The Louvin Brothers brought their close, tight harmonies from the world of Gospel music into country and then into early rock ‘n’ roll and today’s pop music. Their sound can be heard in the Everly Brothers, the Beatles, and on and on.
Charlie Louvin, 83, the country singer and Grand Old Opry performer who, as half of the duo The Louvin Brothers, influenced such later performers as the Everly Brothers died at his home in Warface, Tenn. from complications of pancreatic cancer.
The Louvin Brothers songs were later covered by such diverse performers as Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Elvis Costello and the Byrds,
The brothers were renown for both gospel songs and so-called heart songs and tearjerkers such as “If I Could Only Win Your Love,” later recorded by Emmylou Harris.
They also updated many traditional — and very morbid — folk songs such as “In The Pines” and “Knoxville Girl” which were both included on their 1956 early concept album for Capitol, “The Tragic Songs of Life.”
The Louvin Brothers’ style evolved from the popular close harmony brother duos of the 1930s such as the Delmore Brothers, the Monroe Brothers and the Blue Sky Boys (Jim and Earl Bolick).
While the duo preserved the singing style of the earlier groups, they made it popular for 1950s audiences by adding electric guitar solos, many by a young Chet Atkins, and a driving beat from an upright bass. Ira Louvin’s mandolin work also gave the duo a connection to the then evolving bluegrass genre.
After the duo disbanded in 1963, Mr. Louvin continued to record as a soloist and was a regular on the Grand Ole Opry into the next decade including a number one hit in 1966, “See The Big Man Cry. ” Mr. Louvin’s brother Ira had a much shorter solo career. He died in a car accident while touring in 1965.
As interest in the early Louvin Brothers material increased, Mr. Louvin had a recent resurgence in activity with performances at rock clubs and bluegrass festivals.
The thing is, I met Charlie Louvin. He took me and a friend of mine, Tom Wilmeth–who wrote a book about the Louvin Brothers and who turned me on to this kind of music–back stage of the Grand Ol’ Opry. Here I also met Bill Monroe and hung out in his dressing room. I watched the curtains rise from the performer’s point of view for the second show. This was a highlight of my musical experience, one of those odd and interesting things I’ve managed to do in the course of my life.
Here is a video of a performance. Their songs, including their Gospel music, were generally dark. This one is a little different. Charlie is the short one. (If you don’t see the video on your browser, hit “comments” and you should.)
UPDATE: Their vocal influence was to harmonize with two tenor voices, just a few notes apart, rather than the usual high voice with lower voices. Their kind of harmony can be heard in the Everly Brothers, the Beatles, the Byrds, etc., etc., etc.