Satan Is Real – The Louvin Brothers Rule The Underworld

I think librarians hate me.

I’ve had more than one of them refer to me as a “regular”, which I’m pretty sure is not a compliment.  Regulars are for bars.  Apparently, I am the “Norm” of the Minneapolis Public Library system.

The reason they hate me is because I make them do a lot of daily work.  I reserve albums at an alarming rate.

Whatever.  It’s not illegal.

Okay, it actually might be illegal.  But only if you check out the CDs, burn them to your Itunes and then return them without purchasing them somewhere else.  I’m totally not doing that!   That would be wrong.  *cough*  No, I check them out, listen to them for a week, decide if I like them or not and then go to a Tower Records and pay $20 for a hunk of plastic that cost 35 cents to make.  I also don’t pee in the shower or eat out of the gummy bear bin at the grocery store.

Lately I’ve been stalking the reservations of the person next to me at the library.  I don’t know who they are or what they look like, but they have stellar taste in music.  That’s how I discovered 50s country duo the Louvin Brothers and their bat-shit crazy album cover for “Satan Is Real.”


Some people have described the album cover as “scary.”  These people must be six year old children. I’m not sure how a grown adult could ever find this visually frightening, unless they had a traumatic experience with door-to-door salesmen in matching white suits trying to hug them in Hell.  Not only are both brothers smiling, but the 16-foot Satan figure in the back has buck-teeth, cross-eyes and tiny hands.  He’s also naked with no visible genitalia.  “Children, be good or evil, red, eunuch Urkel will stand behind you and point the non-sharp end of a pitch-fork at you! BEWARRRRRRRRRE!”

According to Charlie Louvin’s autobiography, the album cover was their own idea.  The brothers wanted a “realistic” image of Hell, so older brother Ira Louvin created a giant plywood Satan and hauled it to an old rock quarry.   There, they started several fires, using the old tires that were littered about.  These rocks overheated from the flames and started to burst and fly out like popcorn.  Then it started to rain, threatening to put out the fires.  The photographer rushed a couple quick shots and viola: What I now know to be as one of the most enduring, endearing, funny, contradictory and supposed-to-be-scary album covers of all time.  Can you imagine some dainty little Rascal Flatts band having a cover like this today?  Their primpy, Affliction hair would go up in flames before they even snapped a shot.

The Louvin Brothers wrote nearly all their own music and had some of the most spine-tingling vocal harmonies of all time.  The only band that can hold a candle to them in that department is the Beach Boys.  And although most of the Brothers’ tunes were gospel numbers, they were anything but saints.

Especially Ira.

Ira was a son of a bitch, pure and simple.  He womanized, swore on stage and drank to the point of oblivion.  If his mandolin was ever out of tune, which was frequently, he’d freak out and bash it against the wall.  This was in the 40s and 50s, long before Jimi Hendrix and The Who destroyed their instruments.  One minute, Ira would be strumming chords, his voice rising and falling majestically in praise of God.  Then, in the next instant, he’d yell “Get all these fucking drunks out of here!”, despite being drunk as a Hoosier himself.  Then he’d smash his mandolin to smithereens, while children cried and appalled old church ladies gasped and screamed.  I live for stories like that.  The tension!  That’d be like calling a plumber today and instead of fixing your pipes he pulled them off, shattered your mirror and called you a whore.  (That happened to me once, actually, but I totally deserved it.)

The Louvin Brothers broke up in 1963, due to Ira’s advancing alcoholism.  Ironically, Ira died two years later after being struck by a drunk driver.  Charlie went on to have even more hits as a solo artist than the Louvins did together and passed away in 2008.  Perhaps the Louvin Brothers aren’t as famous as Hank Williams or Johnny Cash, but their influence has reverberated through such artists as the Everly Brothers,  Gram Parsons and Bonnie “Prince” Billy.

Satan is Real, folks!  Maybe he’s a 16-foot plywood cut-out.  Maybe he’s a bottle.  Maybe he’s Toby Keith’s noodly perm.  To me he’s one of the greatest albums of all time.

I highly recommend Charlie’s autobiography “Satan Is Real: The Ballad Of The Louvin Brothers.

Suggested Louvin Brothers listening:
When I Stop Dreaming
Satan Is Real
If We Forget God
Don’t Laugh
Almost Persuaded

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