Harold Reid, bedrock voice of the Statler Brothers, dies at 80

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Harold Reid, bedrock voice of the Statler Brothers, dies at 80
The Statlers imbued contemporary country and folk material with traditional gospel harmonies, helping to usher Southern gospel music into the cultural mainstream while paving the way for the arrival of crossover-minded blockbuster country vocal groups like the Oak Ridge Boys and Alabama.

by Bill Friskics-Warren

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- Harold Reid, whose resonant bass, comic touch and business acumen helped make the Statler Brothers a top-grossing touring act and a steady presence on the country music charts for decades, died Friday at his home in Staunton, Virginia. He was 80.

His nephew Langdon Reid said the cause was kidney failure.

Reid, a founding member of the group, was the Statler Brothers’ de facto leader as they placed 58 singles in the country Top 40 from 1965-89 — 32 of them in the Top 10. Four of them, including “Do You Know You Are My Sunshine,” a song written by Reid and his younger brother, Don, who sang lead vocals, reached No. 1.

The Statlers’ lineup also included Lew DeWitt on tenor vocals and Philip Balsley singing baritone. DeWitt, who died in 1990, left the quartet in 1983 because of chronic health problems and was replaced by Jimmy Fortune.

The Statlers imbued contemporary country and folk material with traditional gospel harmonies, helping to usher Southern gospel music into the cultural mainstream while paving the way for the arrival of crossover-minded blockbuster country vocal groups like the Oak Ridge Boys and Alabama.

“We took gospel harmonies and put them over in country music,” Reid was quoted as saying in the Encyclopedia of Gospel Music.

The jaunty banjo-and-drum arrangement of the group’s breakthrough single, “Flowers on the Wall,” evoked the hootenanny exuberance of the Kingston Trio as much as it did the down-home call and response of gospel quartets like the Blackwood Brothers and the Statesmen.

The Statlers’ only bona fide crossover hit, “Flowers on the Wall” — a song about heartache, its ebullience notwithstanding — reached the Top 10 on both the country and pop singles charts in 1965. It also earned them a Grammy Award — one of two they won that year — for best contemporary (R&R) performance by a group (vocal or instrumental), besting both the Supremes and the Beatles. Decades later the record was on the soundtrack of Quentin Tarantino’s movie “Pulp Fiction.”

Many of the Statler Brothers’ songs, including the nostalgia-themed “The Class of ’57” and “Do You Remember These,” were written or co-written by Reid, who often injected clever humor and wordplay into his lyrics. For example, the bed in the Statlers’ 1970 hit “Bed of Rose’s” is not one of flowers but that of a prostitute whose kindness unmasks the hypocrisy of self-righteous Christian moralism.

As an opening act for Johnny Cash from 1964-71, the Statlers played an important role in the Southernization of American pop culture that was occurring then. Nowhere was this more evident than on ABC’s “The Johnny Cash Show,” where the group’s homespun harmonies, regional vernacular and medicine show-inspired showmanship were broadcast across the nation.

Reid was the funny man of the group and the creative force behind Lester “Roadhog” Moran and the Cadillac Cowboys, the quartet’s comedic alter ego, which lampooned the sacred cows of country music. Reid played the role of the drolly outrageous Roadhog Moran both on recordings and onstage.

Harold Wilson Reid was born Aug. 21, 1939, in Augusta County, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley, one of four children of Sidney and Mary Frances (Craun) Reid. His parents were aides at a psychiatric hospital.

Reid grew up singing four-part harmonies in church and formed his first vocal group, the Four-Star Quartet, while in high school. The group later called themselves the Kingsmen but changed their name to the Statler Brothers in 1963 — the name taken from a brand of facial tissue — after the Seattle garage-rock band the Kingsmen had a nationwide hit with “Louie, Louie.”

The next year, Cash invited the Statlers to join his touring revue and persuaded his label, Columbia Records, to sign them to a recording contract. “Flowers on the Wall” was their first release for Columbia. But it was only when the Statlers moved to Mercury Records and began working with producer Jerry Kennedy that they became regular hitmakers in the 1970s.

The group recorded for Mercury for two decades, winning a third Grammy and nine Country Music Association Awards. They hosted a long-running TV variety show on the Nashville Network and, breaking with convention, established their business operations in Staunton (pronounced Stanton), their rural Virginia hometown, rather than setting up headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee, or some other entertainment hub.

In 2007, five years after their retirement, the Statlers were inducted into the Gospel Hall of Fame. They were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame the next year.

In addition to his nephew, Reid is survived by his brother, Don; his wife of 59 years, Brenda Lee (Armstrong) Reid; a sister, Faye Hemp; a son, Wil; four daughters, Kim Weller, Karmen Harvill, Kodi Frye and Kasey Reid; 10 grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.

Remembering his uncle, Langston Reid described a man whose gift for humor was ever in effect, both in and out of the limelight.

“Harold possessed that unique, double-comedic gift of being able to perform a rehearsed comedy skit perfectly, with all the right timing and punches, and then could improvise a line that would bring you to your knees laughing,” Langston Reid wrote in an email. “He was the same funny onstage as he was at the dinner table. He loved making people smile and laugh.”

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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