The Undeniable Influence of Charlie Louvin
On February 22, 1956, Elvis Presley played a concert at the City Auditorium in Waycross, GA. Opening for Elvis that night were two brothers, Charlie and Ira, a gospel duo called The Louvin Brothers. In the crowd was a 9-year-old boy, a native of Georgia, born and raised in Waycross. How that boy felt about Elvis that night is uncertain, but The Louvin Brothers left an indelible mark on him that he would carry for the rest of his life.
That 9-year-old boy had a somewhat troubled youth and ended up in a boarding school, but eventually he got straightened out enough to attend Harvard University. Years later on the back of a hotel message pad dated March 8, 1969, he wrote to an old boarding school buddy who had requested of him an essential list of music, “Any Louvin Brothers record will do.”
After Harvard that same boy ended up on the West Coast, eventually hooking up with a traditionally psychedelic band as a salaried keyboard player. Once in the band, he began asserting his Southern influence and taste, eventually compelling them to completely change their direction and sound to a country feel, to record their next album in Nashville instead of LA, include a Louvin Brothers song on that album, and even play the Grand Ole Opry.
Even though that kid from Waycross, GA never became a huge superstar, his influence on music could still be felt on a national level, and it crossed genres. He became good friends with Keith Richards and Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones, and heavily influenced the sound on albums like Let It Bleed and Sticky Fingers. Now with a little money in his pocket, its said he paid people to scour the record stores of LA, looking for rare, out-of-print Louvin records. He also discovered a Country Music Hall of Famer by the name of Emmylou Harris.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, that boy from Waycross, GA was Gram Parsons, possibly the greatest ambassador for country music that has ever lived.
With The Byrds, Gram recorded The Louvin Brothers composition “The Christian Life.” He also recorded the Louvin song “Cash on the Barrelhead” on his solo project Grievous Angel. Louvin music was essential to selling Emmylou Harris on the “simple beauty” of country.
“I want to play you something,” said Gram to Emmylou. Emmylou sits down and listens. “Who is that girl singing the high part?” Emmylou asks. Gram replies, “that’s not a girl, that’s Ira Louvin.”
Emmylou’s first #1 hit was “If I Could Only Win Your Love,” written by The Louvin Brothers.
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It might be easier to list the country music legends who have NOT covered Louvin songs than the ones who have. I’ve always tried in my musical journey to find the source of good music. For example when you hear those great 70’s Rolling Stones records, you can trace them back to Gram, and then back to Charlie: like mining the true generation of the song to get at the heart of it. And when you do this, you find so much music originated from so few people, and one of those people is Charlie Louvin.
As part of the grass roots support for the mounting medical bills from Charlie Louvin’s cancer treatment, Judd Films is making a DVD of his recent show at Foobar Too in Nashville. In conjunction, Keith Neltner has released a limited edition of prints, with all the proceeds going back toward the DVD project. The prints can be purchased at Neltner Creative, 14 of which are singed and hand embellished by Keith himself.
And if you want to explore the relationship between Gram Parson and Charlie Louvin more, look into the album Hickory Wind: Live at the Gram Parsons Guitar Pull, Waycross, GA.
December 17, 2010 @ 1:19 pm
Great article Trig.
December 17, 2010 @ 2:22 pm
Nice article. I have always been meaning to check out more Louvin Bros. stuff, maybe I will dedicate some time to that.
December 17, 2010 @ 4:20 pm
I always forget about Parson’s influence on the Stones. I don’t think it’s coincidental those are my two favorite Stones albums, and “Sticky Fingers” if not both of them is among my favorite albums of all time! Gotta listen to more Louvin Brothers.
December 17, 2010 @ 4:44 pm
in reference to the stones, i believe gram’s presence can best be heard on “exile on main street”
in reference to the louvin brothers…their influence can be heard throughout country music…huge fan here.
December 17, 2010 @ 6:13 pm
I’d go as far as saying the Louvins influenced Lennon/McCartney’s vocal harmony style. A music prof told me the Beatles ripped off the Everly Bros for their harmony singing. But when I hear Phil & Don I hear Charlie & Ira.
December 17, 2010 @ 7:11 pm
Yeah, they were one of the first to popularize the close harmony style of singing. Neither of them were superpickers, so they relied on the strength of their songwriting and their harmonies.
December 23, 2010 @ 9:14 am
Most of Everly Bros hits were written by the Louvins.
December 17, 2010 @ 9:56 pm
I read in a “bio” somwhere that Mick Jagger kinda “tolerated” Gram, while Gram and Keith Richards did their country explorations. I never caught the Louvins tie until one of your earlier posts or comments. I’ve been a long time Parsons fan since The Flying Burritos and I am always glad to hear new info. Thanks!
