The

Oak Ridge Boys

Pictured L-R: Duane Allen, John Rich, Joe Bonsall, William Lee Golden, Jamey Johnson, Richard Sterban

With a passion for music and a bond between band members that has lasted more than 45 years, The Oak Ridge Boys are the epitome of a successful band.   

Joe Bonsall, the energetic and  personable tenor of the group, likens being one of The Oak Ridge Boys to being part of a group that could be described as an extended family, with their  core of Christian  faith and values binding them, trusting one another with faternity and brotherhood he  likened to  the Marine Corps and  knowing that each member would have each other's back no matter what. " Who", Joe says "In  their right mind would not want to belong to such a remarkable group"  and "We all feel very blessed to be doing what we are doing."

Longevity and a rich history with the band members provides further cohesion and not one of them are ready or would want to call it quits, despite the age of its members, Joe being 71 year old himself.   Joe further quipped that the band "Has been around since the earth began to cool." 

The history of The Oak Ridge Boys is rich, with its original incarnation far from the much loved band in style of music but not faith.  The predecessor group  to The Oak Ridge Boys was a country group called Wally Fowler and the Georgia Clodhoppers, formed in 1943 in Knoxville, Tennessee.  They  eventually changed their name to the Oak Ridge Quartet and because their most popular songs were gospel, Fowler decided to focus solely on southern gospel music.

 

Wally Fowler And The Oak Ridge Quartet were members of the Grand Ole Opry in the 1940s.    In 1949, the other three members  split from Fowler to form a new group, Curley Kinsey and the Tennessee Ridge Runners.   Fowler hired an existing group, the Calvary Quartet, to re-form the Oak Ridge Quartet. In 1957,  after numerous member changes, Fowler sold the rights to the "Oak Ridge Quartet" name to then group member Smitty Gatlin in exchange for forgiveness of a debt.    

 

Gatlin  organized a new lineup in early 1957 and in  1961, Gatlin changed their name to The Oak Ridge Boys, made them a full time professional act, and started to modernize their sound on record with fuller arrangements and elements of country and folk.   

 

When Gatlin retired to become a full-time minister, the group members eventually again underwent a number of changes,  with  the present longstanding members joining  as follows:  William Lee Golden - Baritone (1965–87; 1995–present), Duane Allen – Lead (1966–present), Richard Sterban – Bass (1972–present) and the newest group member, as he joked during our interview,  Joe Bonsall – Tenor (1973–present).    

The Oak Ridge Boys continued their  charge to fame by broadening  their appeal and  adapting their sound to the times, adding a drummer and bits of pop and rock into their country-gospel style. They grew into one of the most popular gospel acts of the late '60s, despite criticism over their secular influences and contrasting long haired image.

 

They even won their first Grammy in 1970 for "Talk About the Good Times."   In late October 1972, Richard Sterban, joined the Oak Ridge Boy and that year the quartet that appeared on "Hee Haw" consisted of Willie Wynn, Duane Allen, William Lee Golden, and Richard Sterban.    

 

Joe Bonsall, a Philadelphia native,  joined in October 1973 .  That same year the Oak Ridge Boys recorded a single with Johnny Cash and the Carter Family, "Praise the Lord and Pass the Soup", that put them on the country charts for the first time.  

The Oak Ridge Boys moved labels  in 1973 and in  early 1976, they toured Russia  with Roy Clark. They  scored a breakout hit in 1977 with "Y'all Come Back Saloon," the title song from their new label debut. The follow-up, "You're the One," reached number two, and their album in 1978 "Room Service", gave them their first number one hit in "I'll Be True to You" and two more hits in "Cryin' Again" and "Come on In."

 

Established as country hit makers, The Oak Ridge Boys embarked on a run of chart successes that  lasted through the 1980s.  Golden stopped cutting his hair and beard totally, giving the group a  recognizable visual signature. They hit number one again in 1980 with "Trying to Love Two Women," but it was the  next year that their  genuine phenomenon of a recording "Elvira," an obscure, novelty song from the '60s, became a major Grammy-winning crossover smash.

 

Not only did "Elvira"  hit number one on the country charts, but its infectious  bass vocal hook  rocketed  it into the Top Five on the pop charts. Its accompanying album, "Fancy Free", became their first album to top the country charts.   The title cut of their chart-topping 1982 follow-up, "Bobbie Sue", also went number one country charts and nearly made the pop Top Ten. 

 

During their July 8, 2011, performance of the Friday Night Opry,  it was announced that the Oak Ridge Boys would become the newest members of the Grand Ole Opry.

2013 found The Oak Ridge Boys celebrating the 40th anniversary of the current lineup of members with a special 40th Anniversary Tour, a commemorative CD project, an Oak Ridge Boys themed cruise, and a network television special.

The Oak Ridge Boys released their first-ever live hits album "Boys Night Out" in April 2014.  To date, The Oak Ridge Boys, have sold over 41 million units worldwide, and are synonymous with “America,  Gospel and Country music.”

