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Music / The Statler Brothers

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A long-running (nearly 50 years!) Country Music singing quartet from Staunton,note  Virginia. The founding members were lead vocalist Don Reid (born June 5, 1945), bass vocalist Harold Reid (August 21, 1939 – April 24, 2020), baritone Phil Balsley (born August 8, 1939), and tenor Lew DeWitt (March 8, 1938 – August 15, 1990). In 1983 DeWitt left due to health issues and was replaced by Jimmy Fortune (born March 11, 1955).

Discovered by Johnny Cash, the group backed him on tour from 1964–72, and launched their own recording career around that time as well. In 1965 they released "Flowers on the Wall" (penned by DeWitt), a song that became a huge crossover hit and even netted them a Grammy Award. From then until the late 1980s, they were a somewhat constant presence on the country charts and scored even more Signature Songs along the way, such as "Do You Remember These", "The Class of '57", "I'll Go to My Grave Loving You", "Do You Know You Are My Sunshine", "Who Am I to Say", "The Official Historian of Shirley Jean Berrell", "Elizabeth", and "Too Much on My Heart". The Statlers' material stood out from the pack, not only due to the group's finely-honed harmonies but also for their songs being largely self-written, with literate lyrics and a healthy sense of humor.

Due to the typical makeup of country vocal groups (tenor, lead, baritone, bass), their songs are often confused with those of The Oak Ridge Boys. Musically, however, the Statlers always maintained a strong connection to Gospel Music, which the latter group moved away from; the distinction was even greater visually, as the Statlers typically wore coordinated three-piece suits onstage while the Oaks favored their regular clothes.

The Statler Brothers continued to tour until 2002.

Countin' tropes upon the wall, that don't bother me at all:

