label that he’d like to have on the Opry.  And, I don’t know what Jack said, but Ken told him “Well, if you don’t want ‘em, the Ozark Jubilee does.”

Jack said, “Well, now wait a minute.  We don’t need nobody else deserting to Springfield.  Tell ‘em they’re on this Friday.”

Ozark Jubilee Ticket

Ozark Jubilee Ticket

That was on a Tuesday.  So, Ira and I rode a bus to Nashville from Birmingham. My wife went back to Memphis where her folks lived, and Ira’s wife went back to Knoxville.

So, we got there, and we met everybody up at WSM.  That’s when they was back up at 7th and Union in the National Life Accident and Insurance building.  That’s where they did the Friday shows.  Saturdays was at the the Ryman.

Early Ryman Auditorium

Ryman Auditorium

So we met everybody.  Then it came time for us to meet Jim Denny, and, of course, we’d already auditioned for him half-a-dozen times.

We went in and sat, and he’d say to his secretary, “Get me Webb Pierce.”  He’d talk to Web a few minutes.  Then he’d say, “Get me Carl Smith.” He’d talk to him.  “Get me Minnie Pearl.”

Jim Denny

Jim Denny

Finally, of course, Ira always had a short fuse, Ira stood up and said, “Well, Mr. Denny, we’ll see you tonight at the Grand Ole’ Opry.”

Denny kinda looked above his glasses and said, “Boys, you’re in tall timber.  You’d better shit-n-git it.”  Ira said, “We’ve got the saws, Mr. Denny.  Just shows us where the woods are.”  And that really tee’d Denny off.

Exit Stage Left, Denny and Stapp

Carl Smith

Carl Smith

You know Denny ran a publishing company.  If you didn’t record Cedarwoods songs (that was his company), then you didn’t get no dates.

So, it took about a year after we was there – They told him and Jack Stapp – Jack Stapp owned the Tree publishing company, and Denny owned the Cedarwoods, and they informed both of ‘em that they had to divest themselves of their publishing companies or get fired.

Webb Peirce

Webb Pierce

Well, Jack immediately quit because he knew where the money was.  Denny said he didn’t believe they’d fire him. So, he refused to quit. So, they did fire him.

Minnie Pearl (Sarah Ophelia Colley)

Minnie Pearl (Sarah Ophelia Colley)

Little Jimmy Dickens

Little Jimmy Dickens

Denny took Carl Smith, Webb Pierce, Minnie Perl, and Jimmy Dickens with him when he went.  You might have heard of some of the shows he produced for Phillip Morris.

They were free shows to the public.  Whenever he found out that an Opry show was in a town, he’d book that town with a free show to try to hurt the artists.  Hell, the artists hadn’t done nothin’ to him.

RC) What year was that?

Mr. Louvin:

1955.

Gotta Do Some Secular

Later that year, we talked Capital Records into allowing us to do something other than gospel music.  We never quit recording gospel music but we wanted to add secular music.

RC) I read that someone had said something to you along the lines that you couldn’t sell cigarettes with gospel music, if I recall.

Mr. Louvin:

Yeah. Yeah, they had the Prince Albert Grand Ole’ Opry, which was a network show.  They said, “Two gospel songs in a 30 minutes show is all we want.  After all, we’re sellin’ tobacco, you know.”

We were lucky enough a couple of times to get on that show.  We could only sing one gospel song, because the person that was MC’in would sing one of the two.

So, we finally convinced Ken Nelson that we were serious, and our first secular song was When I Stop Dreamin It did extremely well.  It changed the world for the Louvin Brothers.  We had a dozen songs in the top 5 after that.

Alcohol – Ira’s (and the Louvin Brothers’) Undoing

We were doing quite well.  Then Elvis came along.  That hurt country music a lot – it changed all music.  Then, that made my brother drink more.

Finally, in ’63, it got … I just didn’t know how to deal with a drinker, and still don’t today.

If someone came to the Louvin Brothers and said, “When you go to this particular date, you’d better do a good one, because so-and-so is going to be there, and this booker’s going to be there,”  … just as sure as they said that, Ira would drink, and it would turn out to be the worst show we’d ever done.

Then the news got around.  First thing ya know, one promoter would tell another promoter, “If you want to BUY problems, get the Louvin Brothers.”

You know, I don’t know if you have a brother or not, but if you’re in the music business, and you’re a brother team, both of ya gets judged by what either one of you does.  So, it was the Louvin Brothers that was undependable.

