January 20

The Oak Ridge Boys And A Few Facts You May Not Know About Them

One of the longest-running groups in country music, The Oak Ridge Boys, celebrated their golden anniversary in 2023. So, in honor of their decades-long career and contributions to the genre and the entire music industry, here’s a short list of facts about them you probably haven’t heard of. 

1. They’ve had 30 Members Come and Go in the First 20 years 

Before the Oak Ridge Boys became the Oak Ridge Boys, there was a whole history of name and member changes. 

In 1943, there was a country group in Knoxville, Tennessee, called Wally Fowler and the Georgia Clodhoppers. However, since they regularly performed for staff members and their families at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Fowler decided to change the name to the Oak Ridge Quartet. Then, they moved to Nashville in 1946 and became regulars on the Grand Ole Opry

Three years later, the three members split from Fowler, and Mr. Gospel Music hired an existing group and reformed it. But in 1957, Fowler sold the name to one of the members, Smitty Gatlin, as debt repayment. Gatlin then changed it to Oak Ridge Boys with the suggestion of their then-producer Bud Praeger, who said “quartet” was too old-fashioned for their contemporary sound. 

Then, they finally settled on the name. At this point, they also started to have a lineup for the long term. William Lee Golden, the Alabama native baritone, was the first to join. A year later, in 1966, Duane Allen from Texas became their lead singer. 

Then, when the Oaks needed a bass and tenor in ‘72 and ‘73, respectively, New Jersey native Richard Sterban (who sang in the gospel group J.D. Sumner & the Stamps with Elvis Presley) took over bass, and Joe Bonsall from Philadelphia signed up as tenor. Bonsall joining the group sealed the final lineup. 

2. Johnny Cash was One of Their Earliest Supporters 

Back in the early ‘70s, the Oak Ridge Boys struggled a lot. Thankfully, Johnny Cash had their backs. He didn’t only encourage them, but he also lent a helping hand by booking them in his Las Vegas show. According to the group, he even paid them too much money. He also had them provide harmony for his single “Praise the Lord and Pass the Soup.”

Ultimately, his belief in them truly held them together. He told them it might be a rough time, but he knew there was magic in the four of them. So, he said, “Don’t break up.”

3. William Lee Golden Left the Group in 1987 

In 1987, Golden was voted out of the group as the other three wanted to make some changes in their image. He stayed with the label as a solo artist and even recorded an album titled American Vagabond, charting two singles. 

The Oak Ridge Boys, on the other hand, welcomed Steve Sanders into the group. He played the acoustic guitar and occasionally sang vocals. But he eventually resigned in late 1995, and Golden returned exactly one minute after midnight on the Eve of New Year’s. 

It was quite an entrance, too. Allen, Sterban, and Bonsall surprised the sold-out Holiday Star Theatre in Merrillville, Indiana, by welcoming Golden back on stage. 

4. They’ve Declined to Sit on the Couch on the Tonight Show 

During their many appearances on the show, they always refused to sit. According to Allen, if they’re given four minutes on the couch, they’d rather spend that time performing another song to let people know that their talent got them there. “We didn’t get here talking; we got here singing.”

5. After Shifting From Gospel to Country in the ‘70s, They Returned to Their Gospel Roots in 2000 

When Bonsall joined the group, the Oak Ridge Boys already had a reputation for being among the most acclaimed gospel acts. They had three Grammys and several Dove Awards under their belt. 

Then, country music executive Jim Halsey convinced them they were just one hit away from being country stars. In 1977, they made their breakthrough in the genre with “Y’all Come Back Saloon.”

In 1981, they had their first crossover hit with “Elvira,” which charted at #1 on the country chart and #5 on the pop chart. 

However, after their country then country-pop phase, they went back to their roots. In 2000, they signed with Spring Hill Records and started doing gospel recordings again. They also cut bluegrass, holiday, and patriotic-themed songs in the next few years. 

That’s a wrap. Once again, congratulations to the Oak Ridge Boys on their golden anniversary! Hopefully, you learned some new facts about them and continue to listen to The Oak Ridge Boys’ songs


The Oak Ridge Boys

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