Harold Reid had one of the most familiar voices in music history. His songs are still played on classic country radio stations, and yet most folks never knew his name. He died on April 24th from kidney failure at the age of 80.
Harold was the iconic bass voice and comic relief of the Statler Brothers, the group that sold more records and concert tickets than any other country act for three decades.
Their last names were not Statler, and except for Harold and Don Reid, they were not brothers. Other original group members were Phil Balsley and Lew DeWitt, later replaced by Jimmy Fortune.
In 1964, they hit it big with an accidental pop-country hit called “Flowers on the Wall,” (“Smokin’ cigarettes and watching Captain…Kang-a-roo…”). The song was released as the B-side of a 45 rpm record, which is usually a ticket for obscurity.
But radio deejays didn’t like the song on the A-side, so they flipped the record and the rest is history. The song jump-started the Statlers’ career. This got the attention of Johnny Cash, who hired the quartet to open his shows for several years. Beginning in the 1970s, they dominated country radio with more hits like “Bed of Roses,” “Class of ’57,” “I’ll Go To My Grave Loving You,” “Thank You World,” and “Do You Know You Are My Sunshine.” They also recorded several top-selling gospel albums.
The Statlers sold out theaters and arenas around the nation, making an annual stop in Chattanooga from 1977 to 1999. I took my parents to one of their shows, which featured a relatively unknown Barbara Mandrell as the group’s opening act. She played just about every instrument known to man, and then the quartet came out with two hours worth of hit songs and laughter. I’ve seen a lot of live shows, but that one stands out more than most. My parents loved it too, along with thousands of other folks.
Harold was also well-known for a character he created on the Statlers’ only comedy album. The guys dreamed up a small-town group called “Lester ‘Roadhog’ Moran and his Cadillac Cowboys.” Harold played the role of Roadhog, the band’s leader and emcee of a fictitious weekly show on a tiny radio station. The album parodied the shows I used to hear on small stations each Saturday morning. It was absolutely hilarious, and I still have it in my collection today.
For several years, they hosted their own weekly show on CMT, and it was consistently the network’s highest rated program.
I always admired Harold and the Statlers for the way they retired. In 2002, they called it quits with a concert near their home in Salem, Virginia. It was released as a video, and it was a beautiful performance. They did all their hits, and their old comedy routines. It was nice to see their family members and longtime friends in attendance.
In my mother’s later years, when her memory was pretty much gone, I would play the Statlers’ farewell video for her each Sunday afternoon, sometimes more than once. She knew every song, and she would happily sing along. I was overjoyed to watch this 90-year-old woman, who could not remember what she had for lunch ten minutes earlier, joyfully sing along with the Statlers. In each comedy routine, Harold either delivered the punch line, or he WAS the punch line. Mom laughed every time, as if it were the first time she heard it. So did I.
Unlike many entertainers who “retire,” then keep coming back, and coming back, for more money and adoration, the Statlers left the scene gracefully, with no looking back. They could have easily returned to any stage in America, just to cash in. But they wanted to go out on top, which is commendable. They had enough money, gold records, and industry awards for several lifetimes. They had worked hard for more than four decades, never disappointed an audience, and made it to the top of their profession. What more could you want?
In 2015 Harold told his hometown newspaper, the Staunton (VA) News-Leader that he couldn’t believe the life he had led. He said, “Some days, I sit on my beautiful front porch and I literally have to pinch myself. Did that really happen to me, or did I just dream that?”
It was all real, Harold, and it was really, really good.