The Statler Brothers became a big hit in the 1960s.
The group produced more than 50 albums for 40 years. The Statler Brothers won Grammy Awards three times and were named the top vocal group by the Country Music Association nine times. They even had a cable television show, “The Statler Brothers Show,” which aired for seven seasons throughout the 1990s.
From Singing Gospel Music To Being Johnny Cash’s Touring Cast
In 1955, four childhood friends from Staunton, Virginia, started singing gospel music at local churches. Harold Reid, Lew DeWitt, Phil Balsley, and Joe McDorman were under the name the Four Star Quartet.
In 1958, the group changed their name to the Kingsmen, and by 1962, McDorman had been replaced by Reid’s brother Don. Eventually, the group settled on a new moniker, The Statler Brothers, to avoid confusion with other groups called the Kingsmen. The group picked its working name on an impulse, out a box of Statler facial tissues. Don Reid jokingly said: “We could just as easily be known as the Kleenex Brothers.”
And the real ride began in the early 1960s. The quartet switched to country music in 1964, after they met Cash and joined his roadshow.
Later, The Statler Brothers were urged to record commercially, and their first single, Flowers on the Wall, broke them as a national act. In 1970, they released “Bed of Roses.” This launched an eight-year string of solid country singles, including “Carry Me Back,” “I’ll Go to My Grave Loving You,” and “Do You Know You Are My Sunshine.”
However, in 1982, DeWitt was forced to leave the band due to Crohn’s disease; the illness killed him on August 15, 1990. Jimmy Fortune joined the remaining Statlers as DeWitt’s successor. Fortune immediately earned the group its second No. 1 with his “Elizabeth,” a tribute to actress Elizabeth Taylor.
The Statler Brothers’ music career never stopped soaring for the following decades.
Don Reid thinks that the way the band musically represented the middle-American culture and values was the reason for their success and longevity. “We talked about small-town life and memories and good American stories that everybody could relate to, from 9 to 90,” he said.
The Statler Brothers wrote original materials. They recorded albums that range from country to gospel to Christmas and even comedy. All through their career, most of their appeal was from the comedy and parody found in their musical acts. Thanks to the humorous talent of group member Harold Reid. As a result, they were frequently nominated for awards for their comedy too. They recorded two comedy albums alter egos Lester “Roadhog” Moran and the Cadillac Cowboys.
Another reason Don Reid sees for the group’s endurance is their continuous efforts to take care of their fans. “We always gave them the best show we could give, sent out a newsletter to keep them informed, and had a staff of six to answer every piece of fan mail, so we had a nice love affair with our fans,” he said.
In return, fans took care of them too. Don Reid continued, “People sometimes get successful and take their fans for granted and think they’ll be in love with you forever, but we weren’t like that. You have to look after your relationships with people on a daily basis.”
The End of The Longest Running Road Show
The Statler Brothers disbanded and retired after they completed their farewell tour on October 26, 2002. The band played their last concert performance in the 10,000-seat Salem Civic Center in Salem, Virginia, after 38 years on the road.
“We talked about it the last couple years, that we couldn’t last forever, so why not [stop performing live] when we want to-instead of when we had to,” Don Reid explained. “When we came home a month ago, it was the first time I completely unpacked my suitcase in 35 and-a-half years.”
Although they were no longer be touring, the group aimed to remain active. They released a gospel album, “Amen,” and the CD and video of their final concert. In 2006, the group released “Favorites,” a 12-song compilation handpicked by the band’s remaining members. The album featured only the group’s original works recorded after the departure of DeWitt, and this ranges from 1983 to 1993.
Balsley and the Reid brothers continued to reside in Staunton. Fortune, on the other hand, has relocated to Nashville, where he continued his music career as a solo artist. He was able to release three albums as a soloist.
Don Reid went after a second career as an author. He wrote three books: “Heroes and Outlaws of the Bible,” “Sunday Morning Memories,” and “You’ll Know It’s Christmas When….” He and Harold also co-wrote a history of the Statler Brothers, titled “Random Memories.”
Unfortunately, Harold Reid died on April 24 at his home in Staunton, Virginia. According to a statement on the band’s website, the artist had “bravely endured a long battle with kidney failure.” He was 80.
The Statler Brothers may have come to an end, but they will remain to be the most awarded act in the history of country music. They will always be one of country music’s most successful quartets.
“We’ve been blessed,” Harold Reid once said, “There’s a lot of people out there with more talent than us who have not been able to show what they could do.”