STAUNTON, Va. — Statler Brothers’ sparkplug, Harold Reid, a sparkling combination singer-songwriter-musician-humorist, died April 24, succumbing to a longtime kidney ailment at his home here. His Grammy Award-winning act became one of the most popular groups on the country music scene, though they started out gospel.
Harold Wilson Reid was born Aug. 21, 1939, in Augusta County, Va. His name appears as writer or co-writer on the following Statler successes: “Bed Of Rose’s,” “Do You Remember These?,” “Class of ’57” (a Grammy winner) and their first #1, “Do You Know You Are My Sunshine.” Other successful Reid co-writes include the hits “Some I Wrote,” “The Official Historian on Shirley Jean Berrell,” “How To Be a Country Star,” “Better Than I Did Then,” “Don’t Wait On Me,” “Whatever,” “Guilty,” “Sweeter and Sweeter” and “Let’s Get Started If You’re Gonna Break My Heart.”
Harold was among the original founding members, along with Lew Dewitt, Phil Balsley and Joe McDorman, as he recalled: “We played ball together and we even double dated.” Initially they were a gospel-oriented group, but by the early 1960s, McDorman decided to pull out, and Harold’s kid brother Don signed on.
Johnny Cash gave them a welcome helping hand, hiring them to open his road shows, and judging by their audience acceptance, included them on his national ABC-TV show (1969-1971). He also recommended his label Columbia consider the act. In turn, DeWitt’s upbeat 1965 composition “Flowers On the Wall,” initially a B side, became a near chart-topper, propelling them into the big time. It earned a Grammy nod and sold a million records.
But in 1974, Harold decided to do an off-the-wall comedy album, adopting the name Lester (Roadhog) Moran & His Cadillac Cowboys, offering fans the crazed “Alive At Johnny Mack Brown High School,” a hilarious sendup of amateur talents. Obviously a big fan of Western heroes like Brown, Harold also co-wrote (with Don) “Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott,” a 1974 Top 20 single.
Sadly, Dewitt had to depart the band upon suffering Chron’s disease in 1981, and was subsequently succeeded by young tenor Jimmy Fortune from nearby Nelson County, 40 miles from Staunton. Fortune lived up to his surname presenting three #1 songs for their successive sessions: “Elizabeth,” “My Only Love” and “Too Much On My Heart.”
During the 1990s for several years, The Statlers hosted their own TV variety series on The Nashville Network (TNN). It was well-received and always a cable awards winner. Sadly, former Statler Lew Dewitt died in 1990, at age 52.
In an interview, Harold mused, “It’s said that The Statler Brothers cut the cheapest sessions in town, and that’s because we’re real prepared. We hash everything out ahead of time, so that when we get in the studio, ordinarily everything goes pretty fast. In fact, (producer) Jerry Kennedy’s been quoted as saying that if you listen close at the end of a record, you can hear our bus starting up.”
Reid singled out a 1983 exception to this: “We recorded a song – ‘Guilty’ – and went back home to Virginia and listened to the rough cut. We weren’t satisfied, so we booked another session, went back to Nashville and cut it another way. We listened again and had different musicians come in and add things, but we still weren’t completely happy with it.
“On the third session, we decided to tear it apart and start over. We knew it was a good song and we felt strong about it, but we were baffled for an ending. Down the hall, Conway Twitty was recording and on a break, we saw him in the hallway (and he had just chalked up his 36th #1 single ‘The Rose’), and he invited us to listen to some of the stuff he was cutting.
“Then we asked him to come to our studio to do the same. He watched us, still working on the ending for ‘Guilty’ and all of a sudden he says, ‘Hey, would y’all mind my making a suggestion?’ We said, ‘No, go right ahead,’ so he picked up a guitar and finished the song for us. It was perfect, so on the single ‘Guilty,’ the arrangement is ours, but credit for the ending goes to Conway!”
The Statlers, who borrowed their name from a hotel tissue box, recorded more than 50 albums in nearly 40 years, with “Pardners in Rhyme” their sole #1, while 13 sold gold and eight platinum. They also charted 33 Top 10 singles, four at #1; won three Grammy Awards; was voted CMA best group nine times between 1972 and 1984; and won 48 Music City News awards. Among the rare numbers by outside writers that they scored Top 10 or better with are: “Ruthless,” “Charlotte’s Web,” “You’ll Be Back Every Night In My Dreams,” “Oh, Baby Mine” and “Hello, Mary Lou.”
In 1985, The Statlers won Music City News’ Best Comedian trophy, for which Harold Reid could take the biggest bow. Suddenly in 2002, The Statlers opted for retirement in Staunton.
Jimmy Fortune, who Harold nicknamed “The Elf,” has only fond memories of being a Statler, and thankfully was included when the band was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2008. He still does some shows, like touring for a time with the Oak Ridge Boys, and did some appearances with bluegrass duo (Darrin) Vincent & (Jamie) Dailey.
Meanwhile, Harold sighed, recalling past success as a Statler: “Some days I sit on my beautiful front porch, here in Staunton, and literally have to pinch myself. Did that really happen to me, or did I just dream that?”
Kyle Young, CEO of the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum, acknowledged “Harold Reid was a driving force in one of country music’s greatest quartets. He was also a tremendous entertainer and one of the world’s funniest people. For decades, he made us laugh and made us cry. As his alter ego, Lester (Roadhog) Moran would say, his contributions were ‘mighty fine.’ We mourn his loss while we celebrate a life well-lived.” – Walt Trott