The tempestuous history of country music’s Louvin Brothers, recalled by the younger musical sibling.
Ira and Charlie Louvin were the last of the great harmony duos; in the ’50s they launched a string of songs up the country charts and starred on Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry. Here, Charlie (1927–2011) recounts the twosome’s rise from hardscrabble beginnings in Alabama’s cotton country to national fame. Basically self-taught, the brothers were reared on church singing before they launched an uphill professional career in the ’40s. Louvin maps the pair’s arduous journey through small-town radio gigs and endless regional touring, with flavorful, often profanely sketched observations about the hardships of making it on the road as a rising country act. Major music publisher Fred Rose took the Louvins under his wing, but after a pair of failed record deals, the brothers were ready to pack it in when they were signed to Capitol Records in the early ’50s. Starting in gospel, they reached the top with secular hits like “When I Start Dreaming” and classic albums like Tragic Songs of Life. The second half of the book focuses on reckless elder brother Ira, a pugnacious, womanizing alcoholic whose violence led his third wife to shoot him six times (he survived). In the face of Ira’s escalating madness, Charlie finally broke up the act in the early ’60s, and Ira was killed in a 1965 road accident. Charlie never manages to put his finger on what drove his brother to such heights of destructive behavior, but he still paints a chilling portrait of a brilliant musician intent on self-annihilation. Along the way, he offers entertaining cameo renderings of such stars as Elvis Presley, Roy Acuff, Johnny Cash, Bill Monroe, George Jones and Kris Kristofferson. The self-effacing Louvin dispenses with his solo work and latter-day career revival in a couple of brief chapters. Deep analysis is not his strong suit, but his amusing, prickly voice animates the book.
An engaging look at a now-distant piece of country-music history.