Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Brett Allen
Charlie Louvin has a reputation that precedes him and it's one that's been created and reinforced over more decades of making and performing his iconic bluegrass and country and western music. The 82-year-old Nashvillian has been a star for longer than anyone else in the recording business - a fact, not any kind of an opinion - and he's a man rooted in old times, old standards and practices and old thoughts of morality and rightness. And that's just the man he is. As he shuffles into John Prine and Dave Ferguson's Butcher Shoppe on this day, this past January, he's in jeans, loafers, a simple dress shirt and derby hat - the look of a kindly grandfather who maybe doesn't drive any more, attends church a couple of times a week, if not every day and is just an enthusiastic ask from a group of hungry grandchildren away from buying ice cream cones for everyone. He and his tight-knit band - that includes his son Sonny - greets a smiley Del McCoury and band as they're packing up to leave, sharing some laughs, stories of their wives' cooking and then Louvin reminds McCoury not to accept any wooden nickels as legal tender. Joining us in the studio that afternoon for a lengthy visit, for the music and for some BBQ, pork shoulder sandwiches from down the street before we all headed to the Ryman to see Kris Kristofferson perform, were Dawes' Taylor Goldsmith and Deer Tick's John McCauley - the latter, a big fan and one who's crossed paths with Louvin a few times over the years. The session was exactly as you'd expect one to work with Louvin and his band - precisely and quickly, nailing the takes and making a four-song piece of artwork that is steeped in tradition that cannot be mimicked. Louvin has always been concerned about Satan and he's always been concerned about the Almighty, especially the inner battles that he and all of mankind wage against sinful temptations that can't always be controlled or denied an existence. These days, those songs of the fires and the warnings, as well as all of the songs about women - those darlings and honeys that are mesmerizing and troublesome - find their teeth in different ways, now coming from a weathered man looking back or singing songs that were written decades upon decades earlier by he and much younger men. It makes little difference - these timeframes and the unstoppable escalation of age and hopefully of wisdom and something of a settling down, or tranquility. It could be largely presumed that Louvin still views pretty girls and sin the same way that's he's always viewed them, living in a glow of everlasting youth that allows for a continued justification and struggle with the battle between lust and eternal damnation, or something resembling it. There's no reason for him to have to change the way he thinks or sings about either, but rather to just keep stirring it all up to a boil. Women will always be women and sin will always be scary and somewhat enticing, no matter what age you're thinking about any of it. Louvin is one of the most important reasons that bluegrass and country music were the way they were for so long - with songs about guns, jailhouses, the daily struggles of life and love and keeping on an honest, God-fearing path, the road and booze - and he's a living reason why that music isn't necessarily only stuck on aged vinyl.