  • Band of Relatives: Double-subverted in that while they weren't all brothers, Don and Harold Reid were. However, no one in the group had the last name Statler.
  • Basso Profundo: Harold Reid can hit some really low notes.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: In their memoir Don and Harold Reid portray Lew DeWitt as being this. He wrote "Flowers on the Wall" but was content to let the Reids handle most of the songwriting after that, as well as the day-to-day business of the group. His later health problems only added to it.
  • Christmas Songs: Their albums Christmas Card (1978) and Christmas Present (1985). The former is a mix of self-composed originals and cover versions of seasonal classics, while the latter is made up of all originals (save for a cover of Roger Miller's "Old Toy Trains").
  • Class Reunion: "The Class of '57" gives the rundown on how a group of classmates fared, from millionaire's wife and Cattle Baron to mainstream success (teachers, deliverymen for Sears, grocery store owners and factory workers) to insane ward and suicide. (Well, except for one: "Where Mavis finally wound up is anybody's bet.")
  • Concept Album: The Statlers would frequently release albums reflecting a theme. Examples are Pictures of Moments to Remember which centered on memories, and Sons of the Motherland, which focused on their love for America. Perhaps their most significant themed album was their 1975 gospel release Holy Bible, which has song versions of Bible stories and is divided into two records called ''Old Testament'' and ''New Testament''.
  • Cool Shades: Lew DeWitt wore these starting in the early 1970s ... taking them off only for the Lester "Roadhog" Moran and the Cadillac Cowboys comedy skits.
  • Coordinated Clothes: The group routinely wore matching suits through the 1970s and '80s. Taken up to eleven during a TV appearance with Barbara Mandrell, for which Don and Harold wore coordinated dresses.
  • Everytown, America: The nominal setting for a number of their songs, but always based on their hometown of Staunton, Virginia.
  • Incredibly Long Note: At the end of "Noah Found Grace in the Eyes of the Lord," DeWitt or Fortune would blast out the word "high" on an A4 note for as long as possible before the entire group would conclude on "...and dry!"
  • In Medias Res: Their debut single, a 1964 rendition of the classic song "Wreck of the Old 97" (with Johnny Cash on train whistle!), took the novel approach of opening with one of the song's later verses ("It's a mighty rough road from Lynchburg to Danville..."), before going into the famous first verse ("They gave him his orders at Monroe, Virginia...").
  • "Knock Knock" Joke: They somehow work one into "Do You Remember These".
    Knock-knock jokes - who's there? Dewey! Dewey who?
    Do we remember these? Yes we do!
  • Line-of-Sight Name: The group was named for a box of Statler tissues in their hotel room.
  • Long-Runner Line-up: Two of them, actually. The group was Don and Harold Reid, Phil Balsley, and Lew DeWitt from 1960 to 1982 (22 years), when DeWitt had to quit because of Crohn's Disease (DeWitt eventually died of it in 1990), then the Reids, Balsley, and Jimmy Fortune from Fortune replacing DeWitt in 1982 to 2004 when the band called it a day (22 years).
  • The Moral Substitute: Unusually gave this treatment to one of the their own hits. A few years after scoring big with the Don Reid-penned "I'll Go to My Grave Loving You", Harold Reid wrote a new set of lyrics for it called "He Went to the Cross Loving You", which they recorded and released.
  • Non-Indicative Name: Only two (Don and Harold Reid) were brothers, and none were named Statler. The band named itself after a brand of tissue. (The members used to joke that they could have easily become the Kleenex Brothers instead.)
  • Nostalgia Filter: Many of their biggest hit songs fit this trope, including "Do You Remember These" (reviving pop culture and personal memories of the 1930s through the '50s) and "The Movies" (a roll call of the biggest movie hits and stars, from the earliest days to the then-present 1977). Other "memory-type" songs are more bittersweet, such as "The Class of '57," reflecting on classmates who had great success and those who were struggling (or worse). Rounding out the trope: covers of oldies and adult standards.
  • Obsession Song: "The Official Historian on Shirley Jean Berrell" comes across as this, given the near-exhaustive knowledge the narrator has of the girl in question. Subverted in the final verse when he has to admit that "The only thing that I don't know is where she is right now."
  • Old Flame Fizzle: Treated with subtle humor in "Atlanta Blue" where the singer never got over his old love, but doesn't want her to come back because the memories always seem better than the reality.
  • Parental Substitute: Uncle Roy and Aunt Kathleen step in after the death of a parent in "You Can't Go Home."
  • Pun:
    • "We Got Paid by Cash," a look back at the days when the Statlers opened for Johnny Cash.
    • Two of their bigger early hits were "Ruthless" (about a guy whose lover named Ruth walked out on him) and "You Can't Have Your Kate and Edith Too" (about how Kate's boyfriend is trying to get with the singer's girlfriend Edith).
  • Scooby-Dooby Doors: Each episode of their show concluded with them entering doors with their respective faces, and then they would get shuffled up backstage, coming out of another door and going through the corresponding door.
  • Shout-Out: Kurt Vonnegut was a big fan and discussed some of their songs in an essay included in his book Palm Sunday.
    • The Statlers themselves included musical shout-outs to Johnny Cash in "We Got Paid by Cash" — the song opens with the distinctive bass entry to "Big River" and closes on the mariachi trumpets of "Ring of Fire."
  • Sleeps in the Nude: From "(I'll Even Love You) Better Than I Did Then":
    When you're lying there in bed, late at night and all alone,
    With nothing on but the radio ...
  • Someone to Remember Him By: "Silver Medals and Sweet Memories", sung by the "someone".
    And she never heard from him again, and he never heard of me.
  • Spell My Name with a "The": In the title performance on Alive at the Johnny Mack Brown High School by Lester "Roadhog" Moran & The Cadillac Cowboys, Roadhog is very insistent in calling the school The Johnny Mack Brown High School.
  • Stealth Insult: The charmingly snarky "Don't Wait On Me" where a young man promises he'll come back to his lady ... on the day the Fourth of July parade is canceled by a blizzard. Or other equally likely events.
    • And a hilarious real-life subversion occurred when one of the lines – "When the lights go on at Wrigley Field" – became reality seven years later. They changed the lyrics to putting a dome over it.
    • Well, Madelyn O'Hare isn't going to become a priestnote  any time soonnote , so that still holds.
  • Straight Man and Wise Guy: Don (straight man) & Harold (wise guy) (the actual brothers of the group) sometimes perform this routine between songs as shown here (begins at 3:25)
  • Stylistic Suck: They did an album as "Lester 'Roadhog' Moran and the Cadillac Cowboys", a deliberately bad country group.
  • Tareme Eyes: Harold Reid had some rather melancholy-looking ones.
  • The One That Got Away: The lead singer finds an old sweetheart has married someone else in both "Maple Street Memories" and "I Saw Your Picture in the Paper Sunday Morning." In both cases, the lead has by now found a Second Love of his own and can move on from the memories.
  • This Bed of Rose's: Their song "Bed of Rose's" is the Trope Namer.
  • Unrelated Brothers: Don and Harold Reid really were brothers, but none of the other "Brothers" were related.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Possibly in "New York City". He mourns his pregnant girlfriend's decision to move to New York and speculates what life might be like there for his son. When the song was recorded (1971) New York was the most prominent of the four states that allowed abortion on demand in the pre-Roe V. Wade era. If a woman with an unplanned pregnancy said she was going to New York City, it was usually code indicating she was getting an abortion.
  • Wedding Bells... for Someone Else: "I Was There" seems to set up a childhood romance that's heading to the altar until the singer mentions that he took his place at the wedding ... with the friends of the bride. Later subverted when the marriage breaks up and the singer takes her in.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: The "Class of '57" was about this.
  • Vocal Tag Team: Don Reid was usually the lead vocalist, but some songs have more than one of the members singing lead. Some songs ("Class of '57", "Thank You World") even had each member sing a verse. However, Fortune usually sang lead during his tenure.