Skip to main content

From the Archives: Jazz Photographer Roy DeCarava.

Photographer Roy DeCarava. A collection of his photographs, featuring leading jazz musicians and life in Harlem, spanning the past 50 years has been published recently: "Roy DeCarava: A Retrospective." (Museum of Modern Art). The traveling exhibit of DeCarava's work is currently being shown at the San Francisco Modern Museum of Art (Jan 23-April 14, 1998) (REBROADCAST from 5/8/96)

21:44

Other segments from the episode on January 30, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, January 30, 1998: Interview with Roy DeCarava; Interview with Charlie Louvin; Review of the film "The Apostle."

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: JANUARY 30, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 013001NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: The Longest Train
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:30

BARBARA BOGAEV, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev, filling in for Terry Gross.

Elvis opened for them. The Everly Brothers were inspired by their harmonies. The Byrds and Emmylou Harris recorded their songs. The Louvin Brothers are considered one of the great vocal harmony duos of country music. They were popular at the Grand Olde Opry and well represented on the country music charts from the late '50s until the mid-'60s when the act broke up.

Brother Ira was killed in a car accident soon after. Charlie Louvin has continued to record and to perform at the Opry. His latest CD, "The Longest Train," features songs that he first recorded with his brother.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "THE LONGEST TRAIN")

CHARLIE LOUVIN, SINGER, SINGING: When I stop dreaming
That's when I'll stop loving you

The worst I've ever been hurt in my life
The first time I ever wanted to die
Was the night when you told me
You loved someone else
And asked me if I could forget?

When I stop dreaming
That's when I'll stop wanting you

BARBARA BOGAEV, HOST: Charlie Louvin, with harmonies by Barry and Holly Tashon (ph). Terry Gross spoke with Louvin in 1996. She asked him if it was difficult to sing alone without his brother, after his brother died.

LOUVIN: I'd always believed that any song that's worth singing is worth putting harmony on. And of course, I'd had grown used to that for the 23 years that my brother and I had worked together. And even today, 34 years after he's gone, I -- when it comes time for the harmonies to come in, I will move to my left because my brother and I always used to use one microphone.

And so you had to share the mike, and I -- I -- even today, I will move over to the left to give the harmony room, knowing in my mind that there's no harmony standing on my right. But it's just -- old habits are hard to break.

TERRY GROSS, HOST: The harmonies that you created with your brother, I think were based on the sacred harp singing that you used to do in church. Would you describe those kinds of harmonies that come out of sacred harp singing, or what's also known as "shaped note" singing?

LOUVIN: I'm not sure, Terry, that I can describe them -- or explain them where they'd be understood. It's just something -- I don't have any musical learning. What I know and what we did is -- it just came natural for us because we was raised in a family that went to these sacred harp singings with regularity.

There's things that I can't explain to it -- there's actually -- they're doing five-part harmonies. And most people today thinks that four is the limit when a quartet sings -- that they've got all the parts. But the sacred harp or shaped note singing people used five harmonies, and some of them are extremely high, with the ladies parts. And none of them is low as the -- as the quartets practice today. It would be like a mid-range bass part.

GROSS: How did you tape the -- like, five-part harmonies that you were familiar with from church, and adapt that to a two-voice style? What did you use from that? I guess what I'm really asking is how did you work out your harmonies with your brother?

LOUVIN: My brother adapted to harmony that he thought sounded good. And it was always good enough for me. I remember once, our A&R man asked my brother: "that's not" -- or actually, he told him. He said: "that's not really tenor you're singing there on that song, is it?" And my brother said: "what? You don't like it?" And he said: "I didn't say I didn't like it. I just don't think it's, you know, like regular tenor." And my brother said: "well, I don't really don't know what it is. I just thought it sounded good so I put it in there."

And that's kind of the way that we -- us being raised together -- just if it was obvious that the song was going to get too high for me to sing in a certain place, my brother would just automatically take that high lead and I would do the low harmony. We didn't have to step on each other's foot or wink or bump shoulders to do this. It was just something that you knew was gonna happen in the song and you just -- you'd go ahead and change to a part that you was capable of doing.

