So, this may be the blog I have been waiting decades to write.
But first, a little history.
It was the spring of 1991 when we started taping episodes for THE STATLER BROTHERS SHOW TV series in Nashville. Even though our first guest was Barbara Mandrell as seen on the air, the first guest we actually taped was Conway Twitty. We were great friends and tended to be pretty honest with each other. When we finished the day’s taping, Conway looked at us and said, “This is really going to be a good show for you guys. But why are you doing it? It looks like a lot of work.”
We laughed about that comment then and still do because it was a lot of work. We told CT then we were doing it just because it was something we had never done and that usually was reason enough for some of the things we tackled in our career.
The series lasted a full seven (7) seasons, always holding the #1 spot on the network, and from the time we taped our last show on February 13, 1998, it was in our minds to one day be able to release them on video. It was apparently in the minds of all our fans/friends because that has been the most requested thing in our mail for the last eighteen (18) years. Research, legalities, lawyers, licenses fees for unions, publishers, songwriters and more than I can list here has taken a lot of time, but we can now sit back and take a deep breath. It is done!
THE BEST OF THE STATLER BROTHERS TV SHOWS- SEASON ONE is now available on DVD. Check it out at our website – statlerbrothers.com It is all Statler! There are songs (75 of them). Comedy routines (24 of them) and five (5) YESTERYEAR segments. It consists of seven (7) DVDs. I hope you will agree that it is the best of the Statler performances from season one. It became obvious that to release all the performances of all our guests would have been cost prohibitive and an impossibility to clear for those in charge, but we certainly feel this package is the perfect essence of that Saturday night memory that became so much of the Americana scene of the ‘90s.
The Gaither Music Group is producing and marketing the shows and you will be seeing that pop up on your tv in the very near future. Of course, you can get them immediately at our website as of now.
Hope you enjoy the music and the memories. We certainly enjoyed making both.
Blessings to each one of you.
My sons, D. and Langdon, and I eat lunch together every Wednesday at a favorite haunt of ours. That’s where we were today when we got the word about Merle. We sat and talked another hour or more, relating stories, remembering favorite songs and paying homage to the most imitated voice the country music industry has ever known.
First time I met Merle – late ’65 or early ’66. We had been hearing this new guy from the west coast and everybody in Nashville was talking about what a terrific singer he was. He had had one hit, “Strangers” and so had we, “Flowers”. We all wound up on a package show at the Great Lakes Naval Base outside of Chicago. Johnny Cash, June Carter, Merle and Bonnie and the Statlers. That afternoon before the show, we all had dinner on the ship and as we were sitting at the table talking, Merle told us, the Statlers, that the first time he ever saw John perform was in San Quentin a few years earlier. One of us asked, “Were you there opening the show?” and he answered, “No. I was there sitting on the front row.” That’s how open and honest he was about his past. And he brought all that honesty and soul to his songwriting and his singing.
We bumped into one another constantly for the next nearly one half century. Countless awards shows that we did together. Dropping in on him when he was working Vegas and catching his stage show. He told us one night backstage after he had just knocked ‘em dead at a concert, that we made him nervous when we were in the audience. Can you imagine? What a nice compliment but Merle Haggard had no reason to be nervous with anyone when it came to singing.
We hosted a 90-minute Christmas TV special in 1985. Our guests were Roger Miller, Crystal Gale, Gene Autry and, of course, Merle. He sang “White Christmas” while holding his little Chihuahua on his lap. But the moment that is frozen in my memory is when we sat down to talk with him on camera and asked him to share with us one of his most memorable holiday memories and he started the story with, “In 1956 I woke up in a jail cell naked on Christmas Eve.”
That’s a story and a man you don’t easily forget. Everything he did, he made it real and straight-from-the-shoulder and straight-from-the-heart.
He was a guest on our TV variety show in the 90s. He was told we wanted him to do two songs and he asked which ones we wanted him to do. I sent back the message for him to do one of his choice and if he could, make the second one “Leonard”. That song, if you’ve never heard it, is Haggard writing at its best. It’s about Tommy Collins, an old country star from the 50s and every word of it is true. Add that to how well it is written and performed and you’ve got one of the best country records ever. Well, come the day of the show, he and his band worked on “Leonard” for over an hour and couldn’t make it come together. Most of his band had never played it before and Merle hadn’t sung it in 15 years and didn’t remember all the words. We told him to let it go, that it wasn’t that important and he said, “But that’s what you guys want and I want to do it for you.”
Sadly, “Leonard” never made it to the air on that show, but look it up and play it tonight. I just sat here at my desk and listened to it and it brought chills and tears like it always does.
The last time I saw Merle was just a few years ago. He played Charlottesville, which is less than an hour over the mountain from us. Harold and I went over and sat on the bus and visited with him a while. He went out and sang all the hits he could fit into an hour and a half and we stood and cheered with everyone else like the fans we have always been.
Just say to any country music fan, “George or Merle?” and you will get a quick answer. I don’t know who will win in the end, but there is no shame in coming in second to either one of them.
I wrote a song the Statlers recorded called “Same Way Everytime”. It was a commentary on modern country music and one of the lines in it is – “Half of them sound like George and the other half sound like Merle”.
Starting today, now I’m going to miss both halves.
DSR – 4/6/16 11:15 pm