The cover art for the Louvin Brothers‘ Satan Is Real is considered by some as a strange combination of corny and terrifying, portraying the smiling Louvin Brothers dressed in white and posing in front of a background of fire and brimstone. Standing behind them is a massive, crudely constructed replica of Satan.
Ira constructed the Satan behind them in the photo and created the hellscape that surrounded them. Charlie Louvin later recalled the set they built to capture the cover image. He explained:
“Ira built that set. The devil was 12 feet tall, built out of plywood. We went to this rock quarry and then took old tires and soaked them in kerosene, got them to burn good. It had just started to sprinkle rain when we got that picture taken.”
The rocks behind them on the iconic cover nearly injured the brothers – according to the liner notes on a reissue of Satan Is Real, the stones they doused in kerosene exploded while they were shooting the photos.
Ira Louvin’s increasingly worrying behavior, centered around a severe alcohol problem, prompted Charlie to abandon their career and effectively end the Louvin Brothers in 1963. At the time of the disbandment, Ira had begun acting out – he even tried to strangle his third wife with a telephone cord, and she shot him six times in response.
Ira’s wife famously told police she’d do it again if needed. “If that sonofabitch don’t die, I’ll shoot him again,” she said.
In 1965, just two years after his duo disbanded, Ira Louvin died in a car crash, along with his wife. His untimely death cemented legacies for both the musical triumphs and the intense and often violent behavior he displayed throughout his short life.
“Daddy was a bit of a tormented soul,” his daughter, Kathy, later said. “He had these intense dreams. I remember he would get up at night and draw what he’d dreamed. He would often dream of seven-headed monsters and proverbial hellfire and brimstone.”
Despite the corny/creepy cover Satan Is Real is widely regarded as one of the Louvin Brothers best records.