GROSS: Your early recordings were gospel tunes. Many of them were originals. In fact, why don't we hear one of those originals that you co-wrote with your brother Ira. This was made in 1952, and the song is called "The Family Who Prays."

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "THE FAMILY WHO PRAYS")

THE LOUVIN BROTHERS, SINGERS, SINGING: The family who prays
Will never be parted
Their circle in heaven unbroken shall stand
(Unintelligible) in
My good faithful servant
The family who prays
Never shall part

Satan has parted
Fathers and mothers
Filling their heart with his envy and hate
Heading their pathway
Down to destruction
Leaving their children like orphans to stray

The family who prays
Will never be parted

GROSS: The Louvin Brothers from 1952 -- Chet Atkins, featured on electric guitar?

LOUVIN: Yes. Chet recorded our first Capitol Record with us, and Chet is a big part of the Louvin Brothers sound, from The Family Who Prays right on through to the end of the Louvin Brothers' career.

GROSS: You were singing a lot of gospel songs early in your career, but I know your brother Ira had the reputation of being a heavy drinker and of having quite a temper. Did you share the same religious convictions? Did you live with the same kind of values? Or, was there a big difference there?

LOUVIN: No, when -- you know, a lot of us know better, but we don't do better. He knew better. He was extremely well-versed on the good book, as far as knowing what was right or wrong. He just -- he just wasn't able to conquer the devil, I guess. But we didn't have any major problems with the drinking until, I'd say, the end of 1958. The Louvin Brother records -- the sales slowed down as all other country artists did in 1958, because the music was changing.

And so our producer told my brother: "I believe that it's the mandolin that's keeping Louvin Brother records from selling" -- which had always been a featured part, and my brother worked hard to become proficient on the mandolin.

And when this producer, namely Ken Nelson (ph), said this to my brother, and my brother feeling that Mr. Nelson was a close friend and a trusted friend, he believed him. And so, he would never play his mandolin again on a recording after that statement. If it would come up, somebody would say: "I think this would sound good with the mandolin." My brother would say: "nah, let the piano do it or let the guitar do it. Anybody -- but I'm not doing it."

And it -- it caused him to drink extremely heavy, and he went between then and the time he passed away, went through three wives and just lots and lots of problems that he never could whip.

GROSS: Did you start losing dates too? Did -- did he get a reputation for drinking a lot?

LOUVIN: Unfortunately, Terry, if you're half of a duet, one person in that duet don't ever get a bad name. It's just "the Louvin Brothers did this."

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

LOUVIN: The Louvin Brothers did that. Anything he did -- good, bad, or indifferent -- I was, in the minds of the promoters and the radio stations and what have you, I was as guilty as he. And no way that I could change that. The only way I could change it was be for us to not to be together.

And that finally happened on August 18th, 1963. I just -- we had gone from a pretty good career and, well, from early, the '50s, the song The Family Who Prays right on up through our recordings, we'd done quite well. And we found ourselves in 1963 on the bottom of the totem pole, playing very few dates and -- because promoters, the men who spend the money for the TV ads and the radio ads in the newspaper, rent the building and all this -- they don't buy problems.

With everything running as smooth as possible, they'll still have enough problems to drive them half way batty. But if they know that any particular group is more apt to cause them problems than they are to be straight that day, then they just won't buy 'em.

And that's what happened to the Louvin Brother career.

GROSS: My guest is Charlie Louvin. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

Back with Charlie Louvin. His new CD, The Longest Train, features solo versions of songs he first recorded with his brother Ira when they performed as The Louvin Brothers.

I want to play another original gospel song that you recorded, called "I Like The Christian Life." This is really a beautiful song. Graham Parson (ph) loved this song and used it on The Byrds album "Sweetheart of the Rodeo." Do you remember writing this?

LOUVIN: No I don't. Things went -- went and come in the Louvin Brothers career. Sometimes my brother would be a totally good man. He could have been a preacher if he'd wanted to. He was that knowledgeable of the good book and he had the gift. But my brother was the gifted songwriter. I came up with the ideas. If I could give him a title and a few words of the story, he could write it in five minutes. So, this is the way we worked.

