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Oak Ridge Boys

One of the longest-running groups in country music, the Oak Ridge Boys started life as a gospel quartet before gradually modernizing their style and moving into secular country-pop. Yet even at the height of their popularity in the late '70s and early '80s -- when they were big enough to cross over to the pop charts -- their sound always remained deeply rooted in country gospel harmony. Their existence dates all the way back to World War II, circa 1942-1943, when a Knoxville, TN, group began performing gospel songs in nearby Oak Ridge, the home of an atomic bomb research facility. The group's members also performed in a larger aggregation called Wally Fowler & the Georgia Clodhoppers, which recorded for Capitol. However, lead singer Fowler decided to focus on gospel music in 1945. Dubbed the Oak Ridge Quartet, the group first appeared at the Grand Ole Opry that year and made their first recordings in 1947 with a lineup of Fowler, Lon "Deacon" Freeman, Curly Kinsey, and Johnny New.

Numerous personnel shifts ensued over the next few years, particularly in 1949, when the entire group split from Fowler; at that point, he hired a completely different group, the Bob Weber-led Calvary Quartet, to assume the Oak Ridge name. With a core of Fowler and Weber, plus a revolving-door cast of supporting vocalists, the group became one of the top draws on the Southern gospel circuit, continuing up to the end of 1956. At that point, Fowler disbanded the quartet and sold the name to group member Smitty Gatlin, who organized a new lineup in early 1957. 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. Future mainstay William Lee Golden joined as the group's baritone vocalist in 1964, and when Gatlin retired to become a full-time minister two years later, the group, acting on Golden's recommendation, hired ex-Southernairs singer Duane Allen as his replacement on lead vocals.

With bass singer Noel Fox and tenor singer Willie Wynn, the Oak Ridge Boys continued to broaden their appeal by adapting their sound to the times, adding a drummer to their backing band and incorporating bits of pop and even rock into their country gospel style. As a result, they grew into one of the most popular gospel acts of the late '60s, despite purist criticism over their secular influences and increasingly long-haired image. They even won their first Grammy in 1970 for "Talk About the Good Times." Fox and Wynn were replaced by Richard Sterban (ex-Keystone Quartet) and Philadelphia native Joe Bonsall in 1972 and 1973, respectively, and this lineup would remain intact for the next decade and a half. In 1973, they recorded a single with Johnny Cash and the Carter Family called "Praise the Lord and Pass the Soup," which brought them their first appearance on the country charts. In 1975, they opened a series of tour dates for Roy Clark, whose manager was highly impressed and encouraged them to try their hands at secular country.

The Oak Ridge Boys signed with Columbia later that year but found the initial transition a rough one: they split their time between country and gospel, and without a strong identity their sales dropped. The resulting financial problems nearly forced them to disband, and a discouraged Columbia gave up on them after the 1976 single "Family Reunion" barely charted, even though labelmate Paul Simon had tapped them to sing backup on his hit "Slip Slidin' Away." Fortunately, they got another chance with MCA and scored a breakout Top Five hit in 1977 with "Y'all Come Back Saloon," the title song from their label debut. The follow-up, "You're the One," reached number two, and their next album, 1978's Room Service, gave them their first number one hit in "I'll Be True to You" as well as two more Top Five hits in "Cryin' Again" and "Come on In."

Thus established as country hitmakers, the Oak Ridge Boys embarked on a run of chart success that would last through the '80s. Golden stopped cutting his hair and beard altogether, giving the group a hugely recognizable visual signature as well. They hit number one again in 1980 with "Trying to Love Two Women," but it was the following year that would make them a genuine phenomenon. Their recording of "Elvira," an obscure, doo wop-style novelty song from the '60s, became a major, Grammy-winning crossover smash. Not only did it hit number one on the country charts, but its infectious "oom-pop-a-mow-mow" bass vocal hook boosted it into the Top Five on the pop charts. Its accompanying album, Fancy Free, became their first to top the country charts, not to mention their biggest seller ever. The title cut of their chart-topping 1982 follow-up, Bobbie Sue, also went number one country and nearly made the pop Top Ten as well. American Made's title track also topped the charts in 1983, as did its follow-up, "Love Song." In early 1984 Deliver became their third number one country album, and they landed two more number one singles that year with "Everyday" and "I Guess It Never Hurts to Hurt Sometimes." 1985 brought three number ones: "Little Things," "Make My Life with You," and "Touch a Hand, Make a Friend."