It hurt money-wise, and date-wise.  I knew that someone had to leave.  I’ll take credit for that.

Ray Price

Ray Price

I was told 100 times (by Ira), “When we get back off of this trip, I’m out of this rotten business.”  So, finally, on Aug. 18th, 1963, we did a show with Ray Price in Watseka, IL.  He started in talkin’ about quitin’.

And I said, “Well, you’re right.  I’ve never said this (myself), but I’ve heard it (from you) 1000’s of times.  But you’re right.  We’ve just worked the last date we’ll ever work together, because I’m quitting.”  And I did.

The wife and I took my mom and dad to Florida when we got back off of that trip.  We stayed about a week in Florida (they’d never seen Florida).

So, we brought them back home, and we came on back to Nashville.   Then, on a Friday evening, Ira called the house, and said, “What are ya doin’?”  … just as jolly as ever.

I said, “I’m gettin’ ready to go to the Friday night Opry.”

He said, “What time are we on?”

I said, “We’re not on.  I’m on at 8 o’clock, but we are not on.  You remember our last conversation comin’ home?  You said you was quitting, and I said, “You’re right.  We are quitting.”

Ira said, “Awe, you know that was just that old liquor talkin’.”

I said, “Yeah, but in the past 2 or 3 years that’s all I’ve heard, has been the liquor talkin’.”

So, that was that.  It never came to the point where you’d fight on stage, but the tension was more than you would want to put up with.

Ira’s Last Days

RC) Did you ever get to mend the relationship outside of performing?

Mr. Louvin:

He came to the Opry one night.  I was still on, but he’d cussed the booker out, the Opry, Capital records, and anyone connected with the Louvin Brothers.

Monroe 1923 Gibson F-5 Loar Mandolin

Monroe’s 1923 Gibson F-5 Loar Mandolin

Well, Bill Monroe wouldn’t let nobody even touch his mandolin.  If you wanted to see that mandolin, he’d hold it, turn it over and let you see the back of it, maybe, and that’s as close as you’d get to seein’ that mandolin.

But Ernest Tubb said (and, of course, Monroe was standin’ close by), “Why don’t you boys come over?”  Earnest was a get-things-back-together man.

Bill Monroe

Bill Monroe

He said, “Why don’t you come over and do a couple of songs on the midnight jamboree at the record shop?”

And Ira says, “I ain’t got no mandolin.”  And Bill Monroe stepped up and said, “You can use mine.”

Ira and Monroe was pretty good friends.

And so we did.  We went over and did those two songs.

Then we went down to Line Boss, which was a restaurant about 2 to 3 doors from the Ernest Tubb’s record shop on Broadway.

We went down, and Ira carried the mandolin back, and I went with him.

Him and Monroe was talkin’, and Monroe told him what songs he’d like to have Ira sing at his funeral.  Then Ira kinda laughed, and says, “Well this is what I want you to sing at mine.”

Jordanaires in the Early 1960s

Jordanaires in the Early 1960s

Well, when Ira got killed, Monroe was in the Northeast on tour, and he packed it up and came home.   And, he did what Ira had asked him to do, but unfortunately, no one had a tape recorder in the room.  So, it’s just history.

But he didn’t even have his mandolin with him.  He had the Jordanaires to back him, and Marvin Hughes to play the piano.   And Monroe never sounded better in his life, … but, sadly, there’s no record of it.

It was a real bad time.

RC) Well, Mr. Louvin, it sounds like you had just a little bit of a reconciliation with Ira, there at the end.

Mr. Louvin:

Well, I think that he was getting his ducks in a row.  That’s what he needed to do, real bad.

My daddy gave Ira two acres off of the old home place, and Ira got Jim Walters to build him a house on that.

He (Ira) had told his mother that when he got back from Kansas City, he was gettin’ a tent and would start preachin’.

Tragedy in Williamsburg, Missouri

He was told by thousands of people that whiskey was gonna kill him, and anyway you look at it, eventually, it did.

The two people driving the other way were going to Kansas City.  The car Ira was in was leavin’ Kansas City.  At about the 1/2 way mark between Kansas City and St. Louis is a place called Kingdom City, and the little town of Williamsburg is right there.  That’s where the wreck happened.

No doubt, the Good Lord, knew whether he (Ira) would do what he said he’d do (had said to his mama) or not, but He (the Lord) just took him.

RC) Were there other fatalities involved?

