I spent most of this past week in Nashville with my sons, Debo and Langdon, and ran into some old friends.
It has long been a standard that I represent the Statler Brothers in most all interviews. When we were touring, I would often do eight to ten radio interviews per day from my office the week before a tour began. I also did the magazine and newspapers by phone with my feet propped firmly on my desk or in person before or after the concerts in the respective cities we played. We all four had our duties that we looked after and this just happened to be mine. (The reasons for this were either I didn’t mind doing them or Harold, Phil and Jimmy didn’t want to do them and often both.)
I got the call a few weeks ago from the office of Ken Burns, producer of many television specials for PBS. You have probably seen his documentaries on Baseball or Jazz or The Civil War and many, many more. They all have been successful and well done. But this call was about one of his new projects, The History of Country Music. And what better way to get that oral history than from the folks most involved in it through the years. They were booking singers, songwriters, record producers, music publishers, musicians, managers and anyone who knew the difference between Hank Williams, Sr. and Hank Williams, Jr. So I agreed to go to Nashville and lend what I learned about the industry in the forty years the Statlers spent as part of it.
Last Tuesday I spent two and a half hours in front of their cameras giving them answers to all the questions they asked. When I finished, Johnny Rodriquez was due to follow me but he missed his flight from Texas, so the crew took an extra-long lunch. Reba was next and then on and on and I’ve lost track of the order after that, but I did pick up on something you might find interesting. The first interview for this production was done in 2012. The first interviewee was Little Jimmy Dickens. He was 92 years old at the time and they wanted to be sure to get him on tape before it was too late. (Of course, he lived two more years even after that. What a total character he was.) But the real kicker is this documentary is not due to air until 2019. That means it will be seven years in the making by the time we all get to see it. So don’t pop any popcorn just yet or make any specific plans to be home when it airs. There’s plenty of time to set the DVR.
While in town, I ran into Jan Howard in a bookstore and we caught up and reminisced about the old Cash days. We toured a lot together back then. (You might know that the Statlers were on Johnny Cash’s “Daddy Sang Bass” single and that that was Lew and I singing, “me and little brother would join right in there”, but did you know that it was Jan singing, “Mama sang tenor”? Most people assume it was June, but not so.)
Songwriter, Bobby Braddock, was in the same Barnes and Noble the other night promoting his new book. Bobby not only wrote one of the best country songs ever, “He Stopped Loving Her Today”, he also states in his new book that the Statlers recorded the first two top ten records he ever had in his career. The two songs were “Ruthless” and “You Can’t Have Your Kate and Edith, Too.” (I was 22 years old when we recorded those numbers. Wow!)
And while I was in town, we had lunch one day with old friend, Bill Anderson. He picked us up at the hotel and we ate and laughed for an entire afternoon until we could no longer do either. (An ironic thought just crossed my mind. Bill and Jan Howard recorded a song of mine, “We”, as a duet many years ago on their “For Loving You” album.)
I like going back to Nashville from time to time. It was a second home to us our entire career. We recorded there; did TV there; and made a lot of memories and friends there. The town was good to us and I always like where it takes my heart and mind for a few days.
And speaking of the old times, Monday, October 26 is the 13th anniversary of our retirement. The DVD of that final concert just went gold for the second time. I certainly thank you for that. Folks ask all the time if I ever watch that video. Well, sometimes I come across it when I’m channel surfing because it plays a lot on TV, and when I do, I usually have to watch my favorite part.
Singing “Amazing Grace” with Harold, Phil and Jimmy was, is, and always will be my favorite part.
Saturday afternoon, October 24, 2015 DSR
Was it really eight years ago that Virginia was in the news with the horrible campus shooting at Virginia Tech? I cringed as I sat glued to the news stations that day the same way I flinched and grimaced yesterday every time they ran the story of another Virginia shooting. I felt sadness for the victims and the long lives they were denied by a few seconds of hatred from a deranged co-worker. I felt the shock the parents and partners of these victims started their day off with this morning. And the poor lady lying today in a hospital, wounded by a coward who shot her in the back. I am appalled and angry as you probably are, too. But we will recover. It’s the people close to these victims whose lives changed forever in the split second of a gunshot that my heart breaks for. They will never recover.
This is not the Virginia I grew up in. That Virginia had a beautiful image. Magnificent seasons. Abundant history. Our state history was once the United States’ history. Eight Presidents were born here. Our heritage cries of honor and richness of tradition. And yet, that once proud image is tarnished by news days such as these. For the victims, for the families, for our state, I offer prayers of comfort.
We, the Statlers, had a weekly television show on WDBJ, channel 7, back when we were little more than kids singing for our supper anywhere someone would allow. We would drive the 85 miles to Roanoke to the tv studio and record a thirty-minute show that would be played later during the weekend. It was while doing this that we came up with the name of Statler. At the time, we were calling ourselves The Kingsmen. The WDBJ signal carried into North Carolina and we began getting our mail mixed up with the southern gospel group by the same name. That’s when we sat down and had a serious talk with ourselves and invented the Statler Brothers. If not for WDBJ and their direct signal going south, we may have remained local and stagnant, using someone else’s name.
All of the folks who were at the station back then are gone now, but I wanted to share a very inspirational interview that just touched my heart last night. I watched Bill O’Reilly interview the WDBJ station manager, Jeffery Marks. This man looked like a long day of suffering right in the face, but he spoke so firmly and honestly about his situation that I was moved to share it with you. Go find it on the internet and experience the faith and strength that this man exudes. I don’t know him but I’m going to pray for him. And for all those involved in any way. And for America.
Today is my grandson’s birthday and I feel almost guilty looking at him and his young, fresh life. I don’t want him to ever have the worries, concerns and burdens that I feel down deep today. But I know he will. And he, too, will handle it the same way we do. God bless him and all our children and all of those we love.