Facebook R&B crooner Mario has been relatively quiet on the music front for…
- Posted on May 3rd 2007 5:00PM by Gaylord Fields
The Alabama-born country-music legend, who turns 80 in July, has been touring extensively across the U.S. this spring and is scheduled to take the stage at Bonnaroo in June. Charlie Louvin took some time from his travels to talk with Spinner about his complicated relationship with his late brother and singing partner Ira, his influence on -- and collaborations with -- today's rock and country stars, and why it often takes two of them to add up to one Ira.
How did you find duet partners for the new record -- or did they find you?
Elvis Costello is a self-proclaimed Louvin Brothers fan, and he says he likes my music. We found him last year when he was doing Bonnaroo. He and his entire band came [to the session], and he sang on 'When I Stop Dreaming.' The other folks, I was not present. I had my part finished. I haven't gotten to meet them yet. This year, I'm playing Bonnaroo and I'll get to meet two or three of the guys. [Jeff] Tweedy is gonna be there, and one of the other guys.
You're singing duets with people you've never met. Recording technology sure has changed quite a bit since you first started making records in the '50s.
If you mispronounce one word, they can go back and fix that one word. [In the old days], if anybody missed something, musicians or singers, you had to go back to the letter "A" again.
The one new song on the album is a tribute to your brother Ira. Considering your famously stormy relationship with him, was it difficult to write?
A couple of dear friends of mine came to visit me and said, "Why haven't you ever wrote a tribute song to Ira?" I said, "Well, the way we parted, I never thought of heaven and Ira in the same thought." And they said, "I still think you ought to do it." So we sat down, one guy come up with a line, I come up with a line, and first thing you know the song was finished. I think it's a decent tribute.
Is it fair to say that time heals all wounds?
I've noticed that when you sit down and think about it, all the good things will run through your mind, but very few of the bad ones will get there.
How much bad blood was there between you and your brother near the end?
It wasn't fistfights or nothing like that. It's just every time we'd go out, he would inform me, "This is the last trip I'm making in this rotten business. I'm out!" And then he would say, "I don't know what you're gonna do [after we break up ]. I guess you'll get a job at a service station." It really fixed me to where I was afraid to continue, 'cause [performing is] all I knew how to do. I'd been doing it with him for years.
You mentioned Elvis Costello's contribution to the new album. Which other guests on the record really stood out for you?
I like the young man [Eef Barzelay of Clem Snide] who did the verse on 'Christian Life.' Actually, that song has been cut by several of the rock people, but he knew exactly what he was doing. Joy Lynn White -- her help on 'Grave on the Green Hillside.' A lot of the rock 'n' roll people I meet are familiar with Louvin Brothers music.
Were you aware that your music meant so much to so many people, not just in country music but in rock?
I got a lot of rock 'n' roll friends now that carry Louvin Brothers music in their buses -- and they don't just have it, they play it. Are you aware of the tour that I made with Cake and Cheap Trick? The venue we played in New York, you could almost hear the big bands, the Sinatras and Guy Lombardos and the people who played before us. Before the tour was over, I was invited to come onstage with Cheap Trick and help them sing 'California Man.'
I know you've sung with other singers after Ira. How tough has it been performing Louvin Brothers tunes without him?
I've had a few tenor singers that knew all the Louvin Brothers stuff, but I would be told, "That ol' boy you brought with you is a pretty good tenor singer, but he's no Ira Louvin." I do quite a few Louvin Brothers songs, but we do them in a trio form, add a third part to them, and people don't say, "I don't like the tenor singer."
In 2001, the Louvins were finally inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Are you grateful, or do you feel the honor was long overdue?
I'm absolutely thrilled beyond words. I just wish that Ira was here so he could have enjoyed it. My brother was a great [song]writer. When people think of writers, they usually say Hank Williams, Dallas Frazier or Curly Putman. My brother wrote about real life -- things that's possible for humans to do, and things that's impossible for humans to do. I think that's why the songs have lived, 'cause you can apply them.
Why do you think Louvin Brothers songs have stood the test of time after fifty years?
I have known several cases where the drinking song ['Kneeling Drunkard's Plea'] -- my brother and I did actually made people quit drinking, or if they were a wife beater they would stop that. I think that most of the songs, like 'The Great Atomic Power,' is more relevant today than it was the '50s when we had the Cold War going on. It's just as truthful today at it was then, or maybe more so.