by David VinopalFrom the close-harmony brother acts of the 30s evolved Charlie and Ira Louvin, ranking among the top duos in country music history. With Iras incredibly high, pure tenor and Charlies emotional and smooth melody tenor, they learned well from the Bolick brothers (the Blue Sky Boys), the Monroe Brothers, the Delmore Brothers, and other major family duos of the previous generation, preserving the old-time flavor while bringing this genre into the 50s, when country music moved to a newer sound. Whatever type of songs they recorded — gospel, folk, hillbilly, or 50s pop — those songs became the Louvins. Add to the list the many Louvin compositions (for example, If I Could Only Win Your Love, Emmylou Harris first hit), and you have an act that is outstanding in country music history. Their career took awhile to get going, partly because of interruptions from WWII and the Korean War. In the early 50s, after making a reputation for unexcelled gospel singing, the Louvins broadened their repertoire, recording The Get Acquainted Waltz (with Chet Atkins adding another guitar to Charlies and to Iras mandolin), a fair hit that showed success was reachable with non-religious music. The electric guitar, with the duos unique harmony and Iras exceptional tenor, created a sound that fans asked for in increasing numbers. In 1955, after ten unsuccessful auditions, they finally joined the Opry, where they performed to great acclaim until 1963, when they broke up. They had a number of hits, including the much-covered When I Stop Dreaming and Cash on the Barrel Head. Following the duos breakup, Ira and Charlie both pursued solo careers.Born and raised in the Appalachian mountains in Alabama, both Charlie (born Charlie Elzer Loudermilk, July 7, 1927) and Ira (born Lonnie Ira Loudermilk, April 21, 1924; died June 20, 1965) were attracted to the close-harmony country brother duets of the Blue Sky Boys, the Delmore Brothers, the Callahan Brothers, and the Monroe Brothers when they reached their adolescence. Previously, they had sung gospel songs in church, and their parents encouraged them to play music, despite the familys poverty. Ira began playing mandolin while Charlie picked up the guitar, and the two began harmonizing. After a while, they began performing at a small, local radio station in Chattanooga, where they frequently played on an early-morning show.The Brothers career was interrupted in the early 40s when Charlie joined the Army for a short while. While his brother was in the service, Ira played with Charlie Monroe. Once Charlie returned from the Army, the duo moved to Knoxville, TN, where they received a regular spot on a WROL radio show; they later moved to WNOX. Around this time, they decided to abandon their given name for Louvin, which appeared to be a better stage name. (Their cousin John D. Loudermilk retained the family name.) Following their stint in Knoxville, they moved to Memphis, where they broadcast on WMPS and cut one single for Apollo Records. After their brief stay in Memphis, they returned to Knoxville.In 1949, the Louvin Brothers recorded a single for Decca Records which failed to make much of an impact. Two years later, they signed with MGM Records and over the next year recorded 12 songs. Shortly after their MGM sessions were finished, Charlie and Ira moved back to Memphis, where they worked as postal clerks while playing concerts and radio shows at night. Eventually, they earned the attention of Acuff-Rose, who signed the duo to a publishing contract. Fred Rose, the owner of the publishing house, helped the duo sign a contract with Capitol Records. The Louvins debut single for the label, The Family Who Prays, was a moderate success (it would later become a gospel standard), yet they were unable to capitalize on its success because Charlie was recalled by the Army to serve in the Korean War.Upon Charlies discharge from the Army, the Louvins relocated to Birmingham, where they planned to restart their career through appearances on the radio station WOVK. However, a duo called Rebe & Rabe had already carved out a close-harmony niche in the area, using several of the Louvins own songs. When Charlie and Ira were reaching a point of desperation, Capitols Ken Nelson was able to convince the Grand Ole Opry to hire the duo. Prior to joining the Opry, the duo had been marketed as a gospel artist, but they began singing secular material as soon as they landed a slot on the show, primarily because a tobacco company sponsoring its broadcast told the Opry and the Louvins you cant sell tobacco with gospel music. While they didnt abandon gospel, the Brothers began writing and performing secular material again, starting with When I Stop Dreaming. The single became a Top Ten hit upon its release in the fall of 1955 and would eventually become a country standard. It was followed shortly afterward by I Dont Believe Youve Met My Baby, which spent two weeks at number one early in 1956. No less than three of the duos other singles — Hoping That Youre Hoping, Youre Running Wild, Cash on the Barrel Head — reached the Top Ten that year, and they also released the albums Tragic Songs of Life and Nearer My God to Thee. The Louvins success in 1956 was particularly impressive when considering that rock & roll was breaking big that year, sapping the sales of many established country artists.However, the Louvins werent able to escape being hurt by rock & roll. They had two relatively big hits in 1957 (Dont Laugh and Plenty of Everything but You), My Babys Gone reached the Top Ten in late 1958, and their classic version of the traditional ballad Knoxville Girl was a moderate hit in early 1959, but those four hit singles arrived in the space of three years; they charted four songs in 1956 alone. Soon, the Louvins were receiving pressure from Capitol to update their sound. They tried to cut a couple of rockabilly numbers, but they were quite unsuccessful. Eventually, Ken Nelson suggested that the duo abandon the mandolin in order to appeal to the same audience as the Everly Brothers. The Louvins didnt accept his advice, but the remark did considerable damage to Iras ego and he began to sink into alcoholism.The Louvin Brothers continued to record during the early 60s, turning out a number of theme albums — including tributes to the Delmore Brothers and Roy Acuff, as well as gospel records like Satan Is Real — as well as singles. I Love You Best of All and Hows the World Treating You reached numbers 12 and 26 respectively in 1961, the first year they had two hit singles since 1957. However, the duo began fighting frequently, and Iras alcoholism worsened. Following one last hit single, Must You Throw Dirt in My Face, in the fall of 1962, the duo decided to disband in the summer of 1963.Charlie and Ira both launched solo careers on Capitol Records shortly after the breakup. Charlie was the more successful of the two, with his debut single, I Dont Love You Anymore, reaching number four upon its summer release in 1964. For the next decade, he racked up a total of 30 hit singles, though most of the records didnt make the Top 40. Iras luck wasnt as good as his brothers. Shortly after the Louvins disbanded, he had a raging, alcohol-fueled argument with his third wife, Faye, that resulted in a shooting that nearly killed him. He continued to perform afterward, singing with his fourth wife, Anne Young. The duo were performing a week of concerts in Kansas City in June of 1965 when they were both killed in a car crash in Williamsburg, MO. After his death, his single Yodel, Sweet Molly became a moderate hit.The Louvin Brothers reputation continued to grow in the decades following their breakup, as their harmonies and hard-driving take on traditional country provided the blueprint for many generations of country and rock musicians. The Everly Brothers were clearly influenced by the duo, while country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons drew heavily from the Louvins deep catalog of classic songs, recording The Christian Life with the Byrds and Cash on the Barrelhead as a solo artist. The Louvin Brothers and their music is truly legendary.