Passings: Charlie Louvin

It’s been a sad day as I note the passing of the great Charlie Louvin, singer and songwriter. Charlie and his brother, Ira, were The Louvin Brothers, of course, who recorded and performed some of country music’s most-beautiful songs, including the song that inspired the name of this blog.

The Louvin Brothers story deserves a screenplay. Ira had a temper and a problem with alcohol, but wrote sincere and inspirational country gospel standards, very possibly aware that the sinner he often sang about was himself. He died, with his wife, in a car accident in 1965. Charlie, who began singing with his brother very early in life, then mourned Ira for the rest of his life.

One day a few years ago, I read somewhere that it was Charlie’s birthday, so I found his website and posted a happy birthday greeting. I was then floored the next morning to find a response from him — a single paragraph of lowercase text, just the way I’d expect an 80-year-old to type an e-mail. I’d mentioned that my Dad and I both loved his music, and he responded again, saying that we should stop by the Louvin Brothers museum the next time we were in Nashville. We never made it down, but I always anticipated spending an afternoon talking with him and his music.

I did meet him in person one time, after a performance. I thanked him for writing and recording so many great songs and I’m sure I blabbered a bit, being in the presence of someone I consider a legend. “I’m awful sorry about how we sounded up there tonight,” he replied, with apparently typical humility, “I couldn’t get my voice warmed up.” I told him he would never have to apologize to me, but he just shook his head and signed a poster for me. I think he really felt bad about his performance.

A telling quote concludes Charlie’s obituary in this morning’s New York Times: “When it comes time for the harmonies to come in, I will move to my left because my brother and I always used to use one microphone,” he said of performing solo. “Even today, I will move over to the left to give the harmony room, knowing in my mind that there’s no harmony standing on my right.”

“I know you’re up there singing with the angels,” Charlie sang in a song he wrote for Ira on a 2007 album. If there’s any joy in today’s loss, it’s the thought that once again, those two heavenly voices are harmonizing again, with Charlie to Ira’s left.

RIP Mr. Louvin.

Charlie Louvin – “Ira” video:

The Louvin Brothers – “I Don’t Believe You’ve Met My Baby”

The Louvin Brothers – “I Can’t Keep You In Love With Me”