In the process, the platinum-selling artists wrote and recorded hit records, made country fans for life and became the most-awarded country group of all time — never mind their 2008 Country Music Hall of Fame induction.
Along the way, they rubbed a lot of elbows and established an identity that was — and remains — as American as baseball, apple pie and Uncle Sam himself. But the Virginia natives came by their red-white-and-blue image honestly, as aptly demonstrated in Random Memories, a 260-plus page book from Yell Publishing that shares snapshots of the group’s career and personal lives, as told by brothers Harold and Don Reid.
Retired from performing since 2002, Harold and Don, in a telephone interview from their Staunton, Va., offices, shared that their career-reflecting book, which features nearly 80 photos, both color and black-and-white, came about after repeated requests from fans to share some of their behind-the-scene experiences.
“We did get asked by lots of people; we had a lot of requests to do that,” confirmed bass vocalist Harold, regarding the impetus for Random Memories. “And our kids, especially all of our boys, we talk about the business (to them) and we tell stories, and they enjoyed them. And they sort of encouraged us and said, ‘You guys ought to put this down on paper.’
“So we decided that yes, we would,” he continued, “because, after retirement, there was sort of a beginning, and a story and an ending ... (and) you like to have all that information available when you sit down to write something — and so I think that’s why we did it. We were able to look back on it as a whole and sort of, you know, we had been influenced by this, that or something else, and we were able to put it down on paper.”
From small town Virginia to the Hall of Fame
Random Memories was penned in an easy, conversational style that's chock-full of candid nuggets about people The Statler Brothers worked with, knew and even briefly met during their long show-biz careers, from Johnny Cash — whom they opened for, for more than eight years based on a deal made with only a handshake — to the adopted “Statler Sister,” Barbara Mandrell, as well as Tex Ritter, Muhammad Ali, Mae West and even MGM movie-queen Joan Crawford, the latter of whom was none too pleased to cross paths with the country stars.
As glamorous as their lives may seem, the outfit first began, in their own words, in June 1955 as "a bunch of small-town Virginia boys who didn't know what a great adventure we were about to have."
That innocent beginning started when four childhood buddies - Joe McDorman, Lew DeWitt, Harold Reid and Phil Balsley - got together to perform a bit of "special music" at their local Methodist church. The classmates’ last-minute, thrown-together performance was a hit with the congregation, whose members raved and invited the teens back for more.
From that point forward, writes Harold in Random Memories, the teens "went into rehearsal like an old Broadway show with a new angel" and dared to dream big in that little Virginia town of Staunton.
Before long, though, Dorman departed and Harold’s little brother, Don, joined the group, whose big break came when the Man in Black tapped them to be his back-up act, a job they honorably fulfilled long after they notched their first top-10 success with “Flowers on the Wall,” a 1966 country hit that became a pop crossover.
A new chapter
In Random Memories, the Reid brothers discuss not only fun times, but sensitive subjects as well, including having to replace DeWitt, the act's original tenor, in 1982 because of Crohn's, a disease that ended his life in 1990. Parting with DeWitt was "pretty rough," albeit necessary.
“Yeah, that was difficult, but that’s part of life, and we knew that and (Lew) understood that,” Don said. "It had to be done for consideration of everybody.”
Moreover, Harold added, "I think Lew was ready to retire, and like we said in the book, we had obligations that just went on and on and on. And we just needed somebody to go on and on with us, and I think that it worked out in a timely fashion and he knew that.”
Next, tenor Jimmy Fortune successfully joined the act, helping it achieve some big chart and radio success, including the No. 1 “Elizabeth.” Thus, the Statlers' popularity endured, and even thrived.
“Our fans stuck with us. To our knowledge, we got even more fans as time went on,” Don remarked. “In fact, the last night we performed, at our farewell concert, it was one of the most successful dates that we ever did throughout our career. So we were still at the top of our game, and all our fans were still there with us until the day we left.”
As for the Grammy Award-winning foursome’s decision to leave the road for good, the book outlines their decision to retire, too. But overall, Don shared, “We’d achieved what we wanted to achieve, and it was just time to do something different.”
Final printed word from The Statlers
For tried ‘n’ true country fans, Random Memories is a must-read. And for fans who hope the book will have a second installment, don’t get your hopes up.
“Oooh, I don’t know about that, (meaning) as far as another book on the Statlers,” Don responded, when asked about a follow-up to the popular autobiography. “We told our memories, and I am sure there’s more stories, other things to tell, but we’d have to dig a little.”
Forever the prankster both on and off stage, Harold, meanwhile, won’t rule another book out. “I could probably write another one," he deadpanned, "once I make up some more stories.”
Lisa L. Rollins can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.