NASHVILLE (Reuters) - Influential country music great Charlie Louvin, who scored a string of hits with gospel-inspired inflections in his traditional singing style, died on Wednesday. He was 83.
A member of the Country Music Hall of Fame since 2001 and the Grand Ole Opry for half a century, Louvin died from pancreatic cancer at his home in Wartrace, Tennessee, near Nashville, according to his manager, Brett Steele.
The last of his roughly 20 albums over a career spanning seven decades was “The Battle Rages On,” which was released in November and featured songs about war performed with other artists, including bluegrass legend Del McCoury.
Louvin and his older sibling, Ira, performed on radio and toured the mid-South as the Louvin Brothers in the 1940s. His website said the duo developed their distinctive close harmonies with a style called “shape note singing” that borrowed from Southern gospel sung in rural churches.
Charlie Louvin was a strong influence on such performers as Emmylou Harris and the late Gram Parsons, who covered the Louvin Brothers classic “The Christian Life” while with The Byrds.
Born in Henagar, Alabama, on July 7, 1927, Charlie Louvin worked in the fields of the family farm and listened to bluegrass records by the likes of the Delmore Brothers, the Monroe Brothers and the Blue Sky Boys.
The Louvin brothers’ first commercial hit was the 1955 single “When I Stop Dreaming,” the same year they toured with a young Elvis Presley.
The duo split in 1963 over personal differences, and Ira put out one solo album before dying in a car crash the following year.
Charlie Louvin embarked on a successful solo career, beginning with the hit “I Don’t Love You Anymore” in 1964.
Louvin recounted meeting a lonely teenager -- a young cotton picker named Johnny Cash -- while selling tickets to a show in Arkansas.
“He noticed I had two soda crackers in my shirt pocket. He asked me why, and I said, ‘To keep from starving to death.’ I invited him in to the show -- I could tell he didn’t have any money. Years later in (Cash‘s) book (”Man In Black“), he said he always ate two soda crackers before he went on stage,” Louvin wrote in his online biography.
Louvin’s career blossomed anew in 2003 when he was invited to open for Cheap Trick and Cake on a national tour, and was thrilled by the warm reception for his brand of bluegrass.
In 2004, performers James Taylor, Merle Haggard and Dolly Parton issued a musical tribute, “Livin’, Lovin’ Losin’: Songs of the Louvin Brothers,” which won two Grammy Awards.
Stricken with cancer last summer, Louvin performed as recently as December until he became too sick to go on stage.
“Show business is all I really know how to do, and I would like for it to be the last thing I do,” Louvin said in a recent interview with the Nashville Tennessean newspaper.
Editing by Andrew Stern and Steve Gorman