Mr. Louvin:

Tragic Car Wreck Scene Where All Were Killed Including Ira Louvin

Tragic Wreck Killed All, Including Ira Louvin

Everybody.  The two folks drivin’ the other car, accordin’ to Missouri law were 9 times drunk.

The other gentlemen drivin’ the car that Ira was in, Mr. Barksdale (it was his car), Barksdale’s wife, and Ira’s wife was all in the car.  Everybody got killed.

But, yes. We had worked one more show together just before he died, because Ira wasn’t doing well financially.  I went to Ider, Alabama, about 5 miles from where I was raised.  He and I did a regular show there.  I just did it to give him all the money. That was the last time we were on the stage together.

Other Memories

From Paul Yandell to Jimmy Capps

Chet Atkins

Chet Atkins

We first had a guitarist named Paul Yandell who was a Chet Atkins worshipper.

When we first got the Opry, you know, Chet had cut all our gospel songs, and he’s the one who played the guitar for “When I Stopped Dreamin'”.

But when he got the executive job with RCA, he didn’t have time to cut sessions for just anybody.  He had about a dozen artists that he was responsible for – so all his time was eat up with that.

So, we found, with the help of a disk jockey from Mayfield, Kentucky, we found Paul Yandell.  Paul worked for us for about 3 years then the draft got him.

Paul Yandell Forever Chet Album Cover

Paul Yandell Album Cover

He decided he would replace himself.  He’d find his own replacement.  So, there was two guys in North Carolina who played all Louvin Brothers music, and they had a guitar player named Jimmy Capps.

So, he contacted Jimmy and said if you’ll be at a certain place on a certain night, the Louvin Brothers are going to do a show there, and I’ll get you an audition, and maybe you’ll get the job.

Jimmy Capps was a straight pick man.  He now works straight pick, and with his fingers, he can make it sound like he’s a thumb style picker.

Anyway, Jim was there.  After the show was over, he lugged his amplifier up to the hotel room, and his guitar.  He set everything up, tuned his guitar.  Everyone was just sitting there.

Jimmy Capps

Jimmy Capps

Paul Yandell’s “cuss” word was “by devil.”  So, he said, “Well, by devil, Jimmy, pick one!”

Jimmy said, “Well, what do you want me to pick.”

Paul said, “Well, uh, Malagueña.”

That was an instrumental that Chet Atkins had out.  Jim kinda looked funny, and he said “You know Paul.  I’ve heard that.  I’ve heard that, but I’ve never tried to play it.”

You could just see the disappointment on Yandell’s face.  You know, like, I got a guy up here who can’t even pick.

And another minute or two passed by with a very uncomfortable silence, and I finally said, “Oh, it’s OK, Jim.  You don’t need to play Malagueña.  Ira and I hardly ever sing that song anyway.”

It became funny, and Capps turned out to be one of the best pickers, as far as I’m concerned, that ever picked up a guitar.  He’s still a member of (or the head of) the Opry staff band.

Opry’s Band Limitations

The Opry has disbanded almost everyone except the guest artists.

I’ve only done one song per show on the Opry since they disbanded.  They have me doing about 1 show per month.  Last year, I only did 10 songs.  I could keep up with that by how much I made off the Opry.

In fact this Saturday night, I’ll be working with Jimmy Capps, because I can only use two people on the Opry.

I used to have a full band, only 4 people, that worked the road with me, and I used them for years and years.  Then about 6 years ago, the Opry manager, Hal Durham, said that I could only use two people.  That was because of a lot of the songs that I do requires harmony.  So, I used those two people to put the harmony with the songs.

For the other part of the band, I used the Opry staff band, which are very good musicians.

It’s hard to keep a band now.  If you can’t use them on the Opry, and if you’re not working the road, then there’s all but two of your men settin’ idle.

I use my bass player, and my son (Sonny) plays flat top.  He’s a good electric player, too, but he doesn’t play country.  He plays jazz and rock.  With country you gotta play melodies.

The Opry sifts it out with the union.  The first evening they work, the staff band gets paid what the normal incoming band gets paid.  All subsequent performances are for half that.

It starts out around $90 for the show for first time around.  Later, it’s only $40 or $45.

By them adding 4 people, they save at least $200 on musicians.  It’s just a money thing.  It’s not that they don’t like your band, and that’s why we’ve got ‘em, to back everyone.

