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Remembering The Statler Brothers
It was 9:00 on a Thursday evening and it was time for me to go get ready for bed. My day starts early and I usually hit the hay between 9:30 and 10:00 but tonight, something halted my journey to the sheets and slumberland. As I flicked through the channels I saw a show titled The Statler Brothers Farewell Concert. I hesitated, as I loved the group but needed to get ready for bed.
Oh well, a few minutes won't hurt.
Two hours later, I was heading to bed. It was time well spent.
Founded in 1955 and named after a type of tissue paper (True!), the Statler Brothers originally contained brothers Don and Harold Reid, Phil Balsey and Lew DeWitt. Don sang lead, Harold took care of the lowest notes, Phil sang baritone and Lew sang tenor. Harold, Don, Phil and Lew would churn out hit after hit for almost thirty years until Jimmy Fortune replaced Lew due to his ill health. Their tight harmony always sounded so good to me, and evidently I was not alone: America loved the Statler's.
Beginning as a gospel quartet and becoming the backup vocal group for Johnny Cash, the Statler's sang with and for Cash until sometime around 1971. At that time, they became stars in their own right.
As I settled back onto my couch, I tried hard to hold my voice down as I sang along with the group to song after song, chuckling at the word play between Harold and Don and the truly horrible jokes Harold tells, like the one where a teacher is being given gifts by her children. One child has a father that owns a liqueur store and she thinks her gift is something good. A wet spot in on the corner of the box and she dabs her finger in it then tastes it. "Champagne?" she asks.
She tastes it again. "Burgundy?"
Ewwww! But that's Harold.
Some of their songs carry me away to another place and time; often a smile will appear wistfully across my face. Other times a tear or two will fall down my cheek. Pride in country and Lord take place in my heart and memories of time gone away flicker through my mind as I listen. One song of theirs never ceases to make me remember my high school days and those I went to school with. In "Class of '57" they tell of their school days and what has happened in the years after school, where everyone went and what they've done in the intervening years. It is both heartbreaking and enjoyable, listening to them relay the paths their friends have walked down over the years. As I listen to the words, I think on my classmates from the Class of '77 and what has become of them. Some are doing well, others not. Some are long gone, never seen or heard from in the nearly forty years since our graduation. Others are gone from this plane of existence and on to the next. Perhaps the hardest hitting line from that wonderful song is this:
"Things get complicated when you get past eighteen."
How true, how very true.
The Statler's could sing song after song for me, and I would never tire of their melodies. Take "Flowers On The Wall", for example. Telling the story of a man left alone, his girlfriend/wife having left him from the viewpoint of the man lying to her when they chance to meet. Or perhaps he is lying to himself. He is doing just fine counting the flowers on the wall, playing solitaire for hours with a deck that only has 51 cards, or watching Captain Kangaroo for something to do. Sad, oh so sad to know there are those out there alone today feeling exactly as this song portrays.
A far cry from their roots in the gospel genre is "Bed of Rose's". A song about a young man alone on the streets with no one to help him who is taken in by a "scarlet woman" of the streets. She runs a profitable late evening business yet has a heart of gold for the young man. She teaches him how to be a man and upon her death he mourns her as one he loved. It is a bit ironic in that she cares for him even though more "upstanding" people in town refuse to help him.
Another one of my favorites is "Do You Know You Are My Sunshine?". For most of my son's life (if not every day of it) I sing You Are My Sunshine to him, even leaving words out for him to fill in in an awkward duet together, so this song hits home to me. A chance encounter at a show when a pretty girl asks this song to be sung leads to a far reaching search for her afterward and for years and years. Upbeat, happy and quite enjoyable, this song always leaves me with a smile.
"Do You Remember These"; "Thank You World"; "Susan When She Tried"; "Carry Me Back"; "Whatever Happened To Randolph Scott"; "I'll Go To My Grave Loving You"; "The Official Historian Of Shirley Jean Berrell"; "Charlotte's Web"; "Elizabeth"; "Hello Mary Lou"; all of these songs were huge hits for the group and whenever I hear one on the radio, I sing along with every single word. I know them word for word and love them with all my heart.
They could be silly, such as "You Can't Have Your Kate and Edith Too"; they could be serious such as "Flowers On The Wall". They could portray such heartache such as "More Than A Name On The Wall" as to cause you to hurt alongside them. Then they would break into a gospel song and lift your soul higher than it had ever been with their soaring harmonies and perfect pitch.
The Statler's began life as a gospel quartet, and this farewell concert ends their life as a performance group in the same manner. "This Ol' House", "How Great Thou Art", and my personal favorite, all time, greatest gospel song, "Amazing Grace". As I watched the end of an era and noticed the fans in the audience wiping tears from their eyes both for the wonderful music being made and the end of their performance on stage, I realized my eyes were creating rivers down my face as well, whether form joy or sadness I could not tell. Their obvious love of one another, of country, of their fans, and of God are something that will be sorely missed moving forward.
In the words straight out of one of their songs, I wanna thank you Statler Brothers, for being a part of my life for some fifty years now. I will miss you.