Liner Notes to:
Livin’, Lovin’, Losin’: Songs of the Louvin Brothers
Various Artists, including Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard (Universal South Records)
Winner of the 2003 Grammy Award for Best Country Album of the Year
Winner of the 2003 Grammy Award for Best Country Duet of the Year
Notes written by Tom Wilmeth
The Louvin Brothers are universally heralded as one of the greatest harmony duos in the history of Country Music. They wrote their own songs and performed them as well on stage as they did on record. Ira Louvin’s high tenor voice would never be matched, but would inspire awe and admiration in countless singers – from already established stars like Bill Monroe to future stars like Emmylou Harris.
Gram Parson paid friends to search used shops for Louvin Brothers records. It’s been said that Elvis Presley had advance copies of Louvin Brothers records sent to him to give to his mother. A young Johnny Cash waited by the side of the road to catch a glimpse of Ira and Charlie Louvin drive past when he learned they were coming to his town. Cash never lost his admiration for the Louvins’ music, as his work on this collection shows.
The Louvin Brothers were without limits. They could perform religious songs that would send you to church, then break your heart with a tale of lost love. Ira could give a recitation on topics ranging from alcohol to mother that would make an audience weep, then turn around and sing a comedy number in a dress. But like other extremely versatile musicians, the brothers’ wide-ranging talents proved to be a mixed blessing. Capitol Records had The Louvin Brothers straight-jacketed into a contract that allowed them to record only sacred songs. The same restrictions were imposed on them at the Grand Ole Opry. This was frustrating to Ira and Charlie, since the crowds at their live shows appreciated all their different styles. “The audiences were loving everything did, but the record company had no idea what to do with us,” remembers Charlie Louvin. “They thought our songs were too religious for country crowd, and too country for the gospel fans.” But to ears unconcerned with labeling music, the Louvin Brothers were great because they could do it all.
One song would change everything. The Louvins had begged Capitol Records to let them record a non-sacred song, but were constantly refused. Finally, the powers at Capitol told Ira and Charlie that they could release one secular single, but if it did not become a radio hit, then Capitol would cancel their contract. Knowing what was at stake, they thought hard before choosing one of Ira’s originals, “When I Stop Dreaming.” Holding their breath, the Louvins saw the song become a huge hit. This opened all the doors -- they could now record what they pleased at Capitol, and the Grand Ole Opry would no longer limit them to gospel numbers. But while the big hit single freed them from stylistic restraints, they would never turn their back on sacred music, which they would intermittently record for the rest of their career.
By the early 1960s the music world had changed. The Louvin Brothers decided to call it quits in 1963, with Charlie embarking on a successful solo career. Ira would be killed in a car wreck on Father’s Day, 1965. But the music the brothers created would live on, often appearing over the years in unexpected places. The Byrds recorded the early Louvin Brothers’ song “The Christian Life” on their Sweethearts of the Rodeo album, and years later Elvis Costello would sing “Must You Throw Dirt in my Face.” Like Gram Parsons before him, Costello encourages his listeners to search out the original recordings of the Louvins’ songs. All of the artists on this disk would tell you the same thing.
Listen to this CD, and hear the power of real music on collection born of love and of respect.