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When Satan Is Real: The Ballad of the Louvin Brothers arrived at the library in January, I had to scoop it up immediately. What a looker! Its jacket is a reproduction of the “burning in hell” photo from their classic 1959 Capitol Records release, also titled Satan is Real. The book is packaged to look like a 10-cent pulp fiction novel, “a real-life Cain and Abel story from the American heartland,” featuring brothers Charlie and Ira Louvin, the old time country-gospel harmony duo, Grand Ole Opry favorites, and Elvis Presley’s mom’s favorite group.
Influential to Many
The Louvin Brothers influenced everyone from Johnny Cash to Gram Parsons. Famous for their gospel music and hit songs like, “I Don’t Believe You Met My Baby,” the group also penned many dark songs, including the murder ballad “Knoxville Girl.” Ira, the moody and brazen brother, was smashing mandolins on stage years before rock ‘n’ roll stars picked up the habit.
What a tale! Written by Charlie Louvin himself, right before he passed away last year, it contains several colorful stories about the brothers’ lives before, during, and after their heyday in the early country music scene. Born to sharecroppers, they spent many childhood hours laboring in the field, which taught them to have a strong work ethic. This served them well when they became musicians: learning their instruments, harmonizing, and keeping up with a relentless tour schedule.
This page-turner features stories about larger-than-life legends like Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Hank Williams, George Jones, Bill Monroe, Kris Kristofferson, Ray Charles, and more. Their idol, Roy Acuff, is featured in an early boyhood story, and later goes on to play a big role in their adult lives, even present at the hospital when Ira (a heavy drinker) was shot 6 times by his wife (also a heavy drinker). Fortunately, Charlie Louvin was the steady, dependable half of the duo, and was able to recount tales with clarity and plenty of precious personal photos.
It’s clear Charlie and Ira were a brilliant musical team. But did they get along all the time? Heck, no. Like many famous brother bands, there were countless arguments and fistfights. Despite the tough times though, it’s clear that they were always there for each other. “There’s nothing like singing with your own blood, even when the circumstances aren’t the best,” writes Charlie. The book ends with a bittersweet photo of the brothers’ graves (they’re buried next to each other) and Charlie’s lyrics to the tribute song “Ira”:
One day soon I’ll sing with you
And the angels, Hallelujah, Ira
Don’t miss this rare color video of the Louvin Brothers performing “I Don’t Believe You’ve Met My Baby,” a catchy and clever song-story about mistaken identity:
The Louvin Brothers:
- Livin’, Lovin’, Losin: Songs of the Louvin Brothers -covers of Louvin songs by modern artists
- Songs That Tell a Story - originals by the Louvin Brothers
Charlie Louvin (solo recordings):
Karen Choy is reading a lot of musician biographies this year.