Jimmy Fortune, Ben Isaacs, Mike Rogers and Bradley Walker Deliver New Take on Statlers’ Classic ‘Elizabeth’

The classic hit is one of the many stellar covers on their “Brotherly Love” project.

Written by Deborah Evans Price
Jimmy Fortune, Ben Isaacs, Mike Rogers and Bradley Walker Deliver New Take on Statlers’ Classic ‘Elizabeth’
(L-R) Mike Rogers, Jimmy Fortune, Ben Isaacs and Bradley Walker; Photo Credit: Lee Steffen

The chart-topping 1983 hit “Elizabeth” has always been one of the most beloved songs in the Statler Brothers’ extensive repertoire and longtime Statler member Jimmy Fortune is reviving the song with three new musical partners on the new project Brotherly Love. Fortune recorded the album and filmed a concert DVD/TV special with Ben Isaacs, Mike Rogers and Bradley Walker. Premiering here on Sounds Like Nashville, “Elizabeth” is a bonus track on the DVD, which also includes footage of the foursome being interviewed by Southern gospel legend Bill Gaither.

“There was something special about that night,” Fortune tells SLN of filming the in-the-round concert at Rory Feek’s barn/studio near Columbia, TN. “It was blessed and anointed. The whole night was, but when we did ‘Elizabeth’ and you hear those harmonies kick in, all of a sudden that song became new. It’s like new life just breathed into it. When Bradley, Mike and Ben come in on those harmonies and we were just playing it from our hearts, you can really hear it.  I knew it was going to be good, but when I heard it back, it was pretty awesome. I had chills in a good way. It was kind of like doing it for the first time again.”

“Elizabeth” is the first song Fortune ever wrote and he penned the tender love song soon after joining the Statler Brothers in 1982. It was the first Statler song to feature Fortune as lead vocalist and hit No. 1 on the charts.

Walker admits tackling such a classic hit was a little nerve-racking, but he’s grateful for the opportunity. “It just tickled me to death to be able to sing on that because I grew up loving that song. It’s such an iconic song,” the Alabama native tells SLN. “I’ve always said Jimmy Fortune has one of the most recognizable voices in all of music period. It takes about half a second when you hear him sing. You know who it is unless you’ve been living under a rock.  So for me to get to sing on that with him and with Mike and Ben, it was such a thrill.”

Released digitally in May, the Brotherly Love album is a special collaboration featuring Fortune, who has built a successful solo career after his years with the Statlers; Isaacs, a member of award-winning gospel group the Isaacs; singer/songwriter Mike Rogers, formerly with Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, who is currently a member of Craig Morgan’s band and Walker, a Dove Award-winning country/gospel singer who has also won awards in the bluegrass community.

“Ben has done the last three of my projects,” Fortune says of working with Isaacs, who is also a much sought after producer in gospel and country music circles. “Ben and Mike were playing downtown a few nights here and there and they’d invite us or we’d drop in. Bradley might sing with them and then I might come in and sing with them or whatever and then Ben got this big brainstorm, and said, ‘Hey man, I think this would make a great quartet!”

Brotherly Love; Cover art courtesy of Capitol Christian Music Group

It wasn’t hard to get the other guys onboard. “When Ben called me and asked what would I think about doing a project like this—and he mentioned all four of us together— who wouldn’t want to do that?” Walker says. “I’ve known all these guys through their music careers and being a fan of what they’ve done for many years so immediately I knew I wanted to be a part of it.”

The collection features the four artists serving up their renditions of country, pop and gospel standards. Fortune delivers a stellar version of Vince Gill’s “Go Rest High on That Mountain.” Rogers serves up a lively version of on the O Brother, Where Art Thou hit “Man of Constant Sorrow,” and Isaacs wonderfully revives the Don Williams’ hit “Lord, I Hope This Day is Good.” Among Walker’s contributions is a hauntingly beautiful rendition of Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” They combine forces on “Brotherly Love,” a country hit for the late Keith Whitley and Earl Thomas Conley.