RC) And you’re a regular, not a visiting guest

Mr. Louvin:

Regular right – been there a little over 55 years

The good thing about the Opry is that you don’t have to pack up and move.

There are no clear channel radio stations left in the US.  The Opry is on 65, and I doubt if there are less that 10 or 15 in the US that are exactly on 65.

Country Life VS Country Music – Packaged Shows

RC) What life events took you out of the country into larger cities?  Your childhood was in the country, but it seems show business makes it hard to actually continue living in the settings that inspire the music.

Mr. Louvin:

Red Foley

Red Foley

In the early years we were in small, rural areas … before “packaged shows”, which started in ’56 and ’57.  One of the tours we went on had Red Foley, and Webb Pierce, Red Sovine, and a girl singer, maybe Wanda Jackson, and the Louvin Brothers.  That’s called a package show.

They did so many of those that it made it very hard for a single act to work the large venues, you know.

We did many, even hundreds of shows, just with a mandolin and a guitar, and a Bogen sound system.

Wanda Jackson

Wanda Jackson

The only thing you didn’t buckle up with the Bogen was the mic stand.  It had what is considered the head, and two separated … the top separated, and each side was a speaker.  So, it was about 24 inches square, maybe 30 inches high when it was put back together.

Red Sovine Album Cover

Red Sovine Album Cover

We would do 2-hour shows, just the two of us.  At one time Ira and I could do over 1000 songs and not ever look at a piece of paper.

I still remember almost all the Louvin Brother songs, at least the melodies.  I don’t lose the melodies, but I don’t remember all the words to all of them.  My hard drive, I guess, in my head, is full.  It won’t hold anymore.

Shenanigans on the Road

RC) Heh heh.  So, tell me.  Can you think of the funniest thing that ever happened to you.

Mr. Louvin:

Ira and I had a few fisticuffs – I’m only 5 and 1/2 and he was 6 foot.  He was just so gawky that before he’d could even get in the fight, it was over.  So, we’re comin up the road (we had several of those).  I was drivin’ and Jimmy Capps was ridin’ in the front seat.  Ira had been sleepin’ in the back seat.

Ira setup in the back seat and said, “Pull it over!  Pull it over!”

And we’re out in the middle of corn fields, you know.  And I said, “We’re in the middle of nothin’ here.  What? Do you want to use the bathroom?”

And he said, “No.  No, I don’t want to use bathroom.  I have just figured out a way to whip your ass.”

I just kept drivin’.  Jimmy got tickled.  Then, I got tickled.  Then, a few minutes later, Ira got to laughin’, too, and I never did find out what he’d figured out.  It was never mentioned again.

But if you ask Jimmy Capps what was the funniest thing to ever happen while he was with the Louvin Brothers, which was a long time, he’d probably mention that incident.

RC) So, knowing that your brother now had a secret weapon, did you ever have another fight? ;o)

Mr. Louvin:

<<Laugh>>  Nah.

Loudermilk to Louvin

RC) I know this is a question you’ve probably been asked more often than you’d like, but, you were born Charles Loudermilk.  What made you boys change your names to Louvin?

Mr. Louvin:

Yeah, too many times, but …

RC) I’m sorry.  We can skip that one.

Mr. Louvin:

Nah.  That’s alright.  We were born Loudermilk, but at school, I always kept a scab on my nose and a few other places from being called clabber milk, butter milk, sour milk, and, uh, that would start a fight every time.   I lost several, and I won a few.

But, when we got in the music business it seemed like no one could say, let alone spell Loudermilk.  It’s the simplest name in the world.  If you could holler “louder” and put “milk” on the end of it, you had it.

But, anyway, we thought, well, everyone else is takin’ stage names.  So, we took the first 3 letters of our real name, “Lou”, and put a “vin” on it.  The “Vin” wasn’t significant or nothin’.  I really don’t know where the name came from, originally.

RC) You actually changed your name legally eventually didn’t ya.

Mr. Louvin:

Yeah we went to court and had it changed, because the publishers said somebody might show up and say their name was Louvin and take all the songs you got.  If you’re gonna use that name you ought ta make it legal.

RC) If you don’t mind me askin’, Were your parents still alive?  Did it bother ‘em a little that you changed your last name?

Mr. Louvin: Well it probably did bother them some.

RC) Well, I guess that’s just somethin’ most folks in show business have to deal with.

