Alt-Country Pioneer Charlie Louvin Died, So Let’s Listen to a Couple of Songs

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01/26/2011 3:50 PM |


Charlie Louvin, who with his brother Ira and then as a solo artist wrote and recorded gospel-influenced country songs with sweet, simple harmonies and often dire lyrics, died today; he was 83 and had been suffering from pancreatic cancer.

The Louvin Brothers, who split up as a recording act shortly before the troubled Ira’s 1965 death in a car crash, were a notable cult act for a couple generations of very influential Americana crate-diggers. In 1968, Gram Parsons prevailed upon the hippies in the Byrds to cover the Louvins’ “Christian Life” on their seminal country album Sweetheart of the Rodeo:

In 1974, Gram Parsons covered the Louvins’ “Cash on the Barrelhead” on his Grievous Angel LP; here’s the original:

In the early 90s, R.E.M.’s Peter Buck attended an Uncle Tupelo concert, and made his way backstage to compliment them on their cover of the Louvins’ “Great Atomic Power.” Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy were impressed that Buck recognized the song, and Buck subsequently produced their acoustic record March 16-20, 1992. “Great Atomic Power,” from 1952, with its conflation of atomic apocalypse and religious deliverance, is one of the really great and unique pieces of American folk-art prophecy, as well as a killer showcase for the right kind of singer, as you can see from Jay Farrar’s lead and Jeff Tweedy’s harmonies in this live video, from the second-to-last Uncle Tupelo show: