Statlers, Tom T. Hall Join Hall Of Fame

June 30, 2008 — Two artists who shared the same record label and producer and had two of the best-remembered country singles of the 1960s were officially added to the Country Music Hall of Fame Sunday in a ceremony full of one-liners and special musical moments.

The Statler Brothers, who came to prominence with the 1965 single "Flowers On The Wall"; and Tom T. Hall, who penned Jeannie C. Riley’s 1968 classic "Harper Valley P.T.A."; were presented their symbolic hall-of-fame medallions in front of an audience that included a multitude of hall members, as well as their mutual producer, Jerry Kennedy. All of the previous inductees in attendance — including Little Jimmy Dickens, Vince Gill, the Jordanaires, Sonny James, Brenda Lee and others — wound up on stage at the end for a traditional mass encore of the Carter Family standard "Will The Circle Be Unbroken."

"Welcome to our home," Brenda proclaimed to the new members — including Emmylou Harris and the late Ernest "Pop" Stoneman, who were added in a separate ceremony nine weeks ago.

The significance of the Statlers and Tom T. was recounted by friends and by Hall of Fame director Kyle Young. And the significance of the night was mirrored in comments by the inductees themselves.

In particular, the Statlers’ Don Reid recalled his recent first visit to the rotunda, where the plaques of all the Hall of Fame’s 100+ inductees hang. The group is now enshrined there among such acts as Johnny Cash, Gene Autry, Tex Ritter and Roy Rogers — all of whom influenced the Statlers in some way.

"I felt," Don said, "like an old Amish boy who had wandered into a Circuit City. I was overwhelmed."

The group was hailed for bringing a gospel quartet sound to commercial country music, for its abiding loyalty and for its consummate professionalism. And Reba McEntire — who turned in a rousing version of "Flowers On The Wall," with Vince providing impromptu backing vocals — recalled that their belief in her was a turning point in her career. She had decided to quit playing honky tonks in the early-1980s because the smoke was damaging her voice. Some of her advisers were convinced she would never work again; instead, within two weeks the Statlers offered her a key opening slot on their tour.

Tom T., who earned the nickname the Storyteller for his subtly detailed plotlines, was recognized as a fierce devotee of bluegrass music and a man who turned a series of childhood tragedies into life lessons. Chief among them were the loss of his parents and the death of his musical mentor, who he immortalized in one of his biggest recordings, "The Year Clayton Delaney Died." Bobby Bare reprised his version of Tom T.’s "How I Got To Memphis" and celebrated his "uncanny ability to capture the spirit of the people he’s writing about."

Tom T. delivered a rendition of "(Old Dogs-Children And) Watermelon Wine," though the retired singer (aged 72 — seven years older than the bartender in the song’s lyrics) apologized, needlessly as it turned out, for his vocal quality: "If this doesn’t sound like the guy you remember, you have to remember this is the guy you’re lookin’ at, and not the guy you remember."

The Statlers delivered a spot-on version of "I’ll Go To My Grave Loving You" nearly six years after they last sang together. Most of the group’s living members — Don and Harold Reid, Phil Balsley and Jimmy Fortune, who replaced the departed Lew DeWitt, who is also represented with their plaque — paid some recognition to their families. But it was Jimmy’s thanks to his children — all seven of them — that best summarized the night’s mix of humor and warmth.

"I went broke makin’ Fortunes," Jimmy said, then waited for the laughter to subside.

"But the truth is," he told the kids, "you made me the richest man on Earth."

Tom T. and the Statlers likewise added to country music’s qualitative riches, the most significant reason for their enshrinement.