The Statler Bros. (Harold Reid 3rd from right)
In a way, bassists are like the superheroes of music. As the rarest of all vocal areas, they can do things that the rest of us simply cannot. But when no one looks at us, when we're behind the wheel or at home alone, we try to pretend we can. Because singing bass is super cool. It is the air guitar of the vocal range.
There have been few real bass players in the history of country music. They have a handful of performers who flirt with it and can dive far enough down to grab a few notes when necessary, including people like Johnny Cash, Trace Adkins, Scotty McCreery, maybe Randy Travis, and Hank Jr. just to name a few. But the real bass players live in a very select crowd, reserved for names like Josh Turner, Adam Lee, Richard Sturban of the Oak Ridge Boys, or the founding member of the Statler Brothers, Harold Reid, who passed away on April 24th is the age of 80 due to kidney failure.
Harold Reid had a voice to build a band around, and what he did with Joe McDorman, Phil Balsley, and Lew DeWitt in the mid-1950s. He later added his brother Don Reid, first calling himself The Four Star Quartet later The Kingsman, until the song "Louie Louie" became a hit with another group called The Kingsman. Then the foursome decided to name itself after a brand of facial tissues they had found in a hotel room – not exactly inspiring, but it got stuck. When Johnny Cash recognized the talent the group contained, he picked them up to tour behind him and open them for him in 1964. They would stay at The Man in Black for almost a decade while also pursuing a solo career.
A year after saddling up with cash, the Statler Brothers had their first hit with the quirky "Flowers on the Wall". When film director Quentin Tarantino needed an epitome of a central scene in his breakout film Pulp Fiction in 1994, when Bruce Willis' character was behind the wheel, "Flowers on the Wall" was the song that was supposed to do the editing. The film's music supervisor, Karyn Rachtman, put the song for Tarantino on a mixtape, and when he heard it, he knew it was a perfect fit. "Oh god, I love it," was Bruce Willis' answer. His character did what we all do when a Statler Brothers song appears. He sang along with the bass parts perfected by Harold Reid.
"Flowers On The Wall" also received two Grammy Awards from The Statler Brothers in 1965. It was a promising start to a career in the Hall of Fame.
It was a kind of "right place, right time" magic that made The Statler Brothers such a huge success and an influential band in country music and beyond. With Harold Reid, they could do things that other bands simply couldn't. And as a big brother, Harold Reid was the leader and, under certain circumstances, the fall guy.
In the band's autobiography called Random Memories, Harold Reid recalls an early time in the band's touring life when they opened for Johnny Cash in Canada. When they crossed the border, they were asked if they had anything to explain. The quartet did not really understand the question and politely answered "No" to be later greeted by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who showed up to arrest the band for transporting contraband across the border without paying appropriate taxes numbers.
But instead of the whole band having to spend the night in prison, Harold Reid said that all the goods were his, so he was the only one who had to sleep the night on a concrete slab – a strange fact for a band that theirs is known for healthy songs and roots in the gospel. The next day, his Statler Brothers and Marshall Grant from Tennessee Two sat in the front row of the court to save Harold.
The Statler Brothers later became the most decorated band in the history of country music. From 1972 to 1977, then 1979, 1980 and 1984, they won the CMA for Vocal Group of the Year each year. In 1972 they won a third Grammy Award Top 10 hits from the band for their song "The Class of & # 39; 57", one of thirty, including four # 1 singles, many of which were written by the band itself. Their first major success was in 1965 and almost a quarter of a century later in 1989 they had a top 10 hit with "More Than A Name on a Wall". During this time, they dominated country music as a vocal group, and Jimmy Fortune joined the band in 1982 to lead them into a third decade of success.
What was the key to the success of the Statler Brothers? "We recorded gospel harmonies and incorporated them into country music," said Harold Reid in a nutshell. But that would not have been possible without the bass range that Harold brought into the group. Like so many country singing groups, the Statler Brothers were extremely successful in the gospel area and are in the Gospel Hall of Fame together with the Country Music Hall of Fame. Many attribute the success of the Oak Ridge Boys and other gospel acts in the secular country to the inspiration of the Statler Brothers.
The other unique wrinkle in the Statler Brothers' career is that they have also worked in the proven tradition of country music to bring comedy into the mix. With Harold Reid at the helm, the group again launched an alter ego named Lester "Roadhog" Moran and the Cadillac Cowboys, who made fun of bad country music and did lame country radio programs on Saturday morning. This not only showed their versatility, but also gave the Statler Brothers another cool factor that gospel quartets were rarely awarded. It was also the cornerstone for starting their own variety show on TNN for eight years from 1991 onwards. When the popular game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas programmed the country radio station for the game, there were several choices from The Statler Brothers made the cut. Because they were cool.
And even when they started to make it big, they never moved to Nashville permanently. They stayed in their home town of Stauton, Virginia, where, at the height of their popularity, they converted an old school into their offices and small museum. Even after their official retirement in 2002, the Statler Brothers remained the pride of Virginia.
Harold Reid is gone, but his voice remains an integral part of American music and will be for many years to come. Because nobody could do what he could do behind that walrus mustache and a mischievous smile. But we all tried.