From its first taste of chart success in the '60s to its 2002 retirement, the Statler Brothers took Southern gospel-style quartet singing mainstream with country songs about everything from society wronging a prostitute named Rose to older folks' longing for simpler times.
The late Harold Reid, a native of Staunton, Virginia, began singing bass in 1955 with high school gospel group the Four Star Quartet. In 1961, he and his brother Don (lead vocals) reorganized the act as the Kingsmen. To avoid confusion with the garage band behind "Louie, Louie," the group selected new name the Statler Brothers after a brand of tissues.
The Statlers, then featuring Lew DeWitt (tenor) and Phil Balsley (baritone), caught a huge break in 1964 when they joined Johnny Cash's road show. The Cash connection spanned eight years of touring and three seasons of Cash's variety television show.
Jimmy Fortune replaced DeWitt in 1983 due to DeWitt's ailing health. DeWitt died in 1990 from heart and kidney disease, stemming from complications of Crohn's. Fortune stayed with the Statler Brothers through the vocal group's 2002 retirement. He now works out of Nashville as a solo artist.
Harold Reid died on April 24, 2020 after a long battle with kidney failure. He was 80.
Here's our 10 favorite songs from the same act that brought us "Count on Me," "The Official Historian on Shirley Jean Berrell," "Charlotte's Web," "Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott," "You'll Be Back (Every Night in My Dreams)," "(I'll Love You Even) Better Than I Did Then" and the definitive cover of "Hello Mary Lou."
10. "Noah Found Grace in the Eyes of the Lord"
This might seem like an odd choice as it edges out legendary performances of "How Great Thou Art" and "Daddy Sang Bass." Yet it's hard not to feel moved if you're Christian when Fortune hits one note that's as high as Heaven itself.
9. "Atlanta Blue"
Harold's booming bass vocals carry this song, written by his younger brother Don. If you watched a lot of cable TV in 1991 (say, the Statler Brothers' TNN series), then you might associate this one with those American Roads commercials (see above).
Or you might fondly remember the 1984 album Atlanta Blue and such solid deep cuts as "(Let's Just) Take One Night at a Time."
8. "New York City"
For another example of the group's storytelling skills, hear Don sing lead on this tale of a pregnant woman who's seeking a new life in New York City. The narrator's the father of the child, presumably through an affair that's being hidden through geographic distance.
7. "Do You Know You Are My Sunshine"
Despite their sustained success since 1965, the Statler Brothers failed to top the charts until this ray of country sunshine righted that wrong in 1978. It's the first of four No. 1 hits and the only Statler Brothers chart-topper to feature DeWitt (Fortune sings on three additional No. 1s, "Elizabeth" (1983), "My Only Love" (1984) and "Too Much on My Heart" (1985)).
6. "I'll Go to My Grave Loving You"
This Don Reid original stands out as a showpiece of how seamlessly the Statler's voices came together as one. Plus, its lyrics read like a note from a faithful grandfather to a devoted grandmother. Sweet stuff from an act that rode a wave of nostalgia to the Country Music Hall of Fame.
5. "You Can Have Your Cake and Edith Too"
Don't let all of these sincere love letters to the past overshadow that the Statler Brothers were hilarious. Harold Reid in particular could've done stand-up instead, as evidenced by his run as Cadillac Cowboys leader Lester "Roadhog" Moran and, before all of that, this cleverly-worded knee-slapper.
4. "Do You Remember These"
The original Statler Brothers lineup takes turns listing off things they associate with childhood during this 1972 hit. For example, Harold's verse looks back to "the boogie man, lemonade stand and taking your tonsils out." Longing for simpler times and wishing they were still little fellers with no adult responsibilities would become a common theme among several of the Statler's original tunes, namely "The Movies" (1977) and "Child of the Fifties" (1983).
3. "The Class of '57"
Harold and Don Reid wrote this 1972 Grammy winner about a fictitious graduating class from 15 years prior. While some members of the class of '57 lived out their dreams, others struggled through the ups and downs of life. For every wealthy cattle rancher, there's someone scraping by for their next meal. It's way less flowery than "Do You Remember These." It's also way more believable (and for some of us over 15 years removed from high school, it's sadly relatable when checking on old friends).
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2. "Bed of Roses"
The Statlers crossed the Memphis rockabilly sounds of frequent tour mates Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins with socially aware lyrics on their second greatest single. There's more to consider here than the tale of a young boy becoming the lover of a prostitute named Rose. Proper society (and the local church, in particular) get slammed for shunning the two main characters while secretly envying Rose's business acumen.
Tanya Tucker recorded a reworded version for a 1982 greatest hits compilation.
1. "Flowers on the Wall"
The group's best song tells of the absurd mental exercises some turn to when trying to forget an ex.
The DeWitt composition became a Top 5 country and pop hit, shifting perception of the Statler Brothers from Johnny Cash's opening act to a formidable hit-making quartet.
It changed a promising act's fortune 35 years later. This time around, Eric Heatherly and his debut album Swimming in Champagne got a mainstream boost by those familiar lines about "smoking cigarettes and watching Captain Kangaroo."