The Oak Ridge Boys' sales began to slow a bit in the latter half of the '80s, but they still produced big hits with regularity. They hit number one in 1987 ("It Takes a Little Rain," "This Crazy Love"), 1988 ("Gonna Take a Lot of River"), and 1990 ("No Matter How High"), giving them a total of 16 career country chart-toppers (and 29 Top Ten hits). However, by that point, the group's longtime lineup had split -- Golden, whose mountain-man appearance was increasingly supported by his rugged lifestyle, was given the boot in 1987 in an attempt to remake the group's image. He was replaced by longtime backing-band guitarist Steve Sanders and sued his former bandmates, eventually settling out of court. In 1991, the Oak Ridge Boys parted ways with MCA and signed with RCA, but after just two albums, it was apparent that their commercial prime had passed, and the relationship ended. The group returned to traditional-style country gospel on occasion during the '90s and continued to tour.

Meanwhile, Sanders' marital problems worsened, causing him to leave the group in late 1995; Golden and the other members resolved their differences, and he returned at their New Year's Eve show that year; they still performed often, notably in Branson, MO. Sadly, Sanders shot and killed himself in 1998. Fox, who moved on to run the group's publishing arm and later became a high-ranking music executive, passed away in April 2003. The group, with its classic 1970s lineup of Sterban, Bonsall, Golden, and Allen, released a new studio album, The Boys Are Back, which featured re-imagined versions of songs by John Lee Hooker, Neil Young, and the White Stripes, in 2009. ~ Steve Huey & Steve Leggett, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: Boys Night Out

1. You're The One (Live)

2. American Made (Live)

3. (I'm Settin') Fancy Free (Live)

