Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: One great thing about the Internet is that anyone with a computer can contribute. Unfortunately, it is not always easy to know if online information is accurate.

For example, in researching the early years of the Statler Brothers, I first found this statement on Wikipedia:

"The Statler Brothers quartet was founded in 1955 in Staunton, Virginia."

Then on the group's own web site (, their beginning is explained this way:

"Entering the business in 1964 as the backup voices for Johnny Cash on stage, record and TV, they served their apprenticeship with him for eight and one-half years. During that time they recorded their first hit record, "Flowers on the Wall" [1965].

The only way both accounts can be right is if they didn't record, perform professionally, or "enter the business," until nine years after forming.

Is that the case, or is there something missing from the story?
—Wallace McDonald, Amarillo, Texas

DEAR WALLACE: The biggest oversight in my opinion is that neither source mentions the Statlers being anywhere near a recording studio before 1965, after signing with Columbia (also Johnny Cash's label) and recording their first single, "Flowers on the Wall" (Columbia 43315).

Wikipedia does at least acknowledge their existence as a quartet before joining Columbia.

With just one tiny edit, their own site could be more accurate by changing "Entering the business in 1964 as the backup voices for Johnny Cash" to "In 1964, as the backup voices for Johnny Cash," etc., etc.

They don't have to spell out what they did at the time, but at least it wouldn't imply they did nothing as performers.

In the band's pre-Columbia years, their main reason for being in a recording studio was to provide vocal backing on a couple of records by Harry Snyder, a good country singer and a key figure in the Statlers formative period.

Like the four future Statler Brothers, Snyder also lived in Staunton, the Queen City of the Shenandoah Valley, near Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains. In 1962, Staunton, a town of about 20,000, had one little recording company on Route 3 named Buttermilk Records.

The company's first release, "Worry, Worry, Worry" backed with "A Lovely Orchid" (Buttermilk 1001), credits Harry Snyder and the Buttermilk Drinkers; however, considerable evidence points to the so-called Buttermilk Drinkers including some or all of these four: Harold Reid; Don Reid; Lew DeWitt; and Phil Balsley. About two years later this quartet would adopt the name Statler Brothers.

The foursome remained the same until 1983, when Jimmy Fortune replaced lead tenor/guitarist Lew DeWitt. Lew was forced to leave the group that year due to complications caused by Crohn's syndrome, for which there is no known cure. On August 15, 1990, the bowel disease claimed DeWitt's life.

Not long after release of the Buttermilk single, Harry Snyder and the soon-to-be-famous quartet made the 15 mile drive down to 319 W. Main St. in Waynesboro, Va., home of Wayne-Way Records.

In Waynesboro, they recorded a country version of Stuart Hamblen's "This Ole House," a famous pop hit by Rosemary Clooney in 1954. For the flip side, they chose "Someone Like You," a Harry Snyder original.

This record came out in 1963 (Wayne-Way 103), and again the credit read Harry Snyder and the Buttermilk Drinkers.

On "This Ole House," Harold Reid, the group's bass singer, is featured solo on the same lines as Thurl Ravenscroft provides on Rosemary Clooney's version ("ain't a-gonna need this house no longer, ain't a-gonna need this house no more").

Though Harold is not named on the label, anyone familiar with his voice, or has heard the Statler Brothers perform "This Ole House" in concert, knows it's him.

But the Snyder-Statlers connection doesn't end there.

One of Harry Snyder's best tunes, "Boulevard of Blues" (Haney 101), a 1966 release, was co-written by Harry Snyder and Statler Brothers co-founder, Lewis "Lew" DeWitt.

Listen to Harry Snyder's "Someone Like You" right hear.

IZ ZAT SO? As noted above, the original Statler Brothers were two brothers named Reid, plus a DeWitt and a Balsley, but never anyone named Statler.

In late 1963 or early '64, a time when the boys were looking for something more original than the Kingsmen, they spotted a box of Statler White 2-Ply Tissues in their motel room.

Not being able to think of any recording artist named Statler, that became their new name.

They were indeed the first Statler act in history with a hit record, though in 1969 a fellow named Darrell Statler came along with "Blue Collar Job" (Dot 17275), a minor hit in the country music field.

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