Harmony singing was nothing new in country music, nor was the brother duet. The Blue Sky Boys and the Delmore Brothers were two of the biggest acts of the 1930s. There was something unique, however, about the Louvin Brothers; namely, the tenor voice of elder brother Ira. It is no exaggeration to say the Louvin Brothers perfected close harmony. It is also no lie to say they were often imitated but never duplicated.
Charlie Louvin died today (1/26) of complications due to pancreatic cancer.
Charlie at the Midnite Jamboree in Nashville,
November 2010, one of his final appearances
There have been ebbs and flows in the career of Charlie Louvin, from the "wrong place at the wrong time" that seemed to plague the Louvin Brothers' career throughout the 1940s and early 50s to the #1 hit "I Don't Believe You've Met My Baby" and the reign as America's favorite country music duo; from the early 70s when the "Contrypolitan" sound left Louvin and scores of other traditional country singers behind to the Grammy award for the Louvin Brothers tribute album, Livin', Lovin', Losin': Songs of the Louvin Brothers in 2004. Although, as Charlie once said, his solo career actually had better sales than the Louvin Brothers' records, it is the Louvin Brothers' material that is fondly remembered and covered by everyone from bluegrass ("I Have Found a Way" on Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver's Kept & Protected) to country (Emmylou Harris' first top ten hit, "If I Could Only Win Your Love") to rock (Elvis Costello's rendition of "Must You Throw Dirt in My Face" on Kojak Variety). The 2005 book 1,001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die includes the landmark 1956 Louvin Brothers album Tragic Songs of Life among the list of mostly rock recordings.
Last June, shortly before his birthday, Louvin was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He was given a dim prognosis ("six weeks to live," Louvin remarked later); further, a Whipple procedure performed in August was unsuccessful. Louvin commented, "I don't know what else they'll try, but whatever it is I'm sure it'll be painful."
In September Louvin hosted the Midnite Jamboree. The show was a 61st wedding anniversary celebration for Louvin and his wife, Betty. At that show, Louvin was so exhausted he could not stand up or sing. Just two months later, however, when Louvin again hosted the Midnite Jamboree, he sang and stood throughout the 90-minute show. At the show he said the doctors had pronounced him "clean as a whistle" from his cancer and commented he had started to regain his appetite and some of the 40 pounds he had lost during the battle.
However, after the first of the year Louvin's condition took a sudden, dramatic turn for the worse. He was briefly hospitalized where he discovered the cancer had returned in all its fury. According to son Sonny (Charlie Jr.), Louvin gave up interest in singing, telling his son, "I'm tired. I just want to go home." Wednesday morning at approximately 1:00 a.m. central time, he got his wish.
You may teach all the raindrops to return to the clouds
But you can't teach my heart to forget.
(Louvin Brothers, "When I Stop Dreaming")
Charlie Louvin was 83.