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It's showtime for The Statlers

By Tom Netherland, June 2001

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Reid could not agree more.

"That's the beauty of it. I can remember one time when we were in a session, and we had two guitars playing a unison break," Reid says. "Somebody said, 'aww, we'd better re-tune.' And this other picker said, 'no, that's the beauty of it.' They were not exactly there, a few beats short. Kind of what Merle was saying, but that's what gave it the breadth, that's what gave it the excitement. Electronically you can do it perfect. You can out that machine on it to make it perfect, but that doesn't make it pretty."

Indeed, what you get on the Statlers' latest album is them, not some digitized version. With longtime Nashville session players such as Sonny Garrish (steel guitar, dobro), Eddie Bayers (drums) and legendary ivory tickler Hargus "Pig" Robbins on board, the Statlers shot for heart and feeling, not some pickled in perfection sound.

"You want it to be you, and if it's not you, then it's not right," Reid says. He adds that when artists take such liberties in the studio as to perfect their sound, they do so at the peril of subsequent live performances.

That's never been a problem for the Statlers. For one thing, they've managed to record all their albums since 1970 -- including their latest -- with the same producer, Jerry Kennedy. For another, through the years the foursome penned most of its own material.

"Oh, Jerry's the fifth brother," Reid says. "He is everything to us. When we walk into a studio, he is it. He's been with us since 1970. We trust him explicitly. He was the first guy that gave us total freedom in the studio, and that's important. He had worked some sessions with us years ago as a guitar picker when we were on Columbia Records in our first five years in the business."

When the Statlers' Columbia contract expired, they simply walked across the street and looked up their pal Kennedy, by then Mercury's head honcho in Nashville.

"We said that we were looking for a label. He said 'I'd love to record you guys, but I've got one problem, I don't have time to look for material. Have y'all got any material?'"

Umm, yeah. The Statlers were overflowing with songs they'd written. "We'd been writing for years and hadn't been able to record it because Columbia was making us do what was handed down, ya know. So he opened the doors to the studio, and we started recording the stuff we wanted to the way we wanted with the pickers we wanted."

And gosh, consider the gems that have flowed from Staunton's finest pens: "Carry Me Back," "Class of '57," "Flowers on the Wall." All hits, all classics. No less than famed novelist Kurt Vonnegut wrote in his book "Palm Sunday" that "Class of '57" should be named America's new national anthem. Now that's high praise.

"That was nice what he said. He has proven to be a fan through the years. He and his wife come to our concerts. We call him up and sing "Happy Birthday" to him, so it's been a fun relationship."

Then there's filmmaker Quentin Tarrantino. He re-popularized the "Flowers on the Wall" when he used it in his seminal film from 1995, "Pulp Fiction."

"We were in strange company on that album for that movie," Reid says with a laugh. "When they contacted us, it wasn't even titled yet. So, we didn't really know until it came out. Of course, the album went platinum and was great for everybody involved, but we were in strange company when we look at everybody that's on that album."

Not that their fans noticed. Reid says after initially watching the movie, he worried that the band's fans would deluge their office with disapproving letters. That, however, never happened.

"Not one of our fans have written, called, stopped us or anything. We thought we were really gonna hear it from our fans. Our fans didn't go see that movie. Our fans didn't buy that album. We got to hear from the college crowd; it got all kinds of new people after us."

Still, "Flowers on the Wall" once again struck paydirt last year when country newcomer Eric Heatherly recorded the tune and took it into country's Top 40.

"We were very honored that (Eric) did it. We thought he did a great 'today' job on it," Reid says. "He gave a nice 21st century twist to it. It sounded like today, and it sounded good."

Today, Reid says that he's honored that both men would think so highly of the song. Still, he stops short of offering approval of Tarrantino's often violent film that clashes head-on with the Statlers' clean-cut and wholesome boys-next-door images.

But back to the new album. Jimmy Fortune penned one tune, "Look At Me," and then there's a Steve Wariner and Gordon Kennedy-penned tune, "Darlin' I Do." Elsewhere, it's all Reid written. Brothers Don and Harold along with several of their offspring wrote the album's remaining 10 tunes.

Including a pair of paint-peeling gospel tunes, "The Other Side of the Cross" and "I've Got Jesus On My Side."

"We like the way these gospel songs came off, and we're excited about the way the (upcoming) one will do," Reid says. "We've got about eight songs ready to go. In fact, we just got finished with rehearsals this morning. It's all gospel."

Reid says that though the band is perhaps more well known for such hits as "Silver Medals and Sweet Memories" and "Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott," it's a gospel song that attracts most applause during their shows.

"Gospel music is our first love. We've never done a concert where we didn't do at least one or two. Of all our hit songs, the most requested song we've got is "How Great Thou Art." We've been doing it in concerts for 30 years. We grew up with gospel. Our hearts are really in it when we're doing them."

More simply put, the Statler Brothers are not merely a country group.

"We're basically a gospel quartet with country lyrics. We used everything we knew from the Southern gospel quartets and just put country lyrics to the songs. That makes us different. That makes us original."

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