Saturday, February 04, 2006

High harmony in the night

I'll never forget the first time I heard "Knoxville Girl."

The year I graduated from Halls High School, an FM station out of Etowah, Tenn., started playing real country music. You know, the kind filled with steel guitars and fiddles, sung by men and women who actually had talent. You might not know what I am talking about. You can't hear it much on the radio today.

I had to run a large wire antenna up the wall, but finally managed to pick up the signal. One night this incredible duo came on singing a morbid ditty about a guy who beats a woman to death and drowns her in the Tennessee River. The harmony was incredible. Made you climb the wall. Gave you chills.

It was my first exposure to Charlie and Ira Louvin.

The Louvin Brothers started out singing gospel music, merging Ira's high tenor with Charlie's more melodic vocal to create a distinct and unmistakable sound. By the mid-1950s, the brothers expanded their repertoire to include a little bit of everything. The hits included "When I Stop Dreaming" and "You're Running Wild."

They were from Alabama, but spent a few years in Knoxville at WNOX. The big break came when Fred Rose, owner of the famous Acuff-Rose Publishing, signed them to a contract. They quickly got a deal at Capitol Records, where the brothers released their first record, "The Family Who Prays."

After a two-decade career at the pinnacle of country music, the Louvins met a tragic end. Ira was killed in a car crash in Missouri in June 1965 while performing a series of concerts in Kansas City.

But their legacy lives on in the music. Emmylou Harris' first hit, "If I Could Only Win Your Love," was a Louvin Brothers song. Everybody from Gram Parsons to the Everly Brothers were influenced by their sound.

If you are ever up late on a lonesome night flipping the dial on your radio, don't be surprised if you hear a tenor harmony originating from a low-watt station somewhere between here and nowhere.

Chances are it will be two brothers from Alabama, riding a high lonesome sound across the waves of time, reminding us what real music is.


Blogger Brian Hornback said...

Ok, Mabester. You have peekd my interest I am going to have to try and find Louvin brother music. Their untimely death occured one year prior to my grand entrance into this world.

9:45 PM  

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