Nope – not a typo! The Louvin Brothers were an American musical duo composed of brothers Ira (the taller of the two) and Charlie Louvin who performed secular country music, as well as fire and brimstone Gospel. The album cover shown above is for the latter. Designed by Ira Louvin, the cover features the brothers standing in a rock quarry in front of a 12-foot-tall plywood rendition of the Devil as several hidden tires soaked in kerosene burn behind them as fire and brimstone.
Don’t be fooled by the slightly crazy album cover. The Louvin Brothers created some of the sweetest and most soulful close harmonies in Country music during the 1950’s & 60’s. There’s a purity and simplicity to their work that is still valid today.
As so often, the truth that lay behind the success of the duo was at odds with their public image. Ira Louvin was notorious for his drinking, womanising, and volcanic temper. He was married four times; his third wife Faye shot him four times in the chest and twice in the hand after he allegedly tried to strangle her with a telephone cord. Although seriously injured, he survived. The brothers broke up in 1963 due in large part to Charlie growing tired of Ira’s addictions and reckless behavior. Ira died in a traffic accident in 1965. They were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame ( which we shall be visiting on the upcoming Tour) in 2001, and Charlie died of cancer in 2011.
Here they are knocking out a version of The Knoxville Girl (derived from a 19th-century Irish ballad, itself derived from the earlier 17th-century English ballad).
To get a feel for how they looked, as well as sounded, here’s a live TV version of the brothers performing “I don’t believe you’ve met my baby” introduced by the great Ernest Tubbs. It’s not easy imaging Ira as a hellraiser – there’s nowt so queer as folk!
By the way – the title of this blog page relates to a tribute album “Livin’, Lovin’, Losin’: Songs of the Louvin Brothers” released in 2003. It features artists as diverse as Glen Campbell, Johnny Cash, James Taylor, Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, Vince Gill, Merle Haggard, Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton. Well worth a listen.