Before recording the project, the foursome gathered at Isaacs’ house to decide which songs they were going to record. “We sat in that big ol’ living room of his with those tall ceilings and then we started hearing those harmonies bounce around in that room,” Fortune recalls. “Then we picked some of our favorite things and sang them. I really feel that all of us individually, I think, are great singers, but together, it’s super anointed. I don’t know how else to say it, but that’s when we knew when we got together. We knew it was blessed by the good Lord above and I think you can feel it when you listen.”

“We knew from the first moment we sang together, the blend was there and there’s so many options,” Walker agrees. “One of the things that I love about this group is the fact that we can all sing lead and we can all sing multiple harmony parts. You’ve got so many options and ways that you can make things work. That makes it even more fun, and aside from the music, we love each other as people, so I think that itself even makes the music better. It even more special because of the way we feel about each other.”

Isaacs produced the album and enjoyed working with his accomplished friends. It was also a new experience for Isaacs working with three male singers as he’s performed for years with his mother, Lily, and sisters Becky and Sonya. “Ben usually sings with three beautiful women—his sisters and his mom—and now he’s with three old hairy-legged boys like us,” Fortune says. “It’s got to be a little bit different.”

“It’s completely different,” Isaacs acknowledges with a laugh. “I have been very blessed to sing on a lot of records and sing harmonies with guys on a lot of records. Mike is the same way, but when we sing a note like the end of ‘The Lighthouse’ or ‘Where No One Stands Alone’ or ‘Crying’—especially the last two notes on “Crying’—when we hit those notes and I am in the middle of being a part of that wall of sound in a different way from what I’m used to hearing, it excites me. It’s a completely different tone and it’s so enjoyable and so easy. Because Jimmy and Mike sing so much higher, when I’m singing with Sonya and Becky, I’m having to sing so much higher and push harder that I’m really, really enjoying just laying back and blending. It’s the funnest thing in the world.”

The foursome tackle some of their favorite songs for the project. Walker enjoyed recording “The Lighthouse,” a classic by the acclaimed gospel group The Hinsons. Fortune takes lead on Roy Orbison’s “Crying” and also delivers J.D. Souther’s pop hit “You’re Only Lonely.” Fortune says his friend Chuck Dauphin, a beloved Nashville journalist who passed away last year, suggested he record the tune. “He was so excited about it,” Fortune says. “He passed away before I got to play it for him, but we did record it and put it on this project. I can’t do it without thinking about Chuck. I felt his spirit with us that night while we were doing that song.”

In addition to the album, fans can see the songs brought to life on the concert video filmed earlier this year before the pandemic brought a halt to live music. “I was pretty nervous because our peers were in the audience that night,” Fortune says of other artists such as The Martins, the Isaacs, Linda Davis, the Booth Brothers and the late Jimmy Capps. “There were some great, great groups, great singers, great musicians all sitting out there watching us. Bill Gaither was there and Rory Feek and all those people in the business who mean so much to us. I really wanted to do a good job and thought, ‘Man, I better be on my A game!’ But there’s something about being up there with three other guys that are as good as these guys that gives you a lot of confidence and there was a lot of power and assurance of being there with all of us up there together.”

“That night there was so much energy in the room and the crowd was involved. It just felt so good,” Rogers says of the recording the concert in Feek’s barn. “The energy was just so incredible, and to sing on stage in-the-round like we did, it was just amazing. It was one of the coolest, if not the coolest nights, that I’ve ever been a part of ever in my whole time of playing music.”

Although each artist will continue down his previous career path, working together on Brotherly Love was a labor of love that the four men are anxious to repeat. Fortune says they have a lot of other favorite songs they’d like to do together and he’s hoping they might record some new tunes as well. “I would like to get together with the guys and maybe write a few new songs on the next project just to put something out there new that people can hear,” he says. “It’s being so well received I think we would be doing ourselves a disfavor not to do some original songs on the next project.”

The Brotherly Love TV special will air on multiple networks, including networks including PBS, TBN, GaitherTV, CTN, TCT and Proclaim Broadcasting. In Canada, it will air on Vision TV, CTS, The Miracle Channel and Hope TV. The Brotherly Love CD/DVD is distributed by Capitol Christian Music Group and Universal Music, and is available at Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, among other retail outlets.