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.
The Fourth of July is upon us. And as you might imagine, it’s one of my favorite holidays. My reverie is full of wonderful memories of the 25 years we held a concert in our hometown, Staunton, VA. It started out as a local event of us saying thank you to the homefolks. Then it started growing and bursting at the seams and became an international attraction that filled Staunton with 75,000 to 100,000 each year for a three-day stretch. Thinking back on those sweet years, 1970 – 1994, the Random Memories kick in:
• Carl Perkins and Mac Wiseman (who is going into the Country Music Hall of Fame this year) were our guests for the 2nd celebration in 1971. Johnny Cash walked into the room while we were asking Carl if he would come that year and he just stood there until we finished talking. He then looked at us and said, “When are you going ask me?” Quick thinking as we were, one of us said, “We were going to ask you next.” Truth of the matter was it was early in our career and we didn’t want to impose on John as the Happy Birthday USA event was still new and not the event it became to be. We weren’t sure he would be willing to come, but that’s the kind of man and mentor he was to us. Sure do miss him and so does the music industry. He and June came as our guests in 1973.
• Bill Anderson is the oldest friendship we have in Country Music. He was on the very first tour the night we were hired by Johnny Cash in Canton, Ohio in 1964. Bill said he would love to come for the 4th and that he had a ball team made up of his band and road company. Would we like to play him in a softball game on the afternoon before the concert in 1974? Sure, we said and put together the best softball team you have ever seen. We got all the good athletes from this area and even included our recently retired hometown star, Jerry May, who had been a catcher for the Pirates, Mets and Royals. Needless to say, the four Statlers were the least talented players on the team. We won and Bill, bless his heart has never let us forget it. Every time I see him, he hugs me and then steps back and says, “I’m still mad about that ballgame, you know.”
• No money was ever exchanged between us and our guests. The deal each year was if they would come do our charity celebration for free, we would go anywhere for their charity and return the favor. When Barbara Mandrell came in 1979, we returned her kindness by playing in her celebrity golf tournament down in Alabama for three days. We all four are horrible golfers. We hardly know which end of the club to hold but we played right along with the pros and other guests and come the Putting Contest, wouldn’t you know it, Harold came in third. He has, as the prize, a gold-plated putter hanging on his wall as proof to this very day.
• The final one in ’94 holds many, many nice memories for us, but here is one Debbie and I still shake our heads and cringe about. We were throwing an after-the-show party at our house for all the Statlers and our guests, friends and family. It was to start at 11:30 p.m., so she and I rushed home and did last minute things with the caterers who were already there. At about 11p.m. a lone car comes up the driveway and U.S. Senator Chuck Robb and his wife, Lynda Bird, hop out and say, “I know we’re early but is there anything we can do to help?” So Debbie has the Senator and President Johnson’s daughter filling up ice buckets and moving furniture. It’s a surreal souvenir from the past that the two of us still laugh about.
• I know many of you made that trek to Staunton so many years ago and we appreciate it so much. This year it will be another quiet 4th by the pool with the family, but in my mind I will still hear the crowd and the fireworks and the sweet music of all our friends who came and made it a memory that will outlast the ages.
HAPPY 4TH OF JULY, God bless and have a safe one.