Feb 10 2011
Louvin Brothers - living in close harmony?
European view on the strange ways country music goes
Charles and Ira were born as Charles and Ira Loudermilk. Their father Colonel (his real name) Loudermilk had German ancestors and their mothers name was Georgiana Wooten; Georgiana’s father’s family (the Haynes) was quite prominent around Sand Mountain Alabama for their Sacred Harp singing. Born in 1924/1927 the brothers got their musical education by real singing people (not dics, youtube or facebook), although radio soon played an ever increasing role. Greatgrandmother Haines had 14 children who could make up a perfect choir on their own. They all lived in the same region (30 miles afar at most). Sacred Harp or shape note singing was both familiar in the Haines and the Wooten family although the boys never took part. Anpther influence were English parlor songs. These play a more important role in Alabama than in Kentucky or the Appalachians. Even more important were gospel tunes, also known as seven notes singing or ‘new book’-singing (in comparison to the four note singing of the Sacred Harp songbook). What they couldn’t sing themselves was bought by their father, who was a modest record collector: Delmore Brothers and Blue Sky Boys had the greatest impact on the boys.
Religion versus commerce
Their first gig was in 1940 and Ira got his first mandolin with 19. From then on they were bound for a singing career although they kept their day job in a cotton mill for quite a while. Since the gospel reigned heavy in the Loudermilk family the Louvins (they changed their name later) started singing in church. A family that prays together could never fail, so their mother had said. Ira often thought of himself more as a preacher than a singer.
But christian life is not that simple: Their tour through Alabamas churches was well paid. They couldn’t sell tickets for the service but it was common to pass a hat around for a so-called ‘love offering’. 200$ was what they collect on one evening and that was quite a lot compared to their father wage: singing was profitable. When they had their first job at the Nashville Opry they played 15 minutes for a tobacco company. Since the company thought that religious songs would not fit to their more worldly image the Louvins could only play one and had to fill their program with other songs. This compromising didn’t keep Ira away from insulting Elvis playing not only religious songs but trash once they were on tour together.
Ira was a father at the tender age of 17 and a grandfather with 31. He was married four times and had more women in between or during his marriages. I don’t mention this as a moral offence. It just sounds strange to me how a -family-that-prays-together-man could act this way and be confinced of his righteousness at the same time. His wifes had good reasons to leave him: he was bad tempered, brutal and a real pain in the ass in general. Once he tried to kil his wife by strangling her with a telephone rope. She could grab a pistol and shot him five times. Three bullets couldn’t be removed - they were too close to his spine. So he to live with them. Charles reports that because of his behaviour he couldn’t stay with Ira in the same hotel while they were on tour. So each evening he got a call for rescur from either Ira or his wife: Please come immediately. I’m in the bathroom and he/she wants to come in and kill me. On stage he often exploded, threw things around, destroyed his mandolin. Musicians of heir band were threatend by Ira at gunpoint. Another irritating point was that this preacher was a heavy drinker throughout his whole lifetime.
All in all this behaviour was reason enough that Ira and Charles split in 1963.
Ira versus Charles
On German Wikipedia not one word is mentioned of these habits and for a while I thought that only Ira was a bit strange. But when I read that Charles has some quite reactionary ideas too my view on these mellow singing brothers has been disturbed ever more: Welfare will be the ruin of the state, Criminals should be ‘fried’, scrub pine trees are called ‘nigger pines’. he likes guns and hates long hair. (”If you read the Goods Book (not my spelling) it says that long hair on man is an abomination”)