Billy Barksdale: The History, the Music


a0394004310_10by Sean Jewell ::

The world of music we know is pretty well owed to the Louvin Brothers. Right from the start they were different, singing supernatural harmonies they’d dedicated their life to crafting. Before they even arrived in Nashville they could barely land a gig for all the other bands who’d been hired to sing their songs. Once they did get to Nashville they battled stodgy A&R men and crooked promoters for their spot on stage. Ira’s vision and fiery temper was just as much an asset as Charlie’s talent and likability back in those days. It was also a detriment. If  you’ve ever seen anyone smash a guitar on stage, they probably owe that move to the Louvin Brothers, too. Ira’d smash a mandolin that got outta tune on him just as quick as a booker could ask them to never return. Though they booked plenty of gigs and recorded plenty, their professional relationship ended on account of Ira’s alcohol fueled rage and Charlie’s good sense.

That’s where Billy Barksdale comes in. Once Ira was off on his own he needed a band to tour and record with. While there’s never been a shortage of talent in Alabama, Billy Barksdale must have stood out, because that’s who Ira chose. You wouldn’t know it though, because Billy’s story is a footnote in most of the books on the subject. Aside from the fact that he was the driver the night he, his wife Adelle, Ira Louvin, and Ira’s wife Anne died in a head on collision with a drunk driver, he’s really not got the credit he’s due as Ira’s supporting cast in the post Louvin Brother’s years.

Billy’s grandson, Danny Barksdale, aims to set that record straight in his two volume radio style documentary about his grandfather. Using interviews from family, friends, and associates of Billy and Adelle, Danny has managed to make the last years of Ira and his grandfather’s life more than just a footnote.

Scan-141102-0003Backed by old reel to reel recordings of his grandfather playing, we get to know the man Billy Barksdale was. The manager of a soft drink distributor for Dr. Pepper, a father, a truly memorable musician. The few recordings of Billy playing solo are historical treasure, and are included here in another volume. His version of “White Lightnin” is accentuated by a North Alabama drawl. His version of Porter Wagoner’s “Everything She Touches” (which ironically captures a screaming baby in the background) is a perfectly stripped down version of the original. Barksdale is accompanied by his own band on several tracks covering Hank Williams, Johnny Horton, Webb Pierce, Ira Louvin, and even performing some of his own material.

Sadly, Danny tells me that all the other existing recordings of Billy, including some he’d made with Ira Louvin, have been destroyed in floods and fires, lost to the ravages of time.

All together these volumes not only properly introduce us to Billy Barksdale, but include the stories of just how Billy kept Ira on the path to the narrow gate, away from the broad road to self-destruction. As the story is amplified so is the irony and tragedy. Ira’s drinking was fueled by the success of others before him, and his troubles maintaining a religious lifestyle. On his last trip it’s said Ira was headed home to start a new life as a preacher himself, trying to pull things together. Further motivated by Billy and Adelle, whose sons were to be baptized at the baptist church that night, the two set out on the road one last time. All involved in the crash perished, Ira on his way to feeling better, Billy on his way to getting the attention he worked so hard to earn.

Fifty years later, one last missing piece of the puzzling life of Ira Louvin has come into place. Thanks to Danny Barksdale, whose grandfather Billy Barksdale did his best to put Ira’s life back in place all those years ago. Billy Barksdale : The History, and The Music are available on Bandcamp now.

Top Song : Billy Barksdale – “‘Cause I’m Waiting, My Darling, For You To Call” by Billy Barksdale

Bottom Song: Billy Barksdale – “Everything She Touches” by Porter Wagoner