Fifty-six years after the Louvin Brothers first recorded a country classic, a husband and wife came together to update it, while at the same time helping out – and paying a two-fold tribute – to the Louvins and to longtime friend Emmylou Harris. The couple in question: Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood.
On August 5th, 1958, brothers Ira and Charlie Louvin recorded “If I Could Only Win Your Love,” a song they had co-written, but of which Charlie Louvin would tell author Charles Wolfe in 1996, “Ira was, at least in his own mind, a ladies’ man, and I think this was wrote about somebody he didn’t score with.” It’s perhaps fitting then that the Louvins didn’t score a hit with this tune either, since it wasn’t even issued as a single.
That would happen 17 years later, however, in a version recorded by relative newcomer Emmylou Harris, whose former singing partner and mentor, Gram Parsons, had been hugely influenced by the Louvins’ close sibling harmony. The second single from her 1975 LP, Pieces of the Sky, “If I Could Only Win Your Love” was the first of four consecutive Top Five hits for Harris, which included two Number Ones. The tune, which peaked at Number Four, was one of the most successful covers of a Louvins original, but according to Louvin it might have been hard to recognize. In Wolfe’s book, In Close Harmony: The Story of the Louvin Brothers, Louvin is quoted as saying, “If you heard the Louvin Brothers record of it and then heard what Emmylou did to it, you’d have trouble believing that was the same song. To me, it just clobbers my mind to know the way some of the young people hear the old songs.” He does add, however, “I think it’s great.”
It’s impossible to know what Charlie, who died in 2011, would have made of the version Yearwood and Brooks performed together in August 2014. The occasion was a benefit concert for Crossroads Campus at Nashville’s Cannery Ballroom. Harris was scheduled to appear but bowed out when her elderly mother became ill. (She died three days later on August 19th.)
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Along with musicians Sam Bush and Buddy Miller, the audience was treated to an appearance from Yearwood’s husband, who mostly strummed acoustic guitar alongside her but also added tentative harmony to this impromptu performance. I’m still gonna go home with you, it’s OK,” Yearwood joked to Brooks, who stayed more focused on his guitar playing throughout, letting his wife take the vocal spotlight. “I need one of these to hide my gut,” Brooks joked as his partner called out for a guitar solo. As the tune ended, the pair faced each other to deliver spine-chilling harmony worthy of the Louvins and Harris.
Yearwood gave Harris another nod with a rousing performance of the latter’s third Number One hit, “Two More Bottles of Wine,” for which she was flanked by two of Harris’s former bandmates, Miller on guitar and Bush playing mandolin.
Yearwood and Brooks offered another taste of wine at a more recent Nashville show, his first-ever concert at the Ryman Auditorium, as the couple sang “Whiskey to Wine,” a duet which is expected to be included on Brooks’ next LP.