THE OAK RIDGE BOYS HAVE ONE OF THE MOST DISTINCTIVE AND RECOGNIZABLE SOUNDS IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY. THEIR FOUR-PART HARMONIES AND UPBEAT SONGS HAVE SPAWNED DOZENS OF COUNTRY HITS AND A #1 POP SMASH, EARNED THEM GRAMMY, DOVE, CMA AND ACM AWARDS AND GARNERED A HOST OF OTHER INDUSTRY AND FAN ACCOLADES. EVERYTIME THEY STEP BEFORE AN AUDIENCE, THE OAKS BRING OVER 25 YEARS OF HITS AND 50 YEARS OF TRADITION TO A STAGE SHOW WIDELY ACKNOWLEDGED AS AMONG THE MOST EXCITING ANYWHERE.
LEAD SINGER, DUANE ALLEN, BASS SINGER, RICHARD STERBAN,
TENOR JOE BONSALL AND BARITONE WILLIAM LEE GOLDEN
COMPRISE ONE OF THE COUNTRY’S TRULY LEGENDARY ACTS.
THEIR STRING OF HITS INCLUDE THE POP CHART-TOPPER, “ELVIRA” AS WELL AS “BOBBY SUE,” “DREAM ON,” “THANK GOD
FOR KIDS” “AMERICAN MADE,” “I GUESS IT NEVER HURTS TO HURT SOMETIMES,” “FANCY FREE,” “GONNA TAKE A LOT OF RIVER,” AND MANY OTHERS. THEY’VE SCORED TEN GOLD, THREE PLATINUM AND ONE DOUBLE PLATINUM ALBUM, ONE DOUBLE PLATINUM
SINGLE, AND HAD MORE THAN A DOZEN NATIONAL #1 SINGLES.
THE OAKS REPRESENT A TRADITION THAT EXTENDS BACK TO 1943, THE ORIGINAL GROUP, BASED IN KNOXVILLE, TN, BEGAN PERFORMING COUNTRY AND GOSPEL MUSIC IN NEARBY OAK RIDGE WHERE THE ATOMIC BOMB WAS BEING DEVELOPED. THEY CALLED THEMSELVES THE OAK RIDGE QUARTET, AND THEY BEGAN REGULAR GRAND OLE OPRY PERFORMANCES IN THE FALL OF ’45.
IN THE MID-50’S, THEY WERE FEATURED IN TIME MAGAZINE AS ONE OF THE TOP DRAWING GOSPEL GROUPS IN THE NATION.
BY THE LATE ‘60S, WITH MORE THAN 30 MEMBERS HAVING COME AND GONE, THEY HAD A LINEUP THAT INCLUDED DUANE ALLEN, WILLIAM LEE GOLDEN, NOEL FOX AND WILLIE WYNN. AMONG THE OAKS’ MANY ACQUAINTENANCES IN THE GOSPEL FIELD WERE JOE BONSALL AND RICHARD STERBAN. BOTH ADMIRED THE DISTINCTIVE, HIGHLY-POPULAR OAKS. “THEY WERE THE MOST INNOVATIVE QUARTET IN GOSPEL MUSIC,” SAYS BONSALL. “THEY PERFORMED GOSPEL WITH A ROCK APPROACH, HAD A FULL BAND, WORE BELL-BOTTOM PANTS AND GREW THEIR HAIR LONG. . .
THINGS UNHEARD OF AT THE TIME.”THE FOUR BECAME FRIENDS, AND WHEN THE OAKS NEEDED A BASS AND TENOR, IN ’72 AND ’73 RESPECTIVELY, STERBAN AND BONSALL GOT THE CALLS. THE GROUP REMAINED HIGHLY POPULAR ON THE GOSPEL CIRCUIT, AND IT WAS THERE THEY REFINED THE STRENGTHS THAT WOULD SOON MAKE THEM SUCH AN ACROSS-THE BOARD ATTRACTION.
IN 1977, PAUL SIMON WOULD HAVE THEM SING BACKUP FOR HIS HIT, “SLIP SLIDIN’ AWAY,” AND THEY WOULD GO ON TO RECORD WITH GEORGE JONES, BRENDA LEE, JOHNNY CASH, ROY ROGERS, BILLY RAY CYRUS AND OTHERS. THEY WOULD APPEAR BEFORE THREE PRESIDENTS, PRODUCE ONE OF THE FIRST COUNTRY MUSIC VIDEOS, TAKE PART IN THE FIRST HEADLINE TOUR OF THE USSR, AND BECOME ONE OF THE MOST ENDURINGLY-SUCCESSFUL TOURING GROUPS ANYWHERE. THEY DID IT WITH A CONSISTENTLY UPBEAT MUSICAL APPROACH AND TERRIFIC BUSINESS SAVVY.
