The Statler Brothers originate from Staunton, a town on the edge of Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, USA. In 1955 Harold W. Reid (21 August 1939, Augusta County, Virginia, USA; bass), Philip E. Balsley (b. 8 August 1939, Augusta County, Virginia, USA; baritone), Lew C. DeWitt (b. 8 March 1938, Roanoke County, Virginia, USA, d. 15 August 1990, Waynesboro, Virginia, USA; tenor) and Joe McDorman formed a gospel quartet. Although McDorman never became a Statler, he has worked with them occasionally. In 1960 he was replaced by Harold’s brother, Donald S. Reid (b. 5 June 1945, Staunton, Virginia, USA), who is now the group’s lead singer. Originally the quartet was called the Kingsmen, but they changed it to avoid confusion with a US pop group. The Statler Brothers was chosen from the manufacturer’s name on a box of tissues, and the group point out that they might have been the Kleenex Brothers. In 1963, they auditioned for Johnny Cash, who invited them to be part of his road show. He also secured a record contract with Columbia Records, but the label was disappointed with the poor sales of their first records. Having been refused further studio time, they recorded Lew DeWitt’s song ‘Flowers On The Wall’, during a break in one of Cash’s sessions. The infectious novelty made number 4 on the US pop charts (number 2 country) and, despite the American references, also entered the UK Top 40.
The Statler Brothers continued with Cash’s road show and recorded both with him (‘Daddy Sang Bass’) and on their own (‘Ruthless’, ‘You Can’t Have Your Kate And Edith Too’). Dissatisfied by the promotion of their records and by the lukewarm material they were given, they switched to Mercury Records in 1970 and teamed up with producer Jerry Kennedy. With US country hits such as ‘Bed Of Roses’, ‘Do You Remember These?’, ‘I’ll Go To My Grave Loving You’ and the number 1 ‘Do You Know You Are My Sunshine?’, they established themselves as the number 1 country vocal group. They left Cash’s road show in 1972, but they recorded a tribute to him, ‘We Got Paid By Cash’, as well as tributes to their favourite gospel group (‘The Blackwood Brothers By The Statler Brothers’) and their favourite guitarist (‘ Chet Atkins’ Hand’). DeWitt was incapacitated through Crohn’s disease and left in 1982. He released the solo On My Own in 1985, five years before his death.
Many of their songs relate to their love of the cinema – ‘The Movies’, ‘Whatever Happened To Randolph Scott?’ and ‘Elizabeth’, a country number 1 inspired by watching the film Giant, and written by Jimmy Fortune (b. 11 March 1955, Williamsburg, Virginia, USA), who replaced DeWitt. Fortune also wrote two other number 1 US country records for them, ‘My Only Love’ and ‘Too Much On My Heart’. They also had considerable success with a spirited revival of ‘Hello Mary Lou’, which was praised by its composer, Gene Pitney. Their stage act includes the homespun humour of their alter egos, Lester ‘Roadhog’ Moran And The Cadillac Cowboys, and they gave themselves a plywood disc when the first 1, 250 copies of the resulting album were sold. On the other hand, The Statler Brothers’ Old-Fashioned Fourth Of July Celebration in Staunton attracts 70, 000 a year. The Statler Brothers are managed from office buildings that used to be the school attended by DeWitt and the Reids. In 2002 they announced their final concert, having decided to retire from performing at the end of the that year.