Gary James' Interview With Don Reid Of
The Statler Brothers
They've released over forty albums. Their list of awards is more than just impressive and includes three Grammy Awards for Best New Country And Western Artist for 1965; Best Contemporary (R and R) Performance Group (Vocal or Instrumental) for "Flowers On The Wall"; and Best Country Vocal Performance By A Duo Or Group for "The Class Of '57" in 1972. The Academy Of Country Music awarded them the Top Vocal Group for 1972 and 1977. The Country Music Association named them Vocal Group Of The Year from 1972 through 1980 and again in 1984. They were inducted into the Gospel Hall Of Fame in 2007 and the Country Music Hall Of Fame And Museum in 2008. They were given American Music Awards for Favorite Country Band, Duo Or Group from 1979 through 1981. They've been called "America's Poets" by author Kurt Vonnegut.
Discovered by Johnny Cash, they served as his opening act for eight and a half years. Their records "Do You Know You Are My Sunshine", "Elizabeth", "My Only Love" and "Too Much On My Heart" shot all the way up to the number one spot on the Billboard charts. And of course they are best known for their signature song, "Flowers On The Wall", written by group member Lew DeWitt. We are of course talking about the one, the only, The Statler Brothers.
Statler Brothers member Don Reid talked with us about the group.
Q - Don, you're now a writer. Does that mean you spend your time writing books? There's no more song writing on your part?
A - Very little song writing actually. Since we retired, which was in '02 (2002) I've had about eight books published that I've written. So that keeps me busy. I do that. I do a little bit of speaking engagements, that kind of thing. Just enough to stay busy, as busy as I want to anyway.
Q - Now, what do you speak about?
A - Well, I do a lot of pulpit supply on Sunday mornings for ministers that are on vacation. I do banquets. I do different things. Whatever people have that they want me to speak to. Just whatever might catch my fancy. Sometimes I don't take everything that comes along. If it's something I want to do, I am retired, so I do whatever kind of fits my schedule at the time.
Q - Do you miss singing with The Statler Brothers?
A - Oh, I miss the performing from time to time. I don't miss the travel. That's really why we retired, to get away from the travel. It's a young man's business. We had done forty years of that. So we decided it was time to stay home a little more.
Q - I hear that a lot. It was probably harder to travel in 2002 than it was in 1992.
A - Yeah, that's true.
Q - As I look around, I don't see anybody doing what The Statler Brothers did. Are there any groups out there today doing what you did?
A - Not really. I don't see that. The music has changed. I know the music has changed and it seems trite and corny to keep saying that, but the industry has changed. The music has changed. George Jones had a song many years ago, "Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes". I don't see that that was ever a problem. Nobody's looking to fill shoes. They just create new shoes and they go on. That's what made the change.
Q - When The Statler Brothers started, you were singing in churches.
A - Churches, yeah. Just high school students at the time is what it was. Just kids.
Q - I was going to ask how you made your living doing that, but you really didn't have to worry about that.
A - No.
Q - And then it took nearly a decade before Johnny Cash "discovered" you in 1964?
A - Exactly.
Q - Where did he see you perform?
A - Well, here in Virginia as matter of fact. He was coming through here. We had a promoter here that knew John and he had booked some stuff for us locally. So he said, "I can introduce you to him." He could package his own shows. And so he introduced us. John liked us and hired us. We went to work for him for eight and a half years on a handshake. Never had a contract.
Q - You probably toured all over the world with him.
A - We did, literally all over the world.
Q - In '64 Johnny Cash probably wasn't as big as he was about to become. Later he just exploded.
A - Yes. About '69, 70. You're right. He exploded. But he had already been in the business ten years himself and had quite a name for himself. He hired us and took us along with him. He was our education into the music business.
Q - When you started this group, how far up the ladder did you think you'd go? Were you looking for a recording contract? Did you want to tour?
A - Oh, yes. We thought we were going to be a Southern Gospel quartet. That's how we started out singing when we first started. We thought that's what it was and then we started getting a lot of offers to "Come sing at our banquet. Come sing at our business meeting." So we wound up with three complete shows that we did. We did a Gospel show, a Country show and a Pop show where we'd sing Pop songs of the '50s. So, whatever they wanted. They'd call us and we'd say, "Which do you want?" So, we got to where we really liked the Country the best. We realized that's what we wanted to do. We started leaning more towards that and that's when we met John.
Q - Elvis loved Gospel music. Did you ever cross paths with him.
A - We never did. We had a lot of mutual friends. We actually never knew Elvis. He did record one of my songs at one point.
Q - "Flowers On The Wall" is a pretty funny song. I'm just guessing that Lew DeWitt wrote it when he was in some hotel or motel room. There's some real creativity going on with the lyrics.
A - Yeah. It was just boredom, sitting around, having nothing better to do than counting those little lines of flowers on the wallpaper and that's exactly where it came from.