There’s a late-’70s song by The Statler Brothers with the curious name “The Official Historian on Shirley Jean Berrell.” Never heard it? Well, Wil and Langdon Reid surely have, despite not having been born until after that song was a hit.
Wil and Langdon, as it happens, have become the official historians on The Statler Brothers. The pair of first cousins, who record and perform under the professional handle Wilson Fairchild, grew up listening to Statler Brothers music in the homes of their fathers, brothers Harold and Don Reid.
If you’re paying attention, you’ve figured out that Wil and Langdon are in fact the sons of those Reid brothers―the ones who for decades comprised half of The Statler Brothers. (Statler’s not an actual family name, you see; Wil and Langdon could easily explain that, too.) The cousins’ most recent research project is an album titled “Songs Our Dads Wrote.” The research wasn’t especially difficult, as they tell it.
“It started,” says Langdon, “with a song called ‘A Letter From Shirley Miller.’ We were sittin’ around one day, pickin’ and foolin’ around, and Wil said ‘Man, I’ve always loved this song that they wrote.’ And we started playing it, singing it, and then that turned into me saying, ‘Oh, that reminds me of . . . ‘ and before you know it, we came up with some songs.” Nine songs, to be exact, and, as befitting of selections made by natural-born Statlers historians, most of them are not obvious ones.
“There’s some deep album cuts on there,” confirms Langdon, the younger and somewhat more talkative of the two. “We really kind of wanted to show the scope of [our dads] as writers. Because you have some fun hit songs, like ‘Guilty,’ that was a hit for them in the early ’80s, but then you have a song like ‘She’s Too Good,’ which is a very romantic and poetic song, and something that you maybe wouldn’t even think they’d have written. We really wanted [the album] to have a range of their storytelling.”
“Because of how close we are,” Wil interjects, “and how close we’ve always been musically, it wasn’t hard for us to pick those nine songs. We come from that music; ever since we were born, that’s the music that influenced us first, before other music.”
As Wil notes, their dads were so well known for their roles in one of country’s most distinctive and beloved vocal quartets that their legend can sometimes overshadow their histories as unique and successful writers. “Taking the entertainment and The Statler Brothers out of it,” Wil says, “[the album’s song choices] are about these stories that we got hung up on―we just love these songs.”
After one spin of the new disc, it’s not hard to understand why. Harold and Don Reid are masters of the anti-epic, with songs such as “Letter From Shirley Miller” offering enough detail for a movie yet doing so with understated drama and catch-in-your-throat poignancy. The short-short stories collected on the new Wilson Fairchild album ring with simplicity, witty wisdom and an intuitive understanding of the frailties that tick inside the world’s average Joes and Jolenes.
It seems a reasonable and short jump from these high school yearbook-plucked plot lines to the Reids’ (and Statler Brothers’) longtime home base of Staunton, Virginia, a town of roughly 28,000 residents where Walmart’s the fifth-largest employer and The Statler Brothers are approachable local legends.
Langdon’s father and uncle, he says, “always had a big-town story, but they have small-town attitudes. They’ve always been very good at wearing different hats. They knew the hat to put on when they had to go out and perform in front of 10 or 15 thousand people,” he says. “But then they’d get on the bus and come back home the next day and put on a ball cap because they were coaching our Little League.
“They were always dads first. They wanted to keep normalcy a priority with us, and keep us grounded,” says Langdon. As a testament to their ease as small-town Virginians and Statlers torchbearers, Langdon and Wil are set to perform at their hometown’s first “Happy Birthday USA” July 4th hometown celebration in 23 years, a longtime Staunton-and-Statler-Brothers ritual that the two cousins are resurrecting. It’s all part of their roles as legacy keepers, roles that, however obvious they seem, took a while to solidify.
While they’ve never strayed too far from traditional country and gospel as primary musical touch points, the cousins didn’t set out to be a Statler Brothers tribute act. To their credit, they proved their salt as songwriters while still in their teens, getting hard-won Statler Brothers cuts. The younger Reids’ sentimental and clever “The Statler Brothers Song” rounds out their album’s 10-song track list, symbolizing the passing of the songwriting baton in the family’s musical relay race.
Starting out as performers, though, as Langdon explains, “We tried to stay away from our dads’ music because we didn’t want to be accused of ridin’ coattails. But then we came to learn [people] couldn’t see past where we’d come from. All of our live performances are always a success,” he says, “and people love what we do, but we found out that they also love it because they see our dads in us. And that I understand.
“We have totally embraced where we come from,” Langdon continues, establishing the reason why the duo’s new release is “one of the most genuine recordings we’ve ever done―because we didn’t let anybody take it in another direction. This is us playing the guitars, that was the foundation for this recording,” says Langdon. The cousins again worked with noted guitarist/songwriter/producer Gordon Kennedy, and all agreed that the goal was not to let production get in the way.
As a result, “Songs Our Dads Wrote” finds its own fresh approach as a tribute to the elder Reids’ songwriting output and, secondarily, to the diversity of The Statler Brothers. The focus is on capturing the songs’ essence in sparsely arranged versions that Langdon describes as “very front-porch.”
The imaginary front porch he references actually became a centering tool for the album, the fourth Wilson Fairchild outing (and second full-length release) to date. If it couldn’t have happened in a setting as simple as the porch, it wasn’t allowed on the record.
“We really wanted the listener to say ‘you know what, I think this is what this song sounded like five minutes after it was written.’ And with that raw approach . . . [we can] showcase the song,” says Langdon, as Wil instinctively echoes him on those same three words.
“Hopefully this is what music and creativity is supposed to be about. You don’t do it to do what somebody thinks should be done. When you listen to this record,” says Langdon, “you can tell we didn’t do it to go after radio, we didn’t do it to get a TV show, we just did it because that’s who we are.”