The Statler Brothers (sometimes simply referred to The Statlers) were an American country music, gospel, and vocal group. The quartet was formed in 1955 performing locally and, in 1964, they began singing backup for Johnny Cash until 1972.
Originally performing gospel music at local churches, the group billed themselves as The Four Star Quartet, and later The Kingsmen. In 1963, when the song “Louie, Louie” by the garage rock band also called The Kingsmen became famous, the group elected to bill themselves as The Statler Brothers. Despite the name, only two members of the group (Don and Harold Reid) are actual brothers and neither has the surname of Statler. The group actually named themselves after a brand of facial tissue they had noticed in a hotel room (they quipped that they could have eventually named themselves “the Kleenex Brothers”). Don Reid sang lead; Harold Reid, Don’s older brother, sang bass; Phil Balsley sang baritone; and Lew DeWitt sang tenor and was the guitarist of the Statlers before being replaced by Jimmy Fortune in 1983 due to DeWitt’s ill health. DeWitt continued to perform as a solo artist until his death on August 15, 1990, from heart and kidney disease. On April 24, 2020, Harold Reid died after a long battle with kidney failure.
The band’s style was closely linked to their gospel roots. “We took gospel harmonies,” said Harold Reid, “and put them over in country music.”
The group remained closely tied to their gospel roots, with a majority of their records containing one gospel song at a minimum. They produced several albums containing only gospel music and recorded a tribute song to the Blackwood Brothers, who influenced their music. The song “We Got Paid by Cash” was written by the Statler Brothers as a tribute to Johnny Cash, who discovered and mentored them.
Very early on in the group’s history, before the group named themselves “The Statler Brothers”, Joe McDorman was their original lead singer.
The Statler Brothers started their career at a performance at Lyndhurst Methodist Church near their hometown of Staunton, Virginia. In 1964, they started to become Johnny Cash’s backing vocal for an 8 1⁄2-year run as his opening act. This period of their career was memorialized in their song “We Got Paid by Cash”. They were featured regularly on Cash’s hit show The Johnny Cash Show on ABC. The show ran from 1969–1971. Due to their expanding career, the Statlers left Cash’s entourage around the mid-1970s to pursue their own careers. They left Cash on good terms.
Two of their best-known songs are “Flowers on the Wall“, their first major hit that was composed and written by Lew DeWitt, and the socially conscious “Bed of Rose’s“. In the 1980s, the Statlers were a mainstay on The Nashville Network (TNN), where their videos were shown regularly. Also on TNN, between 1991 and 1998, they hosted their own show, The Statler Brothers Show, a weekly variety show which was the channel’s top-rated program for its entire run. Their songs have been featured on several film soundtracks and also in the famous video game, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. These range from “Charlotte’s Web” in Smokey and the Bandit II, to “Flowers on the Wall” in the crime dramedy Pulp Fiction. In the video game of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, their songs “Bed of Rose’s” and “New York City” are heard and played in a country music radio station in the game called “K-Rose”.
Throughout their career, much of their appeal was related to their incorporation of comedy and parody into their musical act, thanks in large part to the humorous talent of group member Harold Reid; they were frequently nominated for awards for their comedy as well as their singing. They recorded two comedy albums as Lester “Roadhog” Moran and the Cadillac Cowboys, and one-half of one side of the album Country Music Then and Now was devoted to satirizing small-town radio stations’ Saturday morning shows.
Since forming, the Statler Brothers have released over 40 albums.
The Statler Brothers purchased and renovated their former elementary school in Staunton, and occupied the complex for several years. The complex consisted of offices for the group, a small museum and auditorium, as well as an adjacent building which served as office space for unrelated businesses. A garage was built to store the two tour buses that the group had used for many years. The group has since sold the building, which has been converted back into a school.
In 1970, the group began performing at an annual Independence Day festival in Gypsy Hill Park in Staunton. The event, known as “Happy Birthday USA”, lasted for 25 years and included many country music figures, including Mel Tillis, Charley Pride and many others. The event drew as many as 100,000 fans each year. The group also honored their hometown with the song “Staunton, Virginia” on their 1973 album Do You Love Me Tonight.
