The Louvin Brothers were from Hanegar, Alabama, but, for a brief time in the 1940s, they called Memphis home. Brilliant harmonizers, the Louvins (Ira and Charlie) broadcast on WMPS and cut a record in Memphis before relocating to the other side of the state. They returned in '52, holding down day jobs as post-office clerks while gigging on weekends and at night. (Their gospel sides for Capitol and MGM were favorites of Elvis Presley and his mother, Gladys.) But the Louvins uprooted again and again, moving to Knoxville and Nashville, where they found even greater success recording hillbilly laments such as "Knoxville Girl" and "When I Stop Dreaming."
The Louvins have been long revered by the alternative set: Gram Parsons was just a teenager when Ira Louvin, the duo's high tenor and mandolin player, died in a car accident, but soon after, Parsons began unearthing their classic country compositions "Cash on the Barrel Head" and "The Christian Life" for inclusion on albums such as The Byrds' Sweetheart of the Rodeo and his own Grevious Angel. By then, Charlie Louvin, who possesses a whisky-smooth voice and a mournful guitar style that mellows with age, was a well-established solo artist with a handful of top-selling country hits. His career has carried him into his 70s and through a resurgence of interest in Louvin Brothers material by such disparate artists as Emmylou Harris, Southern Culture on the Skids, Nick Cave, Uncle Tupelo, Johnny Cash, and The Raconteurs.
Charlie Louvin returns to Memphis this Friday, April 20th, for a free show at Shangri-La Records. He's promoting his new eponymously titled album, an indie-rock-meets-country collision that includes contributions from Jeff Tweedy, Tom T. Hall, Will Oldham, and George Jones.
"I'm psyched," says Shangri-La owner Jared McStay. "[Louvin's] manager called and wanted to do it. They're planning to film it for a documentary. It's just another cool thing we can do here." Showtime is at 6 p.m. For more information, visit Shangri.com, or call 274-1916.
Last fall, I was impressed when "Jump Back Jake" Rabinbach took over the microphone at Wild Bill's, with a band that included local soul session legends Leroy "Flick" Hodges and Hubbie Mitchell. Now I can't get Rabinbach's self-released, five-song debut off my CD player. Recorded at Young Avenue Sound during the last two days of December, Already Sold harkens back to the blue-eyed country-soul sound perfected by Tony Joe White, Dan Penn, and George Soule. Rabinbach's band, composed of musicians plucked from Third Man (formerly Augustine) and Snowglobe, hits an incredible groove, Greg Faison driving the group from a funky pocket and Paul Morelli and Nashon Benford holding down the horn section.
The self-produced CD epitomizes Rabinbach's love affair with this town.
"I thought that between Big Star, Hi, Stax, Elvis, and Sun, there has to be something down here that's fueling everybody," says Rabinbach, a native New Yorker, who, with his girlfriend Eileen Meyer, moved to Memphis last year. He signed up for an internship at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music upon his arrival.
"I interviewed Jim Dickinson for the Stax archives, and those three hours changed my life," he says. "I met Jack Yarber and Harlan T. Bobo, and I really identified with the way they jumped from style to style. I began to see myself continuing that tradition of weird Southern white boys — Doug Sahm, Tony Joe, Eddie Hinton — who play soul music."
Rabinbach and Meyer formed Dirt Floor Films to shoot a documentary about their Memphis experience, which has the working title My Happiness: An Outsider's Love Affair with Memphis Music.
"So far, we have 40 hours of footage. The most exciting thing we've done recently was a shoot with R.L. Boyce and Lightnin' Malcolm. We're doing fund-raising for live shoots, and we're looking for some archival footage [of other musicians]. It's weird making a film where I'm also the subject," he muses, "but we wanted to capture the evolution of an outsider who immerses himself in this culture."
Jump Back Jake and his band — which includes bassist Brandon Robertson and guitarist Jake Vest — will be playing at the Hi-Tone this Friday night, with Giant Bear opening the show. For more information, visit Rabinbach's MySpace page, MySpace.com/JumpBackJake.