Facebook R&B crooner Mario has been relatively quiet on the music front for…
- Posted on Feb 5th 2010 5:00PM by James Sullivan
When the Louvin Brothers did perform together, however, they set the standard for close-harmony-style singing. Elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001, their songs have been covered by Emmylou Harris and Elvis Costello, and they were an inspiration for the Everly Brothers as well as the Byrds' move toward country music.
Before their breakthrough at the Grand Ole Opry in 1955, the Louvin Brothers got their start singing traditional gospel hymns. Their few years of commercial success together came just as country music was losing its audience to the new rock 'n' roll stars. On tour with Elvis Presley, whose mother was a big fan of the Louvins, Ira berated the young singer, dismissing his music as "trash," reportedly using a racist epithet -- while, as Charlie Louvin told the writer Peter Guralnick, attempting to strangle him.
Following a run of Top 20 country hits, including 'When I Stop Dreaming,' 'Knoxville Girl' and 'Cash on the Barrelhead,' the Louvins were asked to alter their sound to keep up with pop trends. By some accounts, a suggestion that Ira Louvin stop playing his mandolin enraged an already anger-filled man. He'd been known to smash his mandolin onstage if conditions weren't to his liking.
In 1959 the brothers released 'Satan Is Real,' an album of ominous sinners' songs such as 'Are You Afraid to Die' and 'The Kneeling Drunkard's Plea.' Besides being perhaps their greatest work, the album endures because of its unintentionally comical cover, designed by Ira, for which the brothers posed in front of burning tires and a 12-foot plywood likeness of the Devil himself. This crudely painted image apparently haunted Ira long after the photo was taken: By 1963, his cruel behavior -- including an incident in which his third wife shot him after he tried to strangle her with a telephone cord -- led to the brothers' breakup. The Louvins' last single together was called 'Must You Throw Dirt in My Face.'
Both brothers moved ahead with solo careers, but Ira's was not to last. On Father's Day, 1965, he and his fourth wife were killed when a drunk driver hit them head-on. Ira Louvin had a warrant out for his own arrest on a drunk-driving charge at the time.
A few years earlier the Louvins had cut a song called 'Wreck on the Highway': "I heard the crash on the highway," sang Ira Louvin in his high, plaintive tenor, "but I didn't hear nobody pray."