Harold Reid, whose bass voice, songwriting, and gift for humor distinguished his long career as a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame vocal group the Statler Brothers, died at his home in Staunton, Virginia, Friday evening after a lengthy battle with kidney failure, according to Reid’s bandmate Jimmy Fortune. He was 80.
Fortune posted a message on Facebook that read in part, “Our hearts are broken tonight. Our prayers and our thoughts are with [Reid’s wife] Brenda and his children and grandchildren and with my other brothers, Don and Phil. We made a lot of great memories together. I’ll miss you, brother, till I see you again.”
Reid, who with his younger brother Don and fellow Statler Brothers Phil Balsley and Lew DeWitt (neither of whom were related), achieved Top Five country-pop crossover success in 1965 with the Grammy-winning single “Flowers on the Wall.” The group appeared regularly on the ABC music series The Johnny Cash Show from 1969 to 1971, and also toured the world with Cash. From 1972 to 1977, they earned six consecutive CMA Vocal Group of the Year trophies, and went on to win that award three additional times. From 1965 through 1989, the Statlers reached the Billboard Top Ten with 32 hits, four of which went Number One.
Although “Flowers on the Wall,” penned by DeWitt, would stall at Number Two on the country chart, it gained additional interest through a contemporary cover by Nancy Sinatra, a Top Ten country hit by Eric Heatherly in 2000, and through the use of the group’s 1975 re-recording featured in Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 film Pulp Fiction. Tarantino credited the song’s inclusion in the movie (Bruce Willis’s character sings along to it while driving) as the idea of music supervisor Karyn Rachtman. “Karyn just kept giving me different tapes, and for every five new songs she’d put an old song on there,” the director said in 1994. “I [mentioned] it to Bruce, [and he said] ‘Oh god, I love it.’”
Harold Reid was born in Augusta County, Virginia, on August 21, 1939. In 1955, under the name the Four Star Quartet, he, DeWitt, Balsley, and Joe McDorman began singing gospel music. The group changed their name to the Kingsmen in 1958, and by 1962, McDorman had been replaced by Reid’s brother Don. To avoid confusion with other groups called the Kingsmen, they settled on a new moniker — the Statler Brothers, taking the name from a brand of tissues.
Introducing himself to Johnny Cash at a show in Roanoke in 1963, Reid and the group were hired by Cash two days later and with his help secured a deal with Columbia Records. “Flowers on the Wall” brought with it a flurry of TV appearances, commercial endorsements, and a second 1965 Grammy as Best New Country and Western Artist. By 1969, unable to sustain their hit-single momentum, they left Columbia for Mercury Records. With producer Jerry Kennedy at the helm, the group enjoyed a string of hits including “Bed of Rose’s,” (written by Reid), the nostalgic “Do You Remember These,” and “The Class of ’57.” The group’s, and in particular Reid’s, comedy skills were in full force on the 1974 LP Alive at the Johnny Mack Brown High School, which credits them as “Lester ‘Roadhog’ Moran and the Cadillac Cowboys.”
Following Dewitt’s departure in 1982, the Statler Brothers continued to tour and in 1991 began a regular Saturday night Fifties-inspired variety series on The Nashville Network, which ran through 1997. Their Independence Day celebration in Staunton, Virginia, began in 1970 and was an annual event in their hometown for the next quarter-century. After 38 years on the road, the Statler Brothers retired in 2002. They were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2008.