Archive for January, 2011

Charlie Louvin Has Died

January 26, 2011

Charlie Louvin has died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 83. The New York Times obituary is here.

The first time I heard Charlie Louvin sing was with Emmylou Harris – they harmonized on the Louvin Brothers’ If I Could Only Win Your Love on her classic LP, Pieces of the Sky. Charlie, of course, sang with his brother Ira until Ira’s death in an automobile accident, and between them, they made some of the greatest and (to me at least) scariest records in the history of country music. When they told me that Satan is Real, I was ready to believe. When they sang about The Great Atomic Power, I started looking around for the fallout shelters.

Judge for yourself – here’s a wonderful video of Ira and Charlie performing their 1956 hit I Don’t Believe You’ve Met My Baby – look for Ernest Tubb in the background! Please enjoy.

Sam Cooke at 80

January 22, 2011

Tomorrow would have been Sam Cooke’s 80th birthday. Remembering him is not as easy as it should be, simply because there are so many different Sam Cookes to remember. First, the teenager who took the gospel world by storm, then the young man who shocked the gospel world by moving to Keen Records to cut a string of teen hits, later the ambitious pop vocalist who worked with Hugo and Luigi at RCA. He tried acting, was a successful songwriter, and founded SAR Records in 1961 to provide an opportunity for African-American artists.

Near the end of his life, he wrote the classic A Change is Gonna Come, perhaps indicating a change in direction for his own ambitions as well. He recorded the song in December of 1963, less than a month after the JFK assassination and less than a year before the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The country was on the cusp of some big changes, and perhaps Sam Cooke’s music would have grown to include and even affect those changes.

He died, of course, before we got a chance to find any of that out, and one of the most tragic aspects of his death was how its circumstances overshadowed, for a time at least, some of the beauty of his music. No more.

Like so many white folks who grew up in the ’50s and ’60s, my first acquaintance with Sam Cooke’s music was hearing the hits: songs like You Send Me, Cupid, and Wonderful World built him a huge audience of mostly white teenagers, but never engaged even a small part of his great talent. I never realized how great he was until I discovered his early work with the Soul Stirrers, and the purity of his voice touched my soul from first note to last. Here is Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers singing The Last Mile of the Way. Sound quality, not so good; soul quality, off the charts. Please enjoy.

For Martin Luther King Day

January 17, 2011

The Rev. Dr. King’s favorite song was Take My Hand, Precious Lord. His last words included a request that the song be added to the program of an event scheduled for the night of his death. Mahalia Jackson sang it for him at his funeral, as she had sung it for him so often during his life.

Today we remember Martin Luther King, and remember before all else that his message was one of Christian love. In his final speech, the famous “mountaintop” speech, he told a bible story, the story of the good Samaritan. You remember it…while others passed by a man in need, helpless at the side of the road, the Samaritan, a stranger in town, stopped to give aid. As Rev. King told the story, those who passed asked, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” The Samaritan had a different point of view: “If I don’t stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”

If we don’t stop to help each other, what will happen to us? Look around and see.

Here’s Aretha Franklin with a live version of Precious Lord. Please enjoy.