The Louvin Brothers Biography

Brothers Lonnie Ira Loudermilk (21 April 1924, d. 20 June 1965, nr. Williamsburg, Missouri, USA) and Charlie Elzer Loudermilk (b. 7 July 1927) were both born in Rainsville, Alabama, USA. They were raised on a 40-acre farm in Henegar, Alabama, but only half of it could be cultivated. Despite their poverty, their parents sang gospel songs and encouraged their sons’ musical talents. Ira took up the mandolin and Charlie the guitar, and they created perfect harmonies for country and gospel music, inspired, in particular, by the Blue Sky Boys. In 1943, after winning a talent contest in Chattanooga, they began broadcasting regularly, leading to three shows a day for WMPS in Memphis. They recorded for Decca Records, MGM Records and Capitol Records, but they found it hard to make ends meet and worked night shifts in the Post Office. Some radio broadcasts to promote a songbook, Songs That Tell A Story, were later released and show the Louvin Brothers at their best, with no additional instruments. Their career was also interrupted by Charlie’s military service in Korea (their ‘Weapon Of Prayer’ was an emotional plea for peace). They performed as the Louvin Brothers because the family name was considered too long for stage work, although their cousin, John D. Loudermilk, was to have no such qualms.

Capitol re-signed the brothers as gospel artists but a tobacco company sponsoring a portion of the Grand Ole Opry told them to sing secular songs as ‘you can’t sell tobacco with gospel music’. They crossed over to the country market in 1955 with their own composition ‘When I Stop Dreaming’, which is now a standard. Their secular US country hits included ‘I Don’t Believe You’ve Met My Baby’ (1956, their only number 1), ‘Hoping That You’re Hoping’, ‘You’re Running Wild’/‘Cash On The Barrelhead’ and ‘My Baby’s Gone’, but Charlie says, ‘I don’t think we ever did a show without some gospel music. Our mother would have thrashed us if we hadn’t done that!’.

By the late 50s, their sound was old-fashioned and their songs too melodramatic for the rock ‘n’ roll era. The Everly Brothers, who acknowledged their debt to the Louvins, may also have contributed unwittingly to their downfall. Charlie says, ‘Ken Nelson told Ira, in 1958, that the mandolin was hindering the sales of our music, so my brother lost total interest in the mandolin and never picked another note on it on a record. He had put 25 years of his life into mastering that instrument, and it messed his head to hear a good friend whose opinion he respected say, “You’re the problem, you’ve got to throw that thing away”.’ Ira’s drink problem worsened, their own relationship deteriorated and their last success together was, ironically, ‘Must You Throw Dirt In My Face?’. Charlie broke up the partnership on 18 August 1963: ‘He had said a lot of times he was going to quit, but it was the first time I had ever said it.’

Charlie went on to have solo hits with ‘I Don’t Love You Anymore’ and ‘See The Big Man Cry’. Ira started his solo career with ‘Yodel Sweet Molly’ but he was shot and badly injured by his third wife, Faye, whom he then divorced. He then married Florence, who sang on his shows as Anne Young, but soon afterwards they both perished in a car crash in Missouri, USA, on 20 June 1965. Ira and Bill Monroe had pledged that whoever lived the longest would sing at the other’s funeral, and Monroe sang ‘Where No One Stands Alone’. Gram Parsons introduced their songs to a new audience, recording ‘The Christian Life’ with the Byrds, and ‘Cash On The Barrelhead’ and ‘The Angels Rejoiced In Heaven Last Night’ with Emmylou Harris. After Parsons’ death, Harris continued recording their songs: ‘If I Could Only Win Your Love’, ‘When I Stop Dreaming’, ‘You’re Learning’ and, with Don Everly, ‘Everytime You Leave’. Charlie Louvin had a country hit with ‘You’re My Wife, She’s My Woman’ and made two successful albums with Melba Montgomery. A single, ‘Love Don’t Care’ with Emmylou Harris, made the US country charts. The Louvin Brothers were elected to the Country Music Hall Of Fame in 2001.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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