I don't specifically remember the day that that song was wrote, but I remember that my brother was attempting with all of his might to live a Christian life so -- at that time, when the statement was made "I like the Christian life," he thought that might make a song, so what you're about to play is what he got just from that title.

GROSS: Well, let's hear it. And this is from Charlie Louvin's new album called The Longest Train.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "I LIKE THE CHRISTIAN LIFE")

LOUVIN, SINGING: My buddies tell me that I should have waited
They say I'm missing a whole world of fun
But I am happy and I sing with pride
I like the Christian life

I won't lose a friend
By heeding God's call
What is a friend
Who'd want you to fall?

Others find pleasures
In things I despise
I like the Christian life

GROSS: That's Charlie Louvin from his new album The Longest Train.

Did friends ever mock you for trying to live the Christian life?

LOUVIN: No, but -- I wouldn't say they mocked. When you're not living a Christian life, you have one set of friends. And if you're gonna profess to live a Christian life, it's obvious that you're gonna have to change friends. You're gonna have to change a lot of habits -- old habits being hard to break. Sometimes it can't be done.

So if you prefer to hang around with your old friends, there's a good chance that you'll drift right back into doing exactly what you were -- are trying to get out of doing.

GROSS: What was your reaction when you heard I Like The Christian Life performed by The Byrds?

LOUVIN: Well, I liked it. It was different. It was lazier -- didn't have the fire in it that the Louvin Brothers had in their arrangement. But I -- I enjoyed it. Graham Parson also recorded "Cash on the Barrelhead." And the biggest favor that the -- that Graham Parson ever did for the Louvin Brothers was when he introduced Emmylou Harris to the Louvin Brothers sound.

He played this song for her -- I don't know exactly which song it was -- but her remark was: "who is that girl singing the high part?" And Graham said that's not a girl. That's Ira Louvin. And so, Emmylou did a big favor for the Louvin Brother music catalog. I guess it's about 500 songs in all, and she recorded five or six of them, which I appreciate. I know Ira would have too.

GROSS: In fact, I think one of the songs she recorded was "If I Could Only Win Your Love."

LOUVIN: That was her kick-off song for her career. And I guess she thought a Louvin Brothers was a good luck charm for her, so she recorded "Every Time You Leave," "When I Stop Dreaming," and a couple of the gospel songs.

GROSS: Why don't we hear the Louvin Brothers 1958 recording of "If I Could Only Win Your Love?"

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "IF I COULD ONLY WIN YOUR LOVE")

THE LOUVIN BROTHERS, SINGING: If I could only win your love
I'd make the most of everything
I'd proudly wear your wedding ring
My heart would never stray one dream away

If I could only win your love
I'd give my all to make it live
You'll never know how much I'd give
If I could only win your love

Oh how can I ever say
How I crave your love
When you're gone away

Oh how can I ever show
How I burn inside
When you hold me tight

If I could only win your love
I'd give...

GROSS: That's the Louvin Brothers recorded in 1958. And that recording is featured on an anthology called "The Louvin Brothers: When I Stop Dreaming." That was issued by Razor and Tigh (ph).

You can hear a little bit of early rock and roll influence on there in the instrumentation.

LOUVIN: On -- on which is that?

GROSS: If I Can Only Win Your Love.

LOUVIN: Well, that was 1958.

GROSS: Right.

LOUVIN: Do you know what the influence was then?

GROSS: Well, you can hear it on the piano...

LOUVIN: Oh, you're not old enough -- you're not ...

GROSS: Oh yes I am.

LOUVIN: ... old enough to remember Elvis, are you?

GROSS: Oh, no -- not at all, not at all.

LOUVIN: No, but it -- we worked a lot of dates on the road with Elvis -- Elvis Presley.

GROSS: How did you feel about the sexuality in his performances?

LOUVIN: Oh, that didn't bother me, you know. My brother worked out a perfect impersonation of Elvis. Elvis is the only man that I'd ever seen that could wear his clothes out from the inside instead of the outside, you know. So -- it was kind of funny when it was happening. I -- like many other people, I thought it was a fad. It was just a fad that people were going through 'cause I'd seen fads before come and go.

