It wasn’t until I got up this morning that I realized it was March 8. And then like a thunderstorm on a summer evening it came over me just exactly how much this day meant to me.
It was one half century ago that our, the Statler Brothers’, professional career started. If you have our book, Random Memories, pages 20 and 21 will tell you most of the story. If you don’t have it, here goes.
We had made contact with Johnny Cash as he toured through the Shenandoah Valley and he liked what he heard. He promised us a job and after months of waiting and re-contacting, a date was finally set for us to meet up with him for a concert. It was to be in Canton, Ohio on Sunday afternoon on March 8, 1964. We had no idea where that was as none of us had ever been that far from home. But we quit our day jobs and headed out in an old beat up Cadillac pulling a homemade sheet metal trailer with our clothes and instruments packed tightly inside. We had that one date promised us with the Cash show and then we were heading either to New York or Nashville and find our way in this thing called the music industry.
Just three days before we pulled out, John’s agent called and said that leg of the tour would last for eight days and would we be available for the whole trip. Would we ever! No money was discussed. We were ready to do it for free just to get on the stage with Johnny Cash.
We pulled out of Staunton, the four of us, with a funny little man named Carleton Haney who was a local promoter, a Bluegrass enthusiast and the person who had originally introduced us to John. He was sitting up in the backseat between two of us and he sang fiddle tunes all the way from Virginia to Ohio. Don’t know if you’ve ever heard anyone sing a fiddle tune but after the first two notes, they all sound alike. I remember dozing off for an hour or so and waking up and he was still singing those fiddle tunes. No lyrics. Just a high and constant dood-lee dood-lee dood-lee. After five decades, I can still hear it in my dreams.
We arrived in Canton early on a Sunday morning, checked into the George Washington Hotel, then showered, shaved and dressed and went to church – a habit we practiced often throughout our career as our travel schedule would allow. Four Presbyterian-raised boys saying a final prayer at the First Baptist Church of Canton before going to the Memorial Auditorium and getting ready for the most important 2:30 matinee of their lives. Except when we got there, nobody knew we were coming.
It was an all-star show and we met folks on that first day who would become lifelong friends. On the show was: The Duke of Paducah, George Hamilton IV, Sonny James, Bill Anderson, June Carter and, of course, John, who never showed up until it was time for him to walk on the stage and none of the others knew we were supposed to perform at all. But everyone was so friendly and accommodating and we got a 12-minute spot to do a couple of songs and all was well.
Between the afternoon show and the evening show, John hired us officially and gave us some cash to travel on. To this day I cannot remember how much it was but it paid for the gas and hotels for the next week. We sang songs for all the troupe in the dressing room. We were taking requests. Everything from old country songs to folk songs to hymns. If we knew it we sang it. If not, we faked it. We hit the stage that Sunday night with John and June and the Tennessee Three and sang backup on songs that we never rehearsed and had only heard on the radio. It was a magical day and storybook night.
Luther Perkins, John’s guitarist, who invented the boom chicky boom Cash sound, asked us to sing How Great Thou Art for him just before we went on stage that night. We did and he cried. And years later, we sang it at his funeral and we cried.
There are so many people I miss from fifty years ago. So many who passed through my life and left their indelible imprint but most importantly left their memory. I cherish and honor each one of those folks who had a hand in making me who I am.
Never a March 8 goes by I don’t thank God for every one of them.
DSR- March 8, 2014
A few weeks ago we woke up to the news that Ray Price had passed. We knew that was coming but still it leaves an emptiness when such a legend steps out of this world and leaves us with only memories. And I have some really good ones of Ray.
The music was fantastic. He, along with Eddy Arnold, brought strings to Country Music and made it acceptable to all those who only thought of a violin as a fiddle. We all followed suit and a new sound was born for an entire industry. We worked with Ray many times; concerts – early on in the 70s we opened and he closed. Later on in the 80s – he opened and we closed. Such is show business, but here is a story I just love and one that shows Ray for the true gentleman he was.
We were a young, struggling group in the very early 60s trying to get our foot in the music business door. A local promoter took us to Charlotte, NC one Saturday night (a long trip from Staunton for us back then). He said he thought he could get us on a big Country show there for a song or two. We arrived at the Charlotte City Auditorium, a place we would perform in and pack many, many times in subsequent years, and were amazed at the thousands of people who had come to see Ray Price, Ferlin Husky, and Mel Tillis (who was just beginning to get some notice). What we didn’t know was that no prior arrangements had been made and no one there even knew we were coming. So here we were, backstage, with this promoter trying to promote a spot on the show for us. A very awkward and embarrassing position for Harold, Phil, Lew and myself.
And then we looked up and saw Ray Price standing in the doorway of his dressing room in a resplendent black suit and black patent leather boots, smoking a cigarette and watching what was going on with these four young wannabes and this ill-prepared promoter. His very words still ring in my ears. He said, “Hey.” Everyone hushed and turned toward him. And then he said, “Give these boys some of my time. I don’t care. Let’em sing a couple of songs.”
And sing we did. Biggest crowd to date we had ever sung in front of and it was all due to the Cherokee Cowboy himself. We thanked him profusely and remembered him forever because if not for him, we would have driven that long trip back home in sadness and silence.
Ray’s last message to his public was: “I am at peace. I love Jesus. I’m going to be just fine. Don’t worry about me.”
And we won’t Ray because we know you are in good hands. God bless you and thanks again for Charlotte.
And then I wake this morning and hear of another hole left in our musical family. Phil Everly died.
I grew up on those guys. Danced at the record hops to them. Bought their records and watched them on TV. And then we did TV with them. Which brings me to the link you see below.
In 1970, we were regulars on the Johnny Cash TV show on ABC every Wednesday night. The summer replacement show for the Cash show was The Everly Brothers Show and they asked the Statlers, in June of that year, to come out to L.A. and do a guest spot with them. All that is left of that show, to my knowledge, is an audio-only clip. It’s the six of us, Don and Phil – The Everlys – and Harold, Phil, Lew and Don – The Statlers singing the old folk song Columbus Stockade Blues. Even after all these years, I have to say it’s pretty darn good.
Give it a listen. And our love to Don and all the Everly family. Those two guys gave some great memories to an entire nation.
DSR – January 4, 2014