Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Charlie Louvin

I never thought I’d get to see Charlie Louvin play a dive bar in New York City, let alone have the experience on multiple occasions. The above picture was taken in 2006 at The Rodeo Bar in New York City and it gives you a sense of the intimate environment, as well as the configuration of his band. Charlie brought along with him a bass player and a female harmony singer/acoustic guitar player and the trio was rounded out by three local musicians: a mandolin player (partially obscured), drummer, and electric guitar player (not pictured). The New York backing band did an excellent job and, as you might gather from the look on the drummer’s face, the band played loud, energetic honkytonk music, not the watered down stuff you hear at Opryland.

My friends and I were in good spirits that night and were sitting at the front table, in plain view of the performers on stage. At the beginning of the show, I don’t think Charlie quite knew what to make of our group, but when he realized the extent to which we knew and loved his music, he warmed up to us pretty quickly, sitting at our table between sets and posing for pictures. At one point he even sang a song while seated at our table.

As I recall, Charlie’s setlist was a mix of Louvin Brothers tunes, hits from his solo career, and country standards. During the break I asked him if he would sing "I Don’t Believe You Met My Baby," which he reluctantly declined to play because he didn’t feel that his harmony singer would be able to hit the high notes that Ira hit on the old Louvin Brothers recording. The following year when I caught Charlie at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, NJ, I asked him if Ira, who died in 1965, could ever have imagined the environment Charlie found himself in now. He paused for a moment and said "I don’t think Ira could have handled it." I guess his answer didn’t surprise me, but I didn’t forget it, either.

It was at the Maxwell’s show that I asked Charlie to sign the above copy of his most popular solo record. I think you can tell by the illegibility of his signature that he was holding the record with one hand and signing it with the other, as there were no tables in the room for him to place the record while he signed it. Though this isn’t my most attractive cover, it does have sentimental value. I don’t know that I’ll ever have the opportunity to see a country music legend of Charlie’s stature in such a small club again.

I can’t end this post without mentioning that Charlie is recuperating from surgery he had this past summer for pancreatic cancer. The surgery did not go as expected, and he needs your prayers and support. Visit his website if you care to leave him a message.


  1. you forgot to include how he got really pissed off at us during the first set for laughing during "knoxville girl". you have to admit, the lyrics are a bit ridiculous. at the end of the song he stared at us and said, 'hey! i don't come to YOUR work and take the shovel out of YOUR hand!' a bunch of the NYC crowd jeered at us. little did they know that we knew more about the Louvin's in our thumbnail then they knew at all, and soon after we smoothed it over during the break, he started singing every song to us, sitting at our table to light a cigarette (INSIDE a bar in Manhattan!) and to sing songs.

    i since learned some things i didn't want to know about charlie, but i'll refrain from going into it out of respect to him and his family in this time of need.

    it was a great experience that night, nonetheless, and i'll always treasure my photo with him.

  2. I wanted to include that tidbit about Knoxville Girl, but was afraid it would make us sound disrespectful, when that couldn't be further from the truth. We're almost never loud during shows and this one amusing incident was a little out of character for both of us. Fortunately, as you said, we quickly redeemed ourselves and I think he enjoyed talking to us.

  3. I had the privilege of attending a House Concert here in town 2 summers ago that Charlie & his Band gave. A living-breathing piece of American Musical History, here in this living room. A contemporary of Hank Williams & Elvis. Seemingly sad & fitting both. This talented artist who often performed at the Grand Ole Opry, a member of the County Music Hall Of Fame now playing for 60 people in some stranger's living room. But then again, that's probably how he started. Playing for a small Church Congregation, or a handful of folks at the local County Fair. Nice site. Good Luck. ROB B ST. LOUIS

  4. What an amazing experience to see Charlie Louvin at a house concert. The last time I saw him was at a place called Maxwell's in Hoboken, NJ. There were maybe 100 people in the audience--tops. Charlie probably played thousands of gigs this size, though. Heck, I'm sure he's played his share of shows where all he earned was gas money to the next show.