4. Love Song (Live)

5. Y'all Come Back Saloon (Live)

6. Sail Away (Live)

7. Dream On (Live)

8. This Crazy Love (Live)

9. Trying To Love Two Women (Live)

10. Come On In (Live)

11. Make My Life With You (Live)

12. Thank God For Kids (Live)

13. Elvira (Live)

14. Bobbie Sue (Live)

x

Track List: 40th Anniversary

1. Leaving Louisiana In The Broad Daylight

2. Elvira

3. An American Family

4. Thank God For Kids

5. Amazing Grace

6. I Know

7. God Will Take Care Of You

8. American Made

9. Jesus Is Coming Soon

10. G.I. Joe And Lillie

11. How Great Thou Art

12. The Star-Spangled Banner

x

Track List: Discovery Vaults

1. Ain't No Short Way Home

2. Perfect Love

3. Where The Sun Always Shines

4. I'd Still Be Waiting

5. Old Hearts

6. If All I Had Left

7. New Orleans

8. What'll I Do

9. Lady My Love

10. Deep In Louisiana

x

Track List: The Boys Are Back

1. The Boys Are Back

2. Hold Me Closely

3. Hold You In My Arms

4. Seven Nation Army

5. Mama's Table

6. Boom Boom

7. Blow My House Down

8. Beautiful Bluebird

9. Troublin' Mind

10. Live With Jesus

x

Track List: The Best Of The Oak Ridge Boys

1. Jesus Is Coming Soon

2. I Know

3. Didn't It Rain

4. Thank God For Kids

5. Elvira

6. The Baptism Of Jesse Taylor

7. Jesus Is The Man For The Hour

8. Because He Lives

9. Did I Make A Difference

10. Jonah, Job & Moses

11. An American Family

12. Closer To Home

13. Live With Jesus

14. Loving God, Loving Each Other

15. Where The Soul Never Dies

16. Just A Little Talk With Jesus

x

Track List: Sing And Shout

1. Sing And Shout

2. My All I Give

3. Our Debts Will Be Paid

4. On The Other Side Of Jordan

5. I'll Lose My Blues In Heaven

6. Keep Me

7. For I've Got The Lord

8. Lord, I Want To Go Home

9. God Bless You, Go With God

10. Do You Know Jesus

11. Behind Your Tears

12. At The Roll Call

x

Track List: Sing For You

1. Anywhere Is Home

2. The Angels Must Have Cried

3. You Can Have Him

4. There Will Be Peace

5. Close To The Master

6. How About Your Heart

7. Keep Walking

8. An Empty Mansion

9. Is My Lord Satisfied With Me

10. I Know The Lord Will Stand By Me

11. In The Upper Room

12. Ride That Glory Train

x

Track List: The Solid Gospel Sound

1. I'll Live In Glory

2. In The Shelter Of His Arms

3. I Know Who Holds Tomorrow

4. When I Lay My Burdens Down

5. On The Sunny Banks

6. Welcome Home

7. It's A Wonderful Feeling

8. Tell It Again

9. Help Me Not To Complain

10. My Wonderful God

11. I'll Shake The Hand Of The Lord

12. Less Of Me

x

Track List: River Of Life

1. Someday

2. My Heavenly Father

3. Day Of Rejoicing

4. Lead Me To Calvary

5. I Know My Savior Is There

6. River Of Life

7. I Know

8. Without God

9. The Old Country Church

10. No One Cared So Much

11. Farther Along

12. God's Hands

x

Track List: Front Row Seats

1. Hard To Be Cool (In A Minivan)

2. Heaven's A Small Town

3. Dream On Me

4. Smaller

5. Something In The Water

6. Jonah, Job & Moses

7. Crazy Not To

8. A Feeling Like That

9. Heaven On Earth

10. Closer To Home

11. Didn't It Rain

12. Compared To You

13. Until You Get There

14. Did I Make A Difference

x

Track List: The Definitive Collection

1. Y'all Come Back Saloon

2. You're The One

3. I'll Be True To You

4. Cryin' Again

5. Come On In

6. Sail Away

7. Leaving Louisiana In The Broad Daylight

8. Trying To Love Two Women

9. Heart Of Mine

10. Beautiful You

11. Elvira

12. (I'm Settin') Fancy Free

13. Bobbie Sue

14. I Wish You Could Have Turned My Head (And Left My Heart Alone)

15. Thank God For Kids

16. American Made

17. Love Song

18. I Guess It Never Hurts To Hurt Sometimes

19. Everyday

20. Make My Life With You

21. Little Things

22. Touch A Hand, Make A Friend

23. It Takes A Litte Rain (To Make Love Grow)

24. This Crazy Love

x

Track List: You'll Never Walk Alone

1. You'll Never Walk Alone

2. Someday

3. Lead Me To The Calvary

4. One Of These Mornings

5. The Old Country Church

6. Wonderful Savior

7. I Know

8. Jesus, The One Who Never Fails

9. Unworthy Of His Love

10. I'll Live In Glory

x

Track List: Common Thread

1. Jesus Is Coming Soon

2. He Did It All For Me

3. You Can't Fix It

4. I Know

5. The Journey

6. How Great Thou Art

7. This Little Light Of Mine

