Charlie Louvin will turn 80 years old on July 7, 2007. Once one-half of the Louvin Brothers, who landed 12 hits on the Billboard country charts in the 1950s — including "Cash on the Barrelhead," "When I Stop Dreaming" and "Knoxville Girl" — and a viable solo artist who charted seven solo hits in the 1960s, Louvin is making a "comeback" with a little help from some unexpected friends. His latest album, the simply titled Charlie Louvin on Tompkins Square Records, is his first new album in over 10 years. Produced by Lambchop's Mark Nevers, it features duets with the likes of George Jones, Bobby Bare, Elvis Costello, Will Oldham and Jeff Tweedy, and has raised the elder country statesman's profile amongst young people throughout the country. (Brother Ira died in a car accident in 1965.)

"We play the in-store `record store` things and there are more young people," says Charlie on the phone from his Tennessee home. "It's been fantastic. There is definitely a trend towards younger. The old fans are still there. They still come out. But really young people! It's rewarding that the songs that hang around 50, 60 years are still being used. So things are looking up."

Tompkins Square Records owner Josh Rosenthal knew that if Charlie Louvin had any chance of reviving his singing career it wouldn't be through the established channels of modern Nashville, but through the more open-minded practices of college radio, where names like Tift Merritt, Superchunk and Clem Snide might help an old country legend get back onto the airwaves.

"Josh sent me a list of songs and said, ‘You don't need to go by this. But if you do I'm pretty sure I can get them played on college radio,'" explains Louvin. "And if he pulls that off then we could easily work a world of colleges. I was familiar with the songs, some `I remember from` when I was 6 or 7 years old. There are still a lot of good songs that no one does anymore, so I'm sure we can come up with more goodies."

Louvin is enjoying his recent employment. At the time of our chat, he'd just completed a 22-date tour, the longest he'd done in some time. "We traveled in a bus and everything couldn't have been better," he says.

The outpouring of support, after years of working with undercapitalized partners, has helped Louvin feel vindicated for his years of service and dedication. He never thought about catering to trends within the music industry. "If you want to cut country music, you cut country music. If you're going to cut rock music, cut rock music," says Louvin. "But you have stations that call themselves country but they play rock and call it country. It's very discouraging for the classic country people who believe in what they're doing and keep on doing what we're doing."

As for his future plans? "John McCrea of Cake has just called and he wants to put his voice on some tracks," says Louvin. "He'll be here in June and maybe we'll do more songs and maybe get another CD ready. I don't know what the schedule will be, but I imagine it won't be too long till the next one."


More by Rob O'Connor


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