Jimmy Fortune, Don Reid of the Statler Brothers talk about their friend Johnny Cash
It wasn’t until the Statlers’ 30th anniversary celebration that Fortune first met Cash.
“John and June [Carter Cash] were both there,” recalls Fortune. “We sang [Cash’s classic hit featuring the Statlers] ‘Daddy Sang Bass,’ and I sang the ‘Mama sang tenor’ line like Lew used to do—and John sang ‘Daddy sang bass,’ of course. We talked a bit that night, but it was still like ships passing in the night. Then time went on and we’d run into each other on the road and have a talk, and I always listened to him and the Statlers tell stories. I was just like a kid soaking it all up!”
The Statler Brothers had formed in Staunton, Virginia, in 1955, but as lead singer Don Reid notes, they were discovered when Johnny Cash met them at the Roanoke Fair and hired them on a handshake. Recalling their first night opening for him in Canton, Ohio in 1964, he says that Cash heard their imitation of his hit “Ring Of Fire,” where Harold sang Cash’s part and the other three mouthed the trumpets, and enjoyed it so much he had them back him on “horns” during his show.
“We had to drop it out of our act and do those silly trumpets when he sang it!” says Reid. “But he found the humor in it and wanted to be part of it.”
The Statlers later wrote an affectionate tribute song to Cash, “We Got Paid By Cash.”
The Statler Brothers stayed in touch with Cash after they left him for their own headlining career.
But Fortune also “really picked up on his faith and hope,” he says.
“Everybody was saying goodbye and he put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Jimmy, you came along later, but I’ve watched what you do and you’re very talented, and I wish I’d got to know you a lot better.’ I’ll always treasure that.”
Fortune, who now lives a mile-and-a-half from where Cash lived in Hendersonville, Tennessee, is thrilled to be part of the forthcoming Cash Music Festival, which also stars Vince Gill and Larry Gatlin & the Gatlin Brothers.
“Of course I’m a big fan of everybody on the show!” he says. “I’ve been listening to the Gatlin Brothers since before I was with the Statlers, and Vince Gill is one of my favorite singers in the whole wide world. But getting to come to Jonesboro for a special occasion like this means a lot to me, because in a way I get to say ‘thank you’ back to John, and lift up his spirit at the same time—which all of us are going to do, because we know he’ll be there with us celebrating.”
As for Reid, he says he’s “tickled” that Fortune is doing the festival.
“It makes for a nice circle,” he says. “Everybody who knew John was also a fan of his for life. I know it will be a great evening and a wonderful time.”
Tickets for the Johnny Cash Music Festival are available at ASU’s Central Box Office and online at www.tickets.astate.edu. Tickets can also be purchased by logging onto the official website of the Johnny Cash Music Festival, www.johnnycashmusicfest.com. Call to purchase tickets toll-free at 1-888-278-3267.
Above: Image from the private collection of Don Reid/Statler Brothers, taken around 1967. Reid is 3rd from left.