And then I visited Elvis' mother -- my wife and I did -- in Memphis. And I seen ladies old as my mother and some older on their knees, reaching under Elvis Presley's fence just to pull blades of grass so's that they could take it home and say it came out of Elvis' yard.

Then, I knew it wasn't a fad.

GROSS: You and your brother broke up the Louvin Brothers and went your separate ways in 1963. And it was I think just about a year later that your brother and his wife were killed in a head-on road collision. And I think it was the driver in the other car that was drinking and that was responsible for the crash. Is that right?

LOUVIN: Yes, that's true. It happened in Missouri, half-way mark between Kansas City and St. Louis. My brother was coming home from an engagement that they had been on in Kansas City. And the other two people was going from St. Louis to Kansas City to celebrate Father's Day. They just started celebrating it too early, that's all. They didn't wait 'til they got out of that car.

GROSS: What -- how did it change your life when your brother was killed?

LOUVIN: Well, I'd already become a solo artist, so to speak, Terry, and I had released -- or Capitol Record people had released "I Don't Love You Anymore," which went to the number one spot. And I believe the second song was "Think I'll Go Somewhere, Cry Myself To Sleep." And it was doing good at the time.

And my brother kind of -- kind of felt that somebody'd done him wrong. But I hadn't. I -- that's the only -- music is the only thing I knew, and so naturally I would try to stay in the business, because he had sworn to me that he was getting out of the business.

However, he -- he had -- he was making attempts to get back in the business; had a couple of records released for Capitol Records. Neither one of them had done anything, but I'm sure that if he would have been given time, he'd a figured out what the public wanted and that's what he would've gave them.

GROSS: Are you still performing with the Opry?

LOUVIN: Yes, Ma'am.

GROSS: How long has it been?

LOUVIN: I'm -- I'm almost finished with my 42nd year.

GROSS: Wow.

LOUVIN: In February next will be my 42nd anniversary and I'll start into my 43rd year with the Opry. And I'm really hoping that it'll work into something regular here soon.

LAUGHTER

It hasn't...

GROSS: Yeah, right.

BOGAEV: Charlie Louvin, from a 1996 interview with Terry Gross.

Charlie Louvin is performing tonight at the Grand Olde Opry. Next month, he starts his 44th year there.

Coming up, a review of the new film "The Apostle."

This is FRESH AIR.

Dateline: Barbara Bogaev, Philadelphia
Guest: Charlie Louvin
High: Country Music performer Charlie Louvin. In the 1950s, he and his brother Ira Louvin were regulars at the Grand Olde Opry. Ira was later killed in a car accident. Charlie re-recorded many of their hits which were featured on the CD "The Longest Train" released by Watermelon Records in 1996.
Spec: Music Industry; Charlie Louvin; The Longest Train
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: The Longest Train
Show: FRESH AIR
Date: JANUARY 30, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 013002NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: The Apostle
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:55

BARBARA BOGAEV, HOST: "The Apostle" is the new film written and directed by its star, Robert Duvall. It's the story of a Southern evangelical preacher and his journey to salvation.

Our film critic John Powers has a review.

JOHN POWERS, FRESH AIR COMMENTATOR: The Apostle begins with an extraordinary scene. Robert Duvall is a Pentecostal preacher who's driving down the highway when he spots an auto accident. Treating this as a God-send, he goes to one of the cars, whose driver is clearly in terrible shape. Even as the cops order him to step aside, he keeps talking to the dying man, urging him to accept Jesus.

He's so busy saving the driver's immortal soul that he shows not the slightest concern for the man's bodily life. And by the time he triumphantly finishes his spiritual exhortations, we find ourselves wondering: is this guy a minister or a madman?

The preacher's name is Eulis "Sonny" Dewey (ph), and when the movie begins, he seems to have it made. He's got a big parish in Texas and a family he adores. But he loses it all when his wife, played by Farrah Fawcett, has an affair with another minister. These two conspire to get Sonny driven from his own church, and in his rage Sonny lashes out -- walloping the other man with a baseball bat.

Suddenly a wanted man, he makes a journey into the wilderness, eventually winding up in Bayou Boatea (ph), Louisiana -- a small, predominantly black town. There, he does various odd jobs and more important, seeks redemption through good works. Calling himself "The Apostle," he attempts to reopen a closed church and begin preaching again.

