The Oak Ridge Boys

  • Country and gospel music quartet founded in the 40s as The Oak Ridge Quartet. In 1961, they changed their name to The Oak Ridge Boys. There were many members early – the modern quartet together since the early 70s is Duane Allen (lead vocals), Joe Bonsall (tenor), William Golden (baritone) and Richard Sterban (bass).
  • The origins of the group were based in Knoxville Tennessee. They were known as Wally Fowler and the Georgia Clodhoppers, forming in 1943. They were asked to perform for staff members and family at the nuclear research plant at Oak Ridge Tennessee, and after performing there numerous times, they changed their name to The Oak Ridge Quartet. Their most popular songs were gospel, so they focused only on gospel music when they sang. They began recording in 1947. By the late 50s, after numerous personnel changes, Fowler sold the rights to the name of the group to another member, Smitty Gatlin, taking care of a debt that Fowler owed Gatlin. After more personnel changes, they recorded several more albums, with Gatlin singing lead. In 1961, Gatlin changed the name of the group to The Oak Ridge Boys when a producer suggested that their old name sounded too old fashioned for their new sound.
  • The first member of the classic line-up to join was Golden, who joined in 1964. In 1966, Gatlin left the group, and was replaced by Allen. Sterban joined in 1972, and Bonsall joined a year later. Between 1945 and 1973, there were 26 others that had singing roles with the group. Once Golden, Allen, Sterban and Bonsall became The Oak Ridge Boys, they remained unchanged for 15 years. Golden left in 1987 – after he stopped cutting his hair and beard, he was fired by the band – and he was replaced by Steve Sanders. Sanders remained for 8 years, and then Golden rejoined the group. Thus, the foursome from 1973 remains The Oak Ridge Boys today.
  • They recorded 33 albums between 1960 and 1976 – all gospel music. In 1977, they released their first country album, Y’all Come Back Saloon. They had been based in Nashville for many years, and had recorded and toured with country stars like Johnny Cash and Roy Clark, so country was a natural progression for them. The move to country brought them commercial success – the album had 3 singles in the top 5 on the Country charts, with I’ll Be True To You reaching #1. By the end of the 70s, they had released 2 more country albums, and had 5 more top 10 country hits.
  • The 80s decade was their most successful period. Of the 11 studio albums released, 3 topped the Country Albums chart, with 1981’s Fancy Free certified 2x platinum. This album included their signature song, Elvira, which was their highest charting song on the Billboard Hot 100, reaching #5, while topping the country chart. They had 28 singles hit the country chart during the 80s, with 15 of these songs peaking at #1. Their only other song to crossover to the Billboard Hot 100 Top 40 chart was Bobby Sue, which peaked at #12.
  • The 90s were a period where The Oak Ridge Boys lost some of their appeal. Their 4 albums did not sell well, and their record label did not promote them. Beginning in 2000, with a new record label, they started to be more successful again. Twelve of the 15 albums they released since 2000 have made the country charts, and while they have not charted any singles, they remain popular in concert – they will have over 150 concert performances in 2018 – pretty good for 4 guys in the 70s (Golden will be 80 in January 2019, and still has a very long beard and long hair – now completely white).
  • In 2011, they became members of the Grand Ole Opry, and in 2015, they were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. They have won 5 Grammy awards – 4 in Gospel categories, plus Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group for Elvira. 
  • If you read my blog, you know that I love vocal harmony. The Oak Ridge Boys definitely know how to harmonize, and with a vocal range from tenor to bass, I really appreciate their sound.
  • Here are the boys, singing their other crossover hit, Bobby Sue. Enjoy!

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