8. You Don't Have To Go Home (But You Can't Stay Here)

9. Amazing Grace

10. I Saw The Light

11. Keep Our World Safe

12. God Will Take Care Of You

x

Track List: Colors

1. Colors

2. The Absence Of Love

3. The Home Stretch

4. American Beauty

5. This Is America

6. An American Family

7. Let It Ride

8. Sincerely, I Remain

9. G.I. Joe And Lillie

10. Glory Bound

11. Thank God For Kids

12. The Star Spangled Banner

x

Track List: From The Heart

1. I'm Working On A Building

2. Show Me The Way To Go

3. I Know What Lies Ahead

4. Fall To Fly

5. Write Your Name Across My Heart

6. The First Step To Heaven

7. A Mansion There For You

8. If Not For The Love Of Christ

9. Angels Watching Over Me

10. Then You'll See

11. Loving God, Loving Each Other

x

Track List: Voices

1. Baby, When Your Heart Breaks Down

2. Where The Sun Always Shines

3. Deep In Louisiana

4. Lady My Love

5. What'll I Do

6. New Orleans

7. Perfect Love

8. I'd Still Be Waiting

9. Old Hearts

10. Ain't No Short Way Home

11. If All I Had Left

x

Track List: You're The One

1. Y'all Come Back Saloon

2. I'll Be True To You

3. An Old Time Family Bluegrass Band

4. Didn't She Really Thrill Them (Back In 1924)

5. Old Time Lovin'

6. Freckles

7. You're The One (Single Version)

8. Let Me Be The One

9. Easy

10. Emmylou

x

Track List: Monongahela

1. Gonna Take A Lot Of River

2. I Can Count On You

3. Never Together (But Close Sometimes)

4. No Way Out

5. Beyond Those Years

6. Private Lives

7. Too Many Heartaches

8. Bridges And Walls

9. When Karen Comes Around

10. Taking One Heartbeat

x

Track List: The Sensational Oak Ridge Boys

1. Somebody Loves Me

3. There's A Light Guiding Me

4. Land Of Beulah

5. I Want To Do Thy Will, Oh Lord

6. Golden Hills Ahead

7. Shine, Shine Down On Me

8. Just A Closer Walk With Thee

10. Life's Railway To Heaven

11. Angel Band

12. There's A Higher Power

x

Track List: This Crazy Love

1. This Crazy Love

2. A Little Love Can Go A Long, Long Way

3. Whatever It Takes

4. Love Has A Mind Of Its Own

5. Is This Any Way For Us To Say Goodbye

6. Where The Fast Lane Ends

7. It Takes A Little Rain (To Make Love Grow) (Single Version)

8. Looking For Love

9. A Little Late To Say Goodbye

10. Rainbow At Midnight

x

Track List: Heartbeat

1. Come By Here

2. All I Need

3. Don't Turn Around

4. A Little More Coal On The Fire

5. Love Without Mercy

6. Hear My Heart Beat

7. Time In

8. One Love, One You

9. New Way Out

10. True Heart

x

Track List: Step On Out

1. Touch A Hand, Make A Friend

2. Ophelia

3. Love Is Everywhere

4. Only One I Love

5. Roll Tennessee River

6. Little Things

7. Class Reunion

8. Staying Afloat

9. Come On In (You Did The Best You Could Do)

10. Step On Out

x

Track List: Fancy Free

1. Elvira

2. Somewhere In The Night

3. She's Gone To L.A. Again

4. When I'm With You

5. Another Dream Just Came True

6. I'm Settin' Fancy Free

7. Dream Of Me

8. When Love Calls You

9. How Long Has It Been

10. I Would Crawl All The Way

x

Track List: Greatest Hits

1. You're The One

2. I'll Be True To You

3. Trying To Love Two Women

4. Cryin' Again

5. Dream On

6. Leaving Louisiana In The Broad Daylight

7. Heart Of Mine

8. Come On In

9. Sail Away

10. Y'all Come Back Saloon

x

Track List: Together

1. Whiskey Lady

2. Ready To Take My Chances

3. Trying To Love Two Women

4. Heart Of Mine

5. Beautiful You

6. Take This Heart

7. Love Takes Two

8. A Little More Like Me (The Crucifixion)

9. I Can't Imagine Laying Down (With Anyone But You)

10. Holdin' On To You

x

Track List: The Oak Ridge Boys Have Arrived

1. Sail Away

2. There Must Be Something About Me That She Loves

3. Sometimes The Rain Won't Let Me Sleep

4. I Gotta Get Over This

5. My Radio Sure Sounds Good To Me

6. Dream On (Single Version)

7. Leaving Louisiana In The Broad Daylight

8. Every Now And Then

9. Dig A Little Deeper In The Well

10. Dancing The Night Away

x

Track List: Room Service

1. If You Can't Find Love

2. But I Do

3. Callin' Baton Rouge

4. It Could Have Been Ten Years Ago

5. Lots Of Matchbooks

6. If There Were Only Time For Love

7. Cryin' Again

8. I'll Be True To You

9. Come On In

10. Lay Down Your Sword And Shield

11. I Can Love You

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