As I am sure everyone knows by now, Grand Ole Opry member and Country Music Hall of Fame member Charlie Louvin passed away early this morning. Prayers and thoughts go out to his family as I am sure it must have been very difficult for them during these past several weeks. And I am sure that the prayers for Charlie to be relieved of his pain and suffering have been answered.
I am not going to go through Charlie Louvin's career as all the various news articles have covered that very well. But, I did want to make just some personal observations and thoughts regarding Charlie.
I never saw Charlie give a full concert. I did see him dozens of times on the Opry and also saw him several times hosting the Ernest Tubb Midnight Jamboree. My one story about Charlie that always brings a smile to my face is in regards to one of the times he hosted the Midnight Jamboree. It was several years back, during the time that Charlie had the Louvin Brother's Museum a couple of spots down from the record shop. It was either in January or February and it was a very cold night. For those of you who have been to the Midnight Jamboree, you will know that they always set up an autograph table in the record shop and after the show, the artists will sign books, pictures, records, tapes, cd's, etc. Well about 11:00 or so, a car pulls up to the front of the record shop and Charlie Louvin gets out. He opens his trunk and carries in a couple of boxes of cd's to sell that night. When he comes in the door, the record shop employee at the register says hi and asks Charlie what he has. Charlie tells the clerk that they are extra cd's that he had at his house, and he brought them to make sure that the record shop did not run out and that there was enough for everyone who wanted one. What I later found out was that Charlie was selling the cd's that he brought for the list price and keeping all the money for himself, while those that were sold from the record shop's inventory, were credited to the record shop, of which they got the money. I just found that humorous and it brings a smile to my face every time I think of it. And in the end, there were only about 100 people there that night for the Midnight Jamboree.
I always thought that Charlie Louvin was really unappreciated by the management of the Opry, specifically the current general manager Pete Fisher. Since Pete took over as the manager of the Opry, Charlie's Opry appearances really went down. And, they did not go down at Charlie's request Charlie, along with Del Reeves and Billy Walker, was very vocal about his lack of appearances at the Opry and even gave an interview to the Nashville Tennessean about it. But, nothing changed. He appeared on the Opry 38 times in 2001 and it went steadily downhill from there, with Charlie appearing on the Opry only 13 times in 2006, 9 times in 2007, 10 times in 2008 and 12 times in 2009 and 10 times in 2010. That averages out to just once per month. I can think of no other Country Music Hall of Fame member and Opry member who was treated more shabbily than Charlie.
As a Hall of Famer, just like Jimmy Dickens and Bill Anderson, he should have been allowed to be on the Opry as often as he wanted. I know that there are always behind the scene politics going on at the Opry and I can only think that Charlie just didn't want to "play ball" with the current management. And speaking of the Hall of Fame, the Louvin Brothers were elected as part of the mass induction of 2001.
I remember a few years ago when the Opry devoted the entire televised segment to the Louvin Brothers tribute album that was done with various artists. They had many of the artists on the show that night, including Ronnie Dunn and others, doing the songs from that album. And where was Charlie? They brought him on and acknowledged him only for the final number. He should have been featured on the whole show!!
The Opry always recognizes Jimmy Dickens as being an Opry member for over 60 years, but as Jean Shepard said in many interviews, nobody had been around the Opry for more consecutive years than Charlie. And, he remained loyal for all those years.
In some ways, Charlie's final years were some of his most productive. He found a nice sound for himself, was back in the studio (I think he must have recorded about 6 or 7 albums including several in the past year), and was making personal concert appearances. He was attracting new fans, and they loved him. Heck, he even played at Bonnaroo a couple of years back.
If the Opry follows tradition, they will devote Friday and Saturday night's shows to Charlie. Pete Fisher will probably start each show with a statement and a moment of silence. It will be interesting in what Pete says. Also, it would be nice if the Opry would devote a segment to Charlie Louvin and the music of the Louvin Brothers. But, I will be surprised if they do. Heck, as of late this afternoon, the Opry's website still had no mention of Charlie's death.
I know it was easy to forget what a great influence that the Louvin Brothers had, not only in country music, but in music in general. After all, it has been since the mid 1960's that any new Louvin Brothers material has been out there. But artists such as Emmylou Harris, Gram Parsons, Chris Hillman, the Byrd's, and so many others were heavily influenced by the Louvin Brothers. And after Ira's death, Charlie had a very nice solo career of his own.
Over the past several years, the Opry has lost many of their legends. Folks such as Hank Locklin, Ernie Ashworth, Charlie Walker, Billy Walker, Roy Drusky, Skeeter Davis, Bill Carlisle and Porter Wagoner. And now Charlie Louvin. The Opry will continue, but as each of these legends die, the Opry spotlight shines just a little less brighter. And it will continue to dim unless many of today's current Opry members step up and support the show. Supporting it like Charlie Louvin did.
God Bless Charlie Louvin. It was a pleasure and and an honor to enjoy your talents.