Southern style: sharing memories with the Oak Ridge Boys

tsj column writers - southern styleBy Randall Franks

Country Music Hall of Fame members the Oak Ridge Boys have entertained fans around the world for more than 40 years, including numerous U.S. presidents. They have earned every award in the industry.

From their roots in southern gospel to their chart-topping career in country music, the Oaks have become one of America’s most beloved music groups.

“When the lights dim, the theme music begins to play and our band members begin to take up their positions. It’s just as exciting today as it has always been throughout our long history,” said Joe Bonsall, tenor of the group and author of “On the Road with The Oak Ridge Boys.” “We know that people have gathered to hear us sing our songs and we never take one person in the audience for granted.”

Oak-Ridge-Boys-609x333The Oaks got their start back in the 1940s when a group from Knoxville, Tenn. began performing country and gospel music in the town of Oak Ridge, where the atomic bomb was being developed. Over the years, the group gained popularity and soon appeared on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. From there, members came and went. But in 1973, the current group of Bonsall, William Lee Golden, Duane Allen and Richard Sterban began singing together. The rest is history.

“Through all these many miles we’ve traveled and everything we’ve been through together for more than 40 years, we haven’t really changed much as we’ve gotten older,” Bonsall said. “Singing, doing things right, honoring God and families in our lives … these things are still what really matter the most to each of us.”

In “On the Road with The Oak Ridge Boys,” Bonsall takes readers on a backstage tour of life in the country music industry and the multi-faceted career of the Oaks. Through colorful stories and a touch of nostalgia, Bonsall shares about the history behind the group, introduces readers to each of the Oaks and gives readers a front row seat to what it’s like to travel the country in a tour bus equipped with lounges, technology and multiple television sets. He also shares numerous stories of legendary fans (like 100-year-old Addaline Huff), as well as celebrities the Oaks have sung for and rubbed shoulders with throughout the years, including country stars Garth Brooks and Kenny Rogers and presidents from Gerald Ford to George W. Bush.

“When we’re asked about our most memorable moments as Oak Ridge Boys, we often recall the honor of singing in the White House and our friendships with many of our nation’s presidents,” Bonsall said. “And why not? It’s simply the truth that these events have provided us with some of our greatest memories.”

Over the decades, the Oaks have recorded and sung hundreds of songs, with their runaway hit, “Elvira,” racing to the top of the charts in 1981. “Elvira” crossed over into the pop market and the song won every applicable music award. The Oaks even found themselves at one time singing it with the prestigious Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Today, contemporary groups are still singing “Elvira,” even on the stage at the Grand Ole Opry.

“Our little song has passed down through the generations,” Bonsall said. “Perhaps it’s a big reason The Oak Ridge Boys are still around. Our music, our shows and our own American spirit have been passed down from grandparents to parents to young couples and even on to their children. We see them all at our shows—still singing ‘Elvira’ with the Boys!”

(Randall Franks is an award-winning musician, singer and actor. He is best known for his role as “Officer Randy Goode” on TV’s “In the Heat of the Night” now on WGN America. His latest CD release, “Mississippi Moon,” is by Crimson Records. He is a member of the Independent Country Music Hall of Fame. His latest book is “Encouragers I : Finding the Light.” He is a syndicated columnist for http://randallfranks.com/ and can be reached at rfrankscatoosa@gmail.com.)

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