Charlie Louvin, who inspired generations of musicians as one-half of country music’s The Louvin Brothers, has died of pancreatic cancer. He was 83.
Together with brother Ira (who died in 1965), Charlie Louvin created some of the most haunting music ever committed to record—tales steeped in fire-and-brimstone biblical verse, apocalyptic visions, and murderous acts of passion, all delivered in gorgeous, keening lead vocals from guitarist Charlie while Ira joined in with mandolin and his own reedy tenor. We could go on and on about The Louvin Brothers’ unique black magic, but as it turns out, our own Nathan Rabin wrote extensively on them back in 2009, and his trip through their life and life’s work is well worth visiting if you’re unfamiliar, or even revisiting if you are. Here are a couple of tunes to get you started.
After Ira’s death, Charlie continued to perform solo and grew into his role as an elder statesman—not only to the country musicians who shared the stage with him at the Grand Ole Opry, but also to crossover country-rock artists who drew influence from The Louvin Brothers’ sound, like Emmylou Harris, The Byrds, and Gram Parsons. That legacy only grew over the years as succeeding generations discovered his music, and in 2007 Louvin met his new, younger fanbase head-on by staging a comeback, performing at Bonnaroo and releasing a self-titled disc that found him pairing up with people like Elvis Costello, Jeff Tweedy, Will Oldham, Superchunk’s Mac McCaughan, and Clem Snide on a set of Louvin Brothers classics. It also featured a new original song Charlie wrote—a loving tribute to his departed brother called "Ira."
Louvin followed that with 2008’s Ships To Heaven, a gospel record that featured him singing live backed by a choir. His last completed album was that year’s Sings Murder Ballads And Disaster Songs—an appropriate title for one of the premier purveyors of beautiful tragedy in the history of music. Louvin released his final recording, the single “Back When We Were Young,” in 2010.