 

In addition to their many awards, The Oak Ridge Boys have garnered five GRAMMY® Awards and nine GMA DOVE Awards as well as the Mainstream Artist of the Year Award at the ICM Awards. The group have earned membership in the Country Music Hall of Fame (2015 Inductees) and Grand Ole Opry, and most of the individual members are in the Music Hall of Fame from their originating states.   The Oak Ridge boys are  known worldwide as one of recording history’s most extraordinary musical successes. 

Each of the band members are themselves amazingly talented singers in their own rights, but it is the blend and harmony of  their voices into their unique brand of country music  makes them unique, no other band can replicate their recognizable style.  Joe Bonsall gave his own description of their music as "A southern Gospel Quartet singing Country music with a Rock N Roll attitude"   That would seem to sum it up accurately 

 

Joe described some of the different aspects that each of the band members bring as follows:   Richard Sterban,  the bass singer is a solid person, hardworking (always seems to be working)  and quiet with one of the richest bass voices in  the world:  William Lee Golden is a dreamer, and the group's mountain man with the most solid country voice of the band.   Golden brings  his  lovable Southern Alabama charm to  the group and has the most recognizable appearance  with his mountain man like beard.  Duane Allen, lead singer  has a voice like no other, is  the primary voice on most of the band's hit songs and Bonsall described him as having  a voice that is one of the best the world has ever known and is unique to Duane .   Duane is also a very creative business mind and  while Joe might come up with an idea it is Duane that can take the idea one step further to fruition,  reality and success.   Joe  Bonsall, with his recognizable tenor voice  of the group, was very humble in his own description, but  has a  very obvious energy , sense of humor and joy for life,   and is often also an idea person.   Joe also wrote a book entitled "On the Road with the Oak Ridge Boy :  Forty Years of Untold Adventures".  Together they form the unique band The Oak Ridge Boys.   A diverse group of talented individuals who Joe describes as outside of their music, "The most unlikely group of people you would find together." 

Each year The Oak Ridge Boys travel all over the United States spreading Christmas cheer by performing holiday classics, and fun new favorites plus many of the hits that shaped the career of this legendary vocal quartet.  Launche on November 13th this year in Branson, Missouri, they embarked on their 30th annual holiday themed tour, with more than 30 concerts on tap in 28 cities and 16 states throughout the U.S.    

 

Several years prior to them starting their own Christmas tour The Oak Ridge Boys took part in Kenny Roger's Christmas tour and the first year of their own tour featured the Oak Ridge Boys and Marie Osmond in "The Magic of Chritmas" in 1989.    One fan had posted on line that a lot of bands might be able to sell a boxed set of music but The Oak Ridge Boys can do a boxed set of just Christmas music. 

 

This is a true statement as  The Oak Ridge Boys, have just released their 8th holiday themed album, "Down Home Christmas", available everywhere music is sold.   Down Home Christmas includes standards such as “Amazing Grace” and “Silent Night,” plus new originals like “Don’t Go Pullin’ On Santa Claus’ Beard”  and “South Alabama Christmas”.

 

With  variations production wise, and  fresh material from  their eight different Christmas albums, The Oak Ridge Boys  have maintained their passion for the holiday tour with an  energetic and challenging tour every year.  This year we will perform 31 full production Christmas shows across the Midwest and Northeast, and once again the show will be  fresh  with all of the new songs from their  new "Down Home Christmas" album.   You can find the tour dates at the end of this article. 

When asked if there was any other message that he wanted to convey to our readers, Joe Bonsall was very clear that it is only with the blessing and strength of his Lord and Saviour that The Oak Ridge Boys exist and thrive today.  "He has given us our strength, success, talent, health, and good relationships.   We are a group of Christian men and proud of it.  Nothing has changed in our love of God, America, Freedom and Service"  Joe stated passionately.   From their Gospel beginnings to the phenomenon known at The Oak Ridge Boys, this undoubtedly is the reason there is so much joy and energy  in their Christmas tour.   

                                                                                            By Deborah Gibson

 

CHRISTMAS TOUR DATES

DEC 01 – McCain Auditorium / Manhattan, Kan.
DEC 04 – UMBC Events Center / Baltimore, Md.
DEC 05 – Riviera Theatre / N. Tonawanda, N.Y.
DEC 06 – Palace Theatre / Greensburg, Pa.
DEC 07 – Roland E. Powell Convention Center / Ocean City, Md.
DEC 08 – Sherman Theater / Stroudsburg, Pa.
DEC 10 – Brown County Music Center / Nashville, Ind.
DEC 11 – Paramount Theater / Anderson, Ind.
DEC 12 – Holland Civic Center / Holland, Mich.
DEC 13 – Leelanau Sands Casino Showroom / Peshawbestown, Mich.
DEC 14 – Honeywell Center / Wabash, Ind.
DEC 15 – Renfro Valley Entertainment Center / Renfro Valley, Ky.
DEC 18 – Mayo Civic Center Presentation / Rochester, Minn
DEC 19 – Five Flags Center / Dubuque, Iowa
DEC 20 – Shooting Star Casino Hotel / Mahnomen, Minn.
DEC 21 – Crystal Grand Music Theatre / Wisconsin Dells, Wis.
DEC 22 – Rialto Square Theatre / Joliet, Ill.

 

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