Harold Reid died, aged 80, on April 24, 2020.
- 1972 Vocal Group of the Year
- 1973 Vocal Group of the Year
- 1974 Vocal Group of the Year
- 1975 Vocal Group of the Year
- 1976 Vocal Group of the Year
- 1977 Vocal Group of the Year
- 1979 Vocal Group of the Year
- 1980 Vocal Group of the Year
- 1984 Vocal Group of the Year
- 1965 Best New Country & Western Artist
- 1965 Best Contemporary (R&R) Performance – Group (Vocal or Instrumental) – “Flowers on the Wall“
- 1972 Best Country Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group – “The Class of ’57”
- Favorite Country Band, Duo or Group 1979
- Favorite Country Band, Duo or Group 1980
- Favorite Country Band, Duo or Group 1981
The group disbanded and retired after completing a farewell tour on October 26, 2002. Balsley and Don Reid continue to reside in Staunton, as did Harold Reid until his death in April 2020; while Fortune relocated to Nashville, where he continues his music career as a solo artist having released three albums under his own name. The Statlers remain one of the most awarded acts in the history of country music.
Furthermore, Don Reid has pursued a second career as an author; he authored or co-authored three books: Heroes and Outlaws of the Bible, Sunday Morning Memories, and You’ll Know It’s Christmas When . . . He and brother Harold co-wrote a history of the Statler Brothers titled Random Memories, released in February 2008.
Wil and Langdon Reid, the sons of Harold and Don respectively, formed a duo in the 1990s, originally performing under the name Grandstaff. In 2007, Grandstaff recorded “The Statler Brothers Song”, a tribute song to the Statler Brothers.
In an interview on Nashville‘s WSM (AM) on March 25, 2010, Wil Reid said that they decided to change their name to Wilson Fairchild after many people got the name “Grandstaff” wrong during introductions. The name comes from “Wilson”, Wil’s middle name, and “Fairchild”, Langdon’s middle name.
Sisters Kim and Karmen Reid (daughters of Harold) also enjoyed a brief stint as a country duo in the early 1980s, which included a guest appearance on an episode of Hee Haw.
The Statler Brothers have been credited as the first country music act to transfer the genre’s nostalgia from a rural to a suburban setting. They have also been called “America’s Poets” by Kurt Vonnegut. The bluegrass duo Dailey & Vincent often performs with two other members of their band as a quartet in the style of the Statlers, often performing many of the Statlers’ hits in their shows. Jimmy Fortune also sometimes tours with Dailey & Vincent.
- Joe McDorman – lead (1955–1960)
- Lew DeWitt – tenor (1955–1982)
- Phil Balsley – baritone (1955–2002)
- Harold Reid – bass (1955–2002)
- Don Reid – lead (1960–2002)
- Jimmy Fortune – tenor (1982–2002)
- W. K. McNeil, ed. (2005). “The Statler Brothers”. Encyclopedia of Gospel Music. Glasgow: Routledge. p. 376. ISBN 0-415-94179-2.
- Irwin Stamler & Grelund Landon, ed. (1997). “The Statler Brothers”. Country Music: The Encyclopedia. New York: Macmillan. p. 459. ISBN 0-312-26487-9.
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- “Lew DeWitt, 52, Tenor With the Statler Brothers”. The New York Times(obituary). (17 August 1990) retrieved 10 April 2008.
- Zinn, Brad. “Harold Reid, founding member of Statler Brothers, dies at 80”. The News Leader. Retrieved 2020-04-25.
- “Lew Dewitt: After Illness And Despair, A Statler Brother Makes”. Archived from the original on 2014-01-09.
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- “Biography” Archived 2007-12-14 at the Wayback Machine. Rex Allen, Jr.’s official website. (undated). Retrieved on 18 April 2008
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- Brad Zinn, “Harold Reid, founding member of Statler Brothers, dies at 80”, News Leader, April 25, 2020. Retrieved April 25, 2020
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- Kathy Coleman. “About the Statler Brothers” Archived 2007-09-05 at the Wayback Machine. About.com. (undated). Retrieved 13 April 2008
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