Mr. Louvin:

Jukebox

1950

Well, my daddy would go into a cafe, there, when Ira and I was pretty hot.  He’d go over to the jukebox, and drop a quarter in, play a couple of Louvin Brother songs, and he’d say to the people in the restaurant, “They’re my boys, ya know.”  And the people in the restaurant would say (disbelieving), “Yeah.  We know.  They’re our boys, too.”

Yeah. So, I’m sure it didn’t do him any good, but I think he understood.

Long Life

My daddy left in 1983.  He was 84 years old, when he passed away. My mother lived until she was 96 years old.

RC) Well, that portends well for you.

Mr. Louvin:

Well my grandmaw on my daddy’s side, she lived to be 106.

RC) Wow!  Well, I hope you’re with us that long!

Mr. Louvin:

Although, I’m 82 now (since last July), I really hope I can make 100.

RC) Well, you seem to be as sharp as any 65 year old.

Mr. Louvin:

Well, as long as I know my friends, can feed and dress myself.  Then, that’s livin’.

When you get to where you can’t remember your friends, and start to depend on others to take care of ya – that’s not livin’.

Thank You!

RC) <<lots of thanks>> You’ve been a huge blessing to us, Mr. Louvin.

Mr. Louvin:

When it comes to blessings, I’ve been blessed in several different ways.  I’ve got the same little girl that I married in September 18th, 1949, 60 years, and I’m healthy.

— End

This post was submitted by Charlie Louvin.

9 thoughts on “Country Music Hall of Famer, Charlie Louvin, Takes Us from 1927 to 2010

  1. My oldest brother played steel guitar in a night club somewhere on Lookout Mountain when the Louvin Brothers sang there every Saturday night, I was a small girl. Bobby also played with a band that went to the grand old opry we have a picture of him on the opry!

  2. I am sorry to learn that Charlie has passed. I grew up with gospel music and started singing in the choir at the age of 3 (wasn’t very good but I learned). My baby sister used to sing “Amazing Grace, how sweet I sound”. LOL. I started listening to the Louvin Brothers years ago and fell in love with their style and sound. I truly wish that there were more singers like them now. I still sing some of their songs and get great accolades when I do. Thank you, Charlie and Ira, for your influence on me and country, gospel, and bluegrass music. You will be greatly missed (and probably forgotten by anyone that doesn’t appreciate “true” harmony and talent) by myself and the music world.

  3. I,am so sorry to have lost another of our great country music LEGENDS , which Charlie Louvin was. I saw his last performance on the Marty Stuart Show which was taped on December the 26th of 2010. I love you Charlie and you will live on forever through your music and through people like me.

  4. I grew up in Mi. But, I am a country girl at heart. (Age 70 this yr.) I have enjoyed Gospial music all my life. My dads cousins “The Holbrooks”, were gospal singers. I could listen to gospal music all day. I do remember The Louvin Bros. I have heard them on the radio and seen them onthe Grand old oprey. Their kind of music will live on in our hearts for a live time. Thank you

  5. Pingback: Thank You, Charlie. So Long. Tell Ira We Said “Hi.” | Lament For A Straight Line

  6. Hi…

    I am mostly a blues/jazz/soul fan but just love the Louvin Brothers. Those two guys were blessed with talent that is very very VERY rare. So many singers of whatever genre make a point of saying how influential they were and are to their style of singing.

    Spine tingling, make the world stop type music!

    And I loved your interview with Charlie. I hope he understands that the world loves him.

  7. Pingback: Kentucky Flavored Indie Films to Produce Documentary Short on Charlie Louvin | Raised Country!

  8. I am the widow of Eldridge Loudermilk who is a descendant of George Washington Loudermilk of Cherokee County, N.C. and a distant cousin of Charlie LOUDERMILK Louvin who is also a descendant of George Washington Loudermilk. Eldridge and I grew up in Murphy (Cherokee County) North Carolina. We moved to Alabama in 1955 and I now live, Lakeside, in Guntersville, Alabama. I have met Charlie, his mother and his Uncle, George Washington Loudermilk at Charlie’s homeplace near Henegar,Alabama when Charlie put on shows at his old homeplace.

    My prayers are with you Charlie. As a Cancer Survivor, I can truly say that ‘I HAVE BEEN THERE AND DONE THAT”.

    GOD BLESS YOU AND YOUR FAMILY.

    Bobbie Trull Loudermilk

  9. Fine interview–hated for it to end. I’m a big Gram Parsons fan and now understand that connection even better.Thanks for caring about these important musicians!!!

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