Personalities | The Louvin Brothers | War Years | Country
The Louvin Brothers followed in the footsteps of The Blue Sky Boys, one of the most influential close-harmony groups of the 1940s, and they paved the way for The Everly Brothers, kings of the 1950s and 1960s brother harmony duos.
Though The Louvin Brothers’ commercial heyday was a relatively brief half-decade in the 1950s, their powerful, definitive harmonies have had a profound influence on several generations of younger artists.
The Radio Twins
Brothers Ira Lonnie (1924–65) and Charlie Elzer Loudermilk (b. 1927) began life in rural poverty on a farm near Section, Alabama, and began singing together as children. They steeped themselves in the close-harmony style they heard on the records of early brother harmony duos: The Delmore Brothers (also from Alabama), The Monroe Brothers (Bill and Charlie) and The Blue Sky Boys. While both learned guitar, Ira also took up mandolin so they could recreate the guitar-mandolin interplay they thrilled to on these records.
After performing as teenagers in their home region, they moved on to Chattanooga, Tennessee, and in 1942 began performing on a Knoxville radio station with The Foggy Mountain Boys, calling themselves The Radio Twins.
Charlie joined the army in 1945, and for a while Ira worked with Charlie Monroe until the following year when the brothers got back together and began calling themselves The Louvin Brothers. In the late 1940s, they worked at radio stations and at other venues in and around Knoxville, Tennessee. The brothers made their earliest recordings for the Apollo, Decca and MGM labels, though their musical activities were limited by Charlie’s military service, which included a stint in Korea.
The brothers joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1955. After recording for various labels with sporadic success in the late 1940s and early 1950s, their commercial heyday came in the mid to late 1950s on Capitol Records. It was during this period that they released definitive harmony hits such as ‘When I Stop Dreaming’ (1955), ‘I Don’t Believe You’ve Met My Baby’ (1956) and ‘You’re Running Wild’ (1956).
Many of their releases from this vintage period were boldly retrospective in terms of style. Marked by high-lonesome vocal harmonies, Ira’s mandolin solos and often no drums, they were more reminiscent of country music of the 1930s than either the honky-tonk or rockabilly styles that were all the rage in Nashville at that time.
By the late 1950s, The Louvin Brothers’ popularity and creative inspiration had begun to wane, and the always-tempestuous Ira’s behaviour became even more temperamental. They had their final Top 10 chart hit with ‘My Baby’s Gone’ in 1959. Ira and Charlie parted ways to pursue respective solo careers in 1963. Ira completed a solo album, The Unforgettable Ira Louvin, in 1964. The following year he was killed – along with his wife and two associates – in a traffic accident in Missouri.
Charlie has continued to record (for Capitol, United Artists, Little Darlin’ and other labels) and...
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