- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 26, 2002

Brothers Harold and Don Reid figure they've told the story of how the Statler Brothers got its name about 100,000 times it came from a box of tissues in a room of a hotel owned by the long-defunct Statler chain.

That figure comes from more than 35,000 interviews and nearly 40 years as professional country and gospel musicians. It also explains why the vocal quartet is wrapping up its touring days with its final show in Salem, Va., tonight.

"We never really dreamed that we would do this as long as we've done it or go on as long as we have," Harold Reid, 63, says over the phone from the band's offices in Staunton, Va. Although the group is called the Statler Brothers, only Harold and Don are brothers and none of them, of course, has the last name Statler.

The band formed as a church quartet in 1955 in the group's hometown of Staunton, with bass Harold Reid, baritone Phil Balsley, tenor Lew DeWitt and lead vocalist Joe McDorman.

Don Reid, the younger of the two brothers, replaced Mr. McDorman in 1960, and the group began performing gospel music as the Kingsmen, a name they later had to change because of the success of the rock band by the same name.

Johnny Cash gave the quartet its first big break opening for him at a 1964 concert in Ohio. He was so impressed that he invited them to stay on. The band continued as his regular opening act until the early 1970s.

The band's first album came in 1966, named after their first single and first crossover hit "Flowers on the Wall."

"'Flowers on the Wall' is a strange thing," Harold Reid says. "Back in '65, when we recorded it, we put it out there and it just sort of went away. It was about six months after its release that it came back again and started spreading and spreading, and pretty soon we had a number one [hit]."

The sweet-sounding, yet bitter breakup song has remained one of the group's best-known tunes, and author Kurt Vonnegut is among those who have praised it. It even gained an odd resurgence a few years ago, when director Quentin Tarantino used it in his 1994 film "Pulp Fiction."

It's hard for the brothers to single out a favorite song now, but they certainly have fond memories of many of the tunes.

"Years ago when we were out on tour," Harold Reid says, "this girl comes up requesting a song for us to sing. She said, "Do you know 'You Are My Sunshine'?" Well, that stuck with me we had just about completed a recording session and needed one more song for the album. We came back to "Do You Know You Are My Sunshine" and we wrote it that night.

"So these things happen sometimes, and they steamroll along," he adds.

The song would become another hit for the group, off its 1978 album "Entertainers On and Off the Record."

Mr. DeWitt retired from the group in the early 1980s for health reasons and was replaced by tenor Jimmy Fortune. Mr. DeWitt, who suffered from Crohn's disease, died in 1990. Mr. Fortune, 47, remains the youngest member of the group.

The Statlers are often cited as the group with the most awards in country music. With three Grammys, nine Country Music Association awards, 48 Music City News Awards and roughly 20 gold, platinum, double platinum and triple-platinum records, the label seems to fit.

Their music celebrates the simpler things in life Saturday-morning serials, senior proms and Roy Rogers and an audience hungry for nostalgia helped propel such songs as "Class of '57," "Do You Remember These," and "Elizabeth" to the top of the country charts.

"It's about us and our way of thinking and our memories," Harold Reid says of "Class of '57."

The group slowed down its touring and its recorded output in the 1990s, as it began hosting a variety show on the cable network TNN. "The Statler Brothers Show" was one of the highest-rated shows ever for the network. In 1998, a change in format away from country music bumped the show off of TNN's lineup.

"It was very rewarding, very fulfilling," Don Reid, 57, says. "We worked harder on that than anything else. It was exhausting, and TNN ultimately went in another direction."

The group released what may well be its final album, "Amen," in August. They haven't decided whether to stop recording. The album, in a way, comes full circle for the band that began as a church choir.

Working with each other has been one of the most rewarding parts, Don Reid says.

"I feel sorry for a single act who doesn't have anyone to share it with," he says. "It's worth it to have somebody to talk to.

"We would almost have been afraid to dream all this could happen," Don Reid adds. "We've been blessed."

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