December 17, 2010 @ 11:39 pm
Yeah, I’ve read conflicting reports as well. I think I remember reading at some point Mick liked Gram, but Mick’s girlfriend at the time thought Gram was a “bad influence” on Mick, if you can believe that, so she tried to keep them separate. They were all heavy into drugs at the time. I know some have complained in that in Keith Richard’s latest biography, he doesn’t give Gram the credit some gram fans think he is due, and the credit Keith has given Gram in the past. That Sticky Fingers sound had to come from somewhere, and it is a distinctively American country sound. Gram recorded “Wild Horses” from Sticky Fingers before The Rolling Stones did.
December 18, 2010 @ 12:33 am
No Shit? …I never realized that about “Wild Horses”! “Life” will undoubtably be my next read. BIG bummer about him not giving his buddy Gram aknowledgements though.
December 18, 2010 @ 2:52 pm
I believe the Stones recorded “Wild Horses” almost two years before “Sticky Fingers” came out, but that’s just me nitpicking!
December 18, 2010 @ 2:52 pm
Recorded, but did not release.
December 18, 2010 @ 5:01 pm
Prior to its release on Sticky Fingers, Gram Parsons convinced Jagger and Richards to allow him to record “Wild Horses” with his band, The Flying Burrito Brothers. While the Rolling Stones had already laid the track to tape, the Burrito Brothers’ version was actually the first to be released, appearing on their second album, Burrito Deluxe, in April 1970, one year before Sticky Fingers.
Originally recorded over a three day period at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama during 2”“4 December 1969, the song was not released until over a year later due to legal wranglings with the band’s former label.
Also very interesting:
Keith Richards uses Nashville Tuning, in which the EADG strings of the acoustic guitar are replaced by strings which are tuned one octave higher.
December 24, 2010 @ 9:46 am
Thought you may enjoy this….
December 24, 2010 @ 11:20 am
I like his “lyrical liberty”
December 18, 2010 @ 7:52 am
good one….didn’t know any of this
December 18, 2010 @ 7:53 am
looks like Keith Neltner artwork….
December 18, 2010 @ 8:20 am
Definitely Keith Nelter’s work! You can rest assured that influences run rampant in the music circle. “Wild Horses” is one of my favs, Gram Parson’s biography is called “Grievous Angel” I do believe and Gram was a bad influence on Mick? HMMM.
The Louvin Brothers are a duo I know little about, but as evidenced here, should get to know more. Great blog Triggerman.
December 18, 2010 @ 8:33 am
gram was said to have the best drugs..when, during the recording of exile, the stones started gettin busted–gram was thrust aside…only keith really knows the true influence of gram on the stones..
December 18, 2010 @ 11:45 am
I got into The Rolling Stones’ country side through sirius outlaw country playing Far Away Eyes all the time. A couple of years later when I was just getting into Guy Clark & Townes Van Zandt I descovered Emmylou Harris. It was Emmylou who introduced me to Gram Parsons. Shockingly non of those artist brought me to The Louvin Brothers. It was Hank III that Introduced me, but it took several years to get me to listen. A couple of months ago I finaly bought Satan Is Real. I consider it one of the greatest albums I’ve ever heard.
December 18, 2010 @ 12:44 pm
Funny were talking about The Rolling Stones and Sticky Fingers. Just uploaded a video of Ray Wylie Hubbard playing “You Gotta Move” with Ruby Jane sitting in.
December 18, 2010 @ 10:22 pm
Thanks Triggerman. I thought I’d seen just about every RWH video on you tube.
December 19, 2010 @ 6:48 am
So tranquil I felt it down in my gut. That’s some raw, real countrified southern blues that rocks.
Thanks for deliverin’ Triggerman.
December 23, 2010 @ 2:40 pm
Gotta say, not sure what this has to do with the original piece, but this is one of the best videos I’ve heard in awhile; almost cried listening to Ruby Jane’s break.
December 23, 2010 @ 9:20 am
Nice piece. One nit-pic, “Now with a little money in his pocket….” I’ll assume that was for the “flavor” of the story, which is true. With his trust fund from his family, one of the wealthiest in Florida, Gram was never without money, often to the consternation of his band mates.
December 23, 2010 @ 9:45 am
Sorry, misread that as “Now with little…” Isn’t there a way to delete one’s comments on this board?
December 23, 2010 @ 10:22 am
No, I actually think you’re right nit picking about that comment.
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August 8, 2022 @ 12:20 am
Charlie is my grandpa. I love reading these comments.