Returning Ira Louvin's Mandolin
My friend Greg Kaczor has told me an amazing story about a mandolin that had been owned by the late Ira Louvin of the Louvin Brothers.
"Back in the summer of 1985, my band, Live and Kickin', hired a consultant to help us with staging, music and how to get to that 'next level' that musicians hear about and strive for," he began. The consultant's name was Dale Strength.
"Dale has a great career in Minnesota as a pro guitarist, and he was Olivia Newton-John's band leader in the '70s," Greg continued. "His roots ran deep in Nashville music from the '50s and '60s. His dad, Texas Bill Strength, was an artist who became a famous DJ and is a member of the DJ Hall of Fame. One of Texas Bill's running buddies was one of the all-time great tenor singers, Opry legend Ira Louvin."
Kaczor remembered, "Believing it would add to the band, Dale Strength gave me a mandolin that he said had belonged to Ira Louvin. I'm a guitarist, and I felt my fingers were too big to play the instrument, so I just kept it hanging on my wall for 23 years.
"In April 2008, I traveled to Nashville from Grand Rapids, Mich., and brought the mandolin with me, thinking I'd try and find out if it was indeed Ira Louvin's instrument. I'd heard Charlie Louvin [Ira's brother in the singing duo] had a souvenir shop near Opry Mills shopping center. I searched for it. No store. So I went online and found Charlie's manager, a man named John. I e-mailed the manager with my info and included a picture of the mandolin. He quickly responded, saying he had forwarded my e-mail to Charlie."
"Later that day, my phone rang. It was Charlie Louvin himself! My mouth hung open when he said, 'Oh, yes, I remember that mandolin very well.' He asked about the missing pickguard which I had no answer for. It was missing when I got it 23 years ago."
"I told Charlie if he had anything he'd like to trade for the mandolin, I'd gladly meet him somewhere for the exchange. I wanted him to have the mandolin, so I didn't really care if he wanted to trade anything or not. I was just excited -- thinking about meeting him and giving him the mandolin."
Greg said Charlie told him, "Hey, how about 11 o'clock tomorrow near the Pancake Pantry? I'll be the 80-year-old guy standing on the corner. I will have my golf cap on and my casino windbreaker, smoking a cigarette. Nobody lets you smoke inside anymore."
The next day, Greg drove to Hillsboro Village near Nashville's Music Row.
"Right on time, I spotted Charlie on the corner having a smoke. I park. We meet. I reach for the mandolin and see a sparkle in his eyes. That was really an awesome moment. Being a musician, I wish I had every instrument I'd let slip through my fingers. But this was his brother's! A brother he lost in a tragic car wreck in the mid '60s. An instrument that they used to sit around and jam with. To him, this mandolin is like an old friend he had not seen in 50 years. Musicians know that an instrument becomes a part of you -- an extension of your soul. It can take you back in time -- the tone of it, the feel of it, the smell of it and, of course, visually. ... Both of us were smiling when he told me he always liked the sound of that mandolin."
"I followed Charlie to John's apartment," Greg continued. "Charlie presented me a CD boxed set that includes all the songs ever recorded by the Louvin Brothers -- eight CDs with 28 songs each. This is a great collection of the best songs and harmonies of the '50s and '60s and picking by a new guitar talent, Chet Atkins!"
The Louvin Brothers were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001.
"Charlie told me the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum had been asking him if he has anything to donate to them," Greg said. "He says he plans to take this newly-found mandolin, plus an old guitar that he played back then, and give it to the Hall of Fame. Charlie says he wants to make sure that I get the credit as the donor of the mandolin."
After Greg told me this unbelievable story, I contacted a few people who matter, and we all agreed that Greg Kaczor is the most unselfish human being on the planet. One thing's for sure: When the mandolin is presented to the Hall of Fame, I want to be there.