The Statler Brothers perform their classic "Flowers on the Wall" with Johnny Cash's band
Harold Reid, the bass singer of the Statler Brothers, died last week (April 24) at 80, leaving an indelible and influential mark in the music genre’s history.
“The Statlers were on the road with my dad for years, and Harold was a kind and funny man. He’s that great low voice that comes in a beat early in ‘Flowers On the Wall,’” tweeted Rosanne Cash, who offered additional personal recollections via email.
“I thought Harold was the funniest person in the world,” she said. “I remember watching the Statlers when they were on tour with my dad when I was a little girl, and even though I heard the jokes and the Lester ‘Roadhog’ Moran bit many, many times, I thought he was hysterical every time. I remember at about 10-years-old looking around at the audience to make sure they appreciated how great he was.”
Indeed, many fans of the Statlers recognize Reid’s bass vocal as the anchor of the group’s sound, and cherish his funny-man bits as leader of their alter-ego comedy group Lester “Roadhog” Moran & the Cadillac Cowboys—who recorded two albums under that guise. Music historian John Alexander, author of The Man in Song—A Discographic Biography of Johnny Cash and formerly senior music editor at Reader’s Digest, placed Reid within the context of the Statler Brothers’ unique country music repertoire.
Alexander noted that the Statler Brothers, who formed in 1955 as a gospel group and retired in 2002, have been referred to as the most awarded group in country music, and cited Reid’s role as singer, songwriter and comedian.
“He was multi-talented and truly the heart of the group,” said Alexander. “As the ‘Old Roadhog,’ he helped create Lester ‘Roadhog’ Moran & the Cadillac Cowboys: The beauty of it all was that even as they parodied country music and country radio, it was all done with love and reverence.”
Besides Reid, the Statler Brothers, who took their name from a hotel room box of facial tissues, were his younger brother Don Reid, who sang lead, baritone Phil Balsley, and tenor/guitarist Lew DeWitt, who died in 1990. Jimmy Fortune replaced DeWitt when he left the band in 1983 due to ill health.
“What separates the Statler Brothers from other groups in country music is that they wrote the majority of their songs, and what people may not realize is how great a writer Harold was,” continued Alexander. “Not only did he write their breakthrough country hit ‘Bed of Rose’s’--one of the greatest country story songs ever recorded--but he also wrote or co-wrote dozens of others, many with his brother Don including ‘Do You Remember These,’ ‘The Class of ‘57’ and one of their all-time greatest, ‘Carry Me Back.’”
Alexander, who worked on two Statler Brothers box sets at Reader's Digest Music and wrote liner notes for Time-Life Statler Brothers reissues, singled out “Harold’s incredible bass vocal,’ which ‘embellished and enhanced almost every song the Statlers ever sang. But what people may not know is that Harold sang lead on some of their finest singles including ‘Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott,’ and the heartbreaking ‘Your Picture in the Paper.’ Harold also co-wrote and sang lead on the poignant and touching ballad ‘Daddy,’ which Johnny Cash recorded for his A Thing Called Love album.”
The group switched from gospel to country music after they were discovered by Cash and became part of his concert tours from 1964 to 1971. They were featured on his national TV series from 1969 to 1971, and hosted their own weekly variety series The Statler Brothers Show, from 1991 through 1998, on The Nashville Network--where it was the top-rated program.
“They were always kind to me and my sisters back then, and every time I saw them after,” said Rosanne Cash, noting that in addition to Reid, both Etta Grant, widow of Johnny Cash’s original bassist (and later Statler Brothers manager) Marshall Grant, and Jan Howard, who toured and recorded with Cash, died within the last few weeks.
“It feels like the constellation of my parents’ world and their dear friends--and the people who’ve known me my whole life--are slipping off the planet at an unbearable speed,” she added.
Country music star T.G. Sheppard also shared a personal Harold Reid connection in Reid’s hometown Staunton, Virginia daily The News Leader: During an early 1980s Music City News Awards TV special, the Statlers were presenting an award when Reid revealed that Sheppard’s initials stood for Theodore Garp—though in fact, they were a random part of his stage name. Sheppard said that for years after he received mail addressed to that name.
Not only was Reid a great singer, Sheppard noted, “but he was always just so funny on stage. That’s what made them who they were, that combination of great talent and great songs and humor.”
Sheppard credited the group for helping to fuel the growth of country music in the 1970s and ’80s, and observed that their fans were among the most loyal he’d ever seen. He also hailed their variety show for bringing country music “into peoples’ living rooms.”
“It was the best country music on TV,” series regular Crystal Gayle told The News Leader. “Harold made sure I felt at home. He was always funny and caring. Harold had a great heart, and his smile will always live on in my heart.”
The Oak Ridge Boys’ Duane Allen, also in The News Leader, spoke of how the Statlers “made it OK to have a quartet that could have hits in country music. In fact, they were the first act to ever do that and they opened the door for us. We’ve always been very grateful to them.”
Of Reid, Allen stated, “He brought so much joy to our music industry.”
The top bluegrass duo Dailey & Vincent, whose band regularly performs Statler Brothers songs in their shows, called Reid “our friend and musical hero” on their Facebook fan page.
“They were awesome entertainers writing lyrics remembering childhood memories and songs with glimmers of hope and encouragement with common struggles in life,” the pair posted. “Harold Reid lived his childhood dream with his brother Don, Phil Balsley, Lew DeWitt and Jimmy Fortune with a vision and a passion that is still loved today. With love and the utmost respect we salute Harold, and say thank you to his family for sharing him with us and the world.”
But the influence of Reid and the Statler Brothers transcended country music, as evidenced by the prominent usage of “Flowers on the Wall” in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction—with Bruce Willis approximating Reid’s bass part—and then with Willis quoting from the same song in Die Hard with a Vengeance. Nancy Sinatra covered the song, while Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. quoted it in its entirety in his book Palm Sunday, characterizing it as “yet another great contemporary poem by the Statler Brothers.”
More recently, in the 2012 Ghost Brothers of Darkland County musical theater collaboration from John Mellencamp, Stephen King, and T Bone Burnett, a narrated thread delivered by a radio announcer was clearly based on Reid’s role in Lester “Roadhog” Moran & the Cadillac Cowboys’ classic album Alive at the Johnny Mack Brown High School.
The Statler Brothers were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2008.
“Harold Reid was a driving force in one of country music’s greatest quartets, the Statler Brothers,” said Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum CEO Kyle Young in a statement.
“He helped steer the group to stupendous successes, and his stirring bass was the underpinning of dozens of classic hits. 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.”
A message on the Statler Brothers website saluted Reid’s brave endurance during a long battle with kidney failure: “He is and will always be loved by his family, friends and millions of fans. His singing, his songwriting and his comedy made generations happy. He has taken a piece of our hearts with him.”
Concluded Alexander: “Harold Reid will be sorely missed by everyone who loves pure, old-fashioned traditional country entertainment.”
Harold Reid as Lester "Roadhog" Moran