1940 – 1963 (23 years)
Alabama, United States
The Louvin Brothers were an American country music duo composed of brothers Ira Lonnie Loudermilk (1924–1965) and Charlie Elzer Loudermilk (1927–2011), better known as Ira and Charlie Louvin. They helped popularize close harmony, a genre of country music. The brothers are cousins to John D. Loudermilk, a Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member.
The brothers adopted the name Louvin Brothers in the 1940s as they began their career in gospel music. Their first foray into secular music was the minor hit "The Get Acquainted Waltz", recorded with Chet Atkins. Other hits included "Cash on the Barrelhead" and "When I Stop Dreaming". They joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1955 and stayed there until breaking up in 1963.
Their songs were heavily influenced by their Baptist faith and warned against sin. Ira Louvin was notorious for his drinking, womanizing, and short 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 beat her. Although seriously injured, he survived. When performing and drinking, Ira would sometimes become angry enough on stage to smash his mandolin; otherwise his style was heavily influenced by Bill Monroe.
As of 1963, Charlie was making enough money that he was able to start a solo career, and Ira also went on his own.
Ira died on June 20, 1965, at the age of 41. He and his fourth wife, Anne Young, were on the way home from a performance in Kansas City when they came to a section of construction on Highway 70 outside of Williamsburg, Missouri where traffic had been reduced down to one lane. A drunken driver struck their car head-on, and both Ira and Anne were killed instantaneously. At the time, a warrant for Ira's arrest had been issued on a DUI charge.
Country-rock band The Byrds recorded the Louvin-penned "The Christian Life" for their 1968 release Sweetheart of the Rodeo.
In 2001, the Louvin brothers were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. The tribute CD Livin', Lovin', Losin': Songs of the Louvin Brothers, produced by Carl Jackson and Kathy Louvin and released in 2003, won the 2004 Grammy Award for Best Country Album.
Although the brothers are still remembered today for their musical talent, they are also remembered for the unusual cover used for their 1959 album, Satan Is Real. Designed by Ira Louvin, the cover features the brothers standing in a rock quarry in front of a 12-foot-tall (3.7 m) plywood rendition of the Devil as several hidden tires soaked in kerosene burn behind them as fire and brimstone. While some reviewers count this as being one of the "greatest iconic album covers of all time", the cover can also be found today on several Web sites celebrating unusual or bizarre album covers. The cover has also become an Internet meme on a number of Web sites such as Fark.com, where it has been posted in discussion threads as an example of religious views of the era.
The opening bars of the album's title track "Satan is Real" can be heard at the beginning of Hank Williams III's "Medley: Straight to Hell / Satan is Real", on his Straight to Hell album of 2006. It is also excerpted in Will Ferrell's 2009 one-man Broadway show, You're Welcome America. A Final Night With George W Bush.
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