Charlie Louvin – A Country Legend Dies

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Yesterday morning I got up at 5am and poured myself a cuppa, sat down and booted up the computer machine. Like millions of others I started my journey on Facebook. Then I saw at the lower right of my screen I saw someone initiating a chat with me. It was Blake Judd. All it said was “Charlie Louvin passed this morning.”

I had heard this before. Earlier this month rumors were spreading that Louvin has finally succumbed to the pancreatic cancer which he was diagnosed with last July. In his typical style Louvin had vowed to fight it and even after he had undergone unsuccessful surgery to remove the tumor he continued to schedule performances and even put out an album “The Battle Rages On,” a collection of war songs. On January 14th Louvin had taken to Twitter to announce “I just wanted to clear up a vicious rumor..I’m very much alive. At home resting, getting stronger each day!”

But this time was different. Blake Judd  wasn’t just some rumor monger. Blake Judd, from Judd Films, based in Kentucky, has been co-directing a non-profit film about Charlie Louvin that was being made to help Louvin with his medical bills. George Jones, John McCrea of CAKE, Marty Stuart, and Alison Krauss have been so kind as to appear in the film.

Blake had contacted me earlier this week to ask to use a video I had made of Louvin and Billy Bob Thorton singing  The Knoxville Girl at Nashville’s Cannery during the 2008 Americana Music Conference and Festival. It was an honor to be a part of this undertaking, of course I agreed.

I did a quick Google news search but nothing had been announced. But I trusted the source and posted the sad news on my twitter account. I knew this was just the thing my followers would want to know. I also posted it on the Twang Nation Facebook page and in a case of classic Internet age sourcing a post comment was added to the post from No Depression’s Kim Ruehl that his Wikipedia page still had him listed as alive. She was right, I was becoming uncertian.

An hour later that had changed. 1/26 had been added as the date of death on Wikipedia.But the I noticed an astonishing thing was happening on Twiiter. Charlie Louvin was a trending topic. Now trending topics on Twitter can be a great bottom-up source of news, like in the suicide bombing at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport , but more often than not the trending topics are a source of stupid jokes gone viral. But there it was , Charlie Louvin’s death had gone viral.

It was a fine send off for a man that made it big, along with his brother Ira, as the Louvin brothers. The groups were innovators of the close-harmony style that influenced The Everly Brothers and, then later, Simon & Garfunkel, The Beatles, Gram Parson’s version of The Byrds and The Beach Boys. Ira was notorious for drinking and reckless behavior leading Charlie Louvin to fire his brother. The next year, after a period of sobriety, Ira was killed when a drunk driver struck his car.

Louvin’s later career resurgence, Like many legends of country music, didn’t come from Music City but came from the Americana community. While covering the Louvin Brothers cold war testament “The Great Atomic Power” live Uncle Tupelo caught the eye of Peter Buck, guitarist for R.E.M., who saw the pioneers perform at the 40 Watt Club in Athens, Georgia. Buck offered to produce their next album. The album March 16-20, 1992 on Buck’s Rockville Records and contained The Great Atomic Power with an abbreviated title.

In 2006 New York’s Tompkins Square Records released disc of classics containing one new song, a tribute to Ira, and a gospel album on Tompkins Square Records. The songs pair Louvin with other singers, such as George Jones, Jeff Tweedy of Uncle Tupelo and Wilco, Alex McManus of Bright Eyes and Elvis Costello.

Here’s to a great man that stayed true to his art and vision.

Charlie Louvin, Country Singer, Dies at 83 (New York Times)

Charlie Louvin, Country Hall Of Fame Singer, Has Died (NPR)

Neko Case’s 2005 interview with Charlie Louvin (Fretboard Journal)

Charlie Louvin – Magic Songs of Life (No Depression – Peter Blackstock)

Charlie Louvin Daytrotter Session

Billy Bob Thorton’s a Baby

I saw Billy Bob Thorton and his group the Boxmasters perform in Nashville last year as part of the Americana Music Association conference last year. The band played the big room downstairs at the cannery. My expectations were low. I figured a Hollywood star’s vanity project would just end up as Dogstar 2.0. But hell it’s Billy Bob Thorton and except for her uncle, Chip Taylor – who also performed at the AMA, her ex-husband was as close as I would get to Angelina Jolie.

I hadn’t heard the Boxmasters before they played and I was surprised how good they were. The band was tight and Billy Bob knew how to work the crowd (though his vocals were serviceable at best.) The identical outfits, Buddy Holly horn rims (except for Billy Bob) and black suits (were are the aliens or the dry toast?) were a bit silly but hell, if the early incarnation of the Beatles and many Grand ‘Ol Opry performers dressed in what comes doen to uniforms it’s okay with me.

The near the end of the Cannery show Billy Bob shocked me. He invited the legendsry country tenor Charlie Louvin onstage with him and, lyrics in hand and nerve in  his voice sang the great Appalachian murder ballad Knoxville Girl made famous by Charlie and his brother Ira in 1956.  That took guts.

Then the recent dust up in Canada. The Boxmasters (now featuring the awesome Unknown Hinson performing in the band under the name Danny Baker) were in the Great White North opening for Willie Nelson for a string of dates and were schedules

Apparently there was a some agreement with the Canadian radio station program the Q not to bring up Thorton’s acting career in an introduction before a band interview. Besides the diva-like behavior this represents the station did agree. Then the interviewer Jian Ghomeshi proceeded to bring up Thorton’s acting career. Thorton then proceeded to act like a pissy, spoiled 5 year old and give glib and non-sequiter answers, to the confusion of Ghomeshi (who probably thought that revealing Thorton’s apparently secret  acting career couldn’t be the cause of such ridiculous behavior) and the embarrassment of his band who had to intervene and pick up his slack.

The next night Mr. Thornton drew a round of boos at a concert in Toronto’s Massey Hall after Thorton called Ghomeshi an “asshole” on stage and compared Canadian fans to mashed potatoes with no gravy. The band went on to cancel the last two shows on the Canadian leg of their tour with Willie Nelson which the Boxmaster’s web site is contributed to a band member and several crew members having the flu.

You can watch the whole tragic incident below.


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