THE GROUP’S FIRST PERSONNEL CHANGE IN MANY YEARS OCCURRED IN 1987 WHEN STEVE SANDERS, WHO HAD BEEN PLAYING GUITAR IN THE OAKS BAND, REPLACED WILLIAM LEE
GOLDEN AS THE BARITONE SINCGER. LATE IN ’95, STEVE RESIGNED FROM THE OAKS AND EXACTLY ONE MINUTE AFDTER MIDNIGHTON NEW YEAR’S EVE, DUANE, JOE AND RICHARD SURPRISED THE PACKED HOUSE AT THE HOLIDAY STAR THEATRE IN MERRILLVILLE, IN, BY WELCOMING WILLIAM LEE ON STAGE AND
BACK IN THE GROUP. THE HITMAKERS WERE FINALLY TOGETHER AGAIN!
WE ARE PROUD TO HAVE THE OAK RIDGE BOYS VISIT THE VOCAL GROUP HALL OF FAME. AS 2001 INDUCTEES, THEY WERE UNABLE TO ATTEND LAST YEAR’S INDUCTION CEREMONIES DUE TO RESCHEDULING AFTER THE SEPTEMBER 11 TRAGEDY.
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, I PRESENT TO YOU WILLIAM LEE GOLDEN, DUANE ALLEN, RICHARD STERBAN, AND JOE BONSALL . . .
THE OAK RIDGE BOYS.
Over the course of their long career, the Oak Ridge Boys became a country music institution. The vocal group went through a number of personnel changes over the years, but their sound remained the same, as they never strayed from their gospel-inflected country-pop.
The Oak Ridge Boys began as a gospel group named the Oak Ridge Quartet in 1945. In 1949, Bob Weber purchased the rights to the group’s name from lead singer Wally Fowler and ascribed it to his group, the Cavalry Quartet. The Oak Ridge Quartet remained together through the mid-’50s, becoming one of the top gospel groups in America. Smitty Gatlin later created a new Oak Ridge Quartet after purchasing the name from Weber. Gatlin decided to steer the group towards secular success and changed their name to the Oak Ridge Boys in 1961. Although they were concentrating on commercial material, the group continued to sing gospel music. In the late ’60s, the Oak Ridge Boys underwent an image makeover, growing their hair long and singing almost nothing but pop-oriented material. In the early ’70s, they gradually incorporated more gospel back into their repertoire. By 1973, the group’s core lineup — Duane Allen (lead vocals), Joe Bonsall (tenor), William Lee Golden (baritone), and Richard Sterban (bass) — had fallen into place and they made their first entry in the country charts with a cover of Johnny Cash’s “Praise the Lord and Pass the Soup.” The following year they signed to Columbia, although they nearly disbanded due to financial difficulties. In 1977, the group decided to switch over completely to secular music, beginning with the hit singles “Y’All Come Back Saloon” and “You’re the One.” Almost immediately, the Oak Ridge Boys became a fixture in the country Top Ten; for the next eight years, they had a string of 25 Top Ten singles, including 13 number one hits. In 1978, they had their first number one single with “I’ll Be True to You.” In 1981 the Oaks had their biggest hit with the crossover smash “Elvira.”
By the late ’80s the group’s momentum began to slow down. They still had Top 40 hits, but they no longer dominated the Top Ten, as they did in the early ’80s. In 1987, Golden, who had been with the group since 1964, was fired by the rest of the group, who believed that his burly appearance and long beard no longer fit their image. The Oaks’ backup guitarist and singer Steve Sanders replaced him, and the group quickly returned to the Top Ten. Over the next three years, they had four number one hits, including “It Takes a Little Rain (To Make Love Grow),” “Gonna Take a Lot of River,” and “No Matter How High.” In 1990, their comeback slowed down. One more Top Ten hit, “Lucky Moon,” followed in 1991, but the group had all but disappeared from the country charts by the end of 1992. The Oak Ridge Boys continued to tour and record throughout the ’90s. Sanders left the group in 1995; he committed suicide on June 10, 1998.
— Sandra Brennan