In 1963, when Johnny Cash was burning up the charts with his song “Ring of Fire,” he met four young men on stage at the Roanoke Fair in Virginia.
After impressing Cash with their vocals, the men – known as the Statler Brothers – were hired “on a handshake,” and toured with the “Man in Black” for almost 10 years, inspiring their song “We Got Paid by Cash.”
Keep reading to learn more about the legendary quartet who made America cry with their song, “More than a Name on the Wall.”
In 1963, when The Kingsmen hit the top of the charts with a song titled “Louie Louie,” the other Kingsmen, from Virginia, had to change the name of their quartet.
The four boys, Don and Harold Reid, Phil Balsley and Lew DeWitt, were on tour, in a hotel room pitching out some new names, to separate their band from the Oregon-based quintet.
Don earlier shared with a Virgina publication that it was his eyes that struck a box of Statler brand tissues in the room.
The name stuck.
“We could have been the Kleenex Brothers,” Don said of the new era of two brothers and two friends, now known as the Statler Brothers.
That same year, the Statler Brothers, whose country sounds blend with gospel harmonies, were playing at the Roanoke Fair in Salem, Virginia, when they captured the attention of the iconic Johhny Cash.
Cash was at the Salem Fairgrounds promoting his 16th album and hired them “on a handshake.”
“John was a walkin’, talkin’, singin’ musical encyclopedia,” Reid said.
Over the next 10 years, the “Class of ‘57” singers toured, recorded and appeared on TV with Cash, who helped the young men become Columbia Records hitmakers.
In 1965, their genre-bending song “Flowers on the Wall” was a top hit in country and pop music. Beating out the Beatles’ “Help!” and the Supremes’ “Stop in the Name of Love,” the Statler Brothers earned their first two Grammy Awards: Best New Country and Western Artist and Best Contemporary Performance (Group).
The song’s popularity again exploded in 1994, with the release of Quentin Tarantino’s hit film Pulp Fiction. In one scene, “Flowers on the Wall” is piping from the car radio as Butch (played by Bruce Willis) runs down Samuel L. Jackson’s character.
The song is included on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack, that sold more than one million copies.
“Very few people have Bruce Willis help them,” Harold told the News Leader in 2015.
Very few people also had Cash helping them.
“Being with him for those years was our education in the music business. We learned what to do, what not to do, and we left on the best of terms.” Reid said.
Over their 12-year run, the “Do You Know You are My Sunshine?” singers released more than 40 albums, and earned several accolades that include being named, nine times, as the Country Music Association’s Vocal Group of the Year.
From 1991 to 1988, the group had their own variety show on The Nashville Network (TNN). In 1992, the weekly show – featuring the comedic talents of Harold, the founding member – was the most popular on TNN and ranked the highest in the network’s history.
In one episode, an emotionally-charged song, “More Than a Name on the Wall” was played to audiences, a performance that brought tears to the eyes of viewers across America.
Written by Jimmy Fortune, who replaced DeWitt after he left due to medical reasons and then died in 1990, the song tells the story of the black polished Vietnam Memorial wall, that’s etched with the names of 58,381 fallen soldiers.
Speaking with Strictly Country, Fortune explains his inspiration for the heartbreaking song.
“You look at it. You look at each one of those lines from a distance, you look at it and see those lines stacked on top of each other, and they seem like they go on forever, and forever, and forever,” he said of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. “I realized that was a mother’s child. That was someone’s husband. Just all the stories and all the memories of that child…It just hit me that they are more than a name on a wall.”
Fortune, who wrote and sang lead on the 1984 hit song “Elizabeth” added, “It was just such a profound statement. I made a mental note. I’ve got a write that.”