For Sonny's devotion to Christ isn't something so shallow as a mere calling. It's a direct, personal relationship, as is clear when, his whole life collapsing, Sonny talks one-on-one with the Lord.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "THE APOSTLE")

ROBERT DUVALL, ACTOR, AS EULIS "SONNY" DEWEY: Give me a sign or something. Blow this pain out of me. Give it to me tonight, Lord God Jehovah. If you won't give me back my wife, give me peace. Give it to me. Give it to me. Give it to me. Give me peace. Give me peace.

I don't know who's been fooling with me -- you or the devil. I don't know. And I won't even bring the human into this. He's just a mutt, so I'm not even going to bring him into it. But I'm confused. I'm mad. I love you Lord. I love you, but I'm mad at you. I am mad at you.

So deliver me tonight, Lord. What should I do? Now tell me, should I lay hands on myself? What should I do? I know I'm a sinner and a once-in-a-while womanizer, but I'm your servant. Since I was a little boy, you brought me back from the dead. I'm your servant. What should I do? Tell me. I've always called you Jesus. You always called me Sonny. What should I do, Jesus? This is Sonny talking now.

POWERS: The Apostle was a labor of love for its writer, director and star, who financed the film out of his own pocket. The result is something of a one-man show. This isn't altogether a bad thing, for Duvall is a genuinely great actor. Although usually at his best in supporting roles, like Tom Hagen in "The Godfather" or Kilgore in "Apocalypse Now," Sonny is probably his strongest lead performance -- a lived-in characterization that comes complete with a goofy, bounding walk.

Duvall gives us Sonny without ever passing judgment, making us feel that we're seeing a man in all his many-sided complexity -- as a wounded cuckold and a hell-fire preacher; a short-order cook and a happy worker for the Lord.

Although Duvall lacks the dazzling charisma of a world-class Bible-thumper -- he's no Jimmy Swaggart -- it's a memorable piece of acting. But like so many actors who direct movies, Duvall is far more precise in creating his own character than in imagining the world around him. The movie is filled with unanswered questions, like: how did Sonny's adulterous wife manage to steal the church away from him? Or: how can Sonny keep making credit card calls without the police ever noticing?

More damning, none of the other characters have a tenth of Sonny's depth. This is downright aggravating in the case of the black characters, who are at once sentimentalized -- they spend far too much time grinning sweetly -- and stripped of the power to act. They seem to have been waiting for Sonny to come and build them a church.

Yet despite such artistic sins, The Apostle is well worth seeing because it does something that our movies almost never do: it takes religion seriously, treating it not as a foible or a kind of grandiose hypocrisy. Sonny is not "Elmer Gantry," nor is his flock portrayed as a bunch of suckers.

Rather, Duvall offers us a world that will seem exotic to many viewers, but perfectly normal to millions of others, especially in the South -- a world in which the gospels matter more than CNN or Vanity Fair; a world whose inhabitants daily feel the real presence of God.

The Apostle is a movie about men and women who, each time they sit down to dinner, know for sure that the Holy Ghost is sitting right there at the table.

BOGAEV: John Powers is film critic for Vogue.

Dateline: John Powers; Barbara Bogaev, Philadelphia
Guest:
High: Film critic John Powers reviews "The Apostle" starring Robert Duvall and Farrah Fawcett.
Spec: Movie Industry; Religion; The Apostle
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: The Apostle
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?

Advertisement

Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR

52:30

Did COVID-19 Leak From A Lab? A Reporter Investigates — And Finds Roadblocks

President Biden has asked the intelligence community to investigate whether or not the virus leaked from a lab in Wuhan, China. Vanity Fair reporter Katherine Eban shares her findings.

41:50

'Forget The Alamo' Author Says We Have The Texas Origin Story All Wrong

In their new book, Forget the Alamo, Bryan Burrough and co-writers Chris Tomlinson and Jason Stanford challenge common misconceptions surrounding the conflict — including the notion that Davy Crockett was a martyr who fought to the death rather than surrender.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.

Playing

Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue