Oak Ridge Boys Biography
The Oak Ridge Boys is a country and gospel band in the United States. The group was founded in 1945 as the Oak Ridge Quartet. They became popular during the 1950s. Their name was changed to the "Oak Ridge Boys" in 1961, and they remained a gospel-oriented group until the late 1970s, when they changed their image and concentrated more on country and pop music. The band's most well known lineup consists of lead singer Duane Allen, tenor Joe Bonsall, baritone William Lee Golden, and bass singer Richard Sterban.
The Oak Ridge Boys first recorded together in a group known as Wally Fowler and the Georgia Clodhoppers. When Wally Fowler decided to focus on creating gospel music, he formed The Oak Ridge Quartet with himself, Lon "Deacon" Freeman, Curly Kinsey, and Johnny New. Those three men split from Fowler to form a new group, Fowler hired an existing group, the Calvary Quartet to join the Oak Ridge Quartet. After touring for a few years, Fowler disbanded the Oak Ridge Quartet and sold the rights to that name to group member Smitty Gatlin in 1957 in forgiveness of a debt. After more personnel changes, they lost their tenor. They lowered their arrangements had Gatlin sing tenor and their pianist, Tommy Fairchild, sing lead. They recorded an album for Cadence. Soon, in 1958 they hired Willie Wynn to sing the tenor. At this point the group was Willie Wynn on tenor, Smitty Gatlin on lead, Ron Page on baritone and Herman Harper on Bass. They recorded an album on Checker, one on Starday, and three on Skylite.
In 1962, Ron Page quit, and the group hired Gary McSpadden (who had filled in for Jake Hess in the Statesmen quartet) for baritone. They recorded another album on Skylite, and then two ground breaking albums on Warner Brothers. The name of the group was changed to The Oak Ridge Boys because their producer, Bud Praeger thought Oak Ridge Quartet sounded too old fogyish for their new contemporary sound. After three albums with them, McSpadden (being hand picked by Jake Hess himself) quit to be an original member of the Imperials. Jim Hammill (later a mainstay in the Kingsmen) was chosen to be his replacement. They cut one album for Festival, one for Stateswood (Skylite's budget label), and two more for Skylite. The boys and Hammill did not get along, and fan of the group, Bill Golden thought that he was hurting the group as McSpadden (unlike Hammill) had been a good looking guy with tons of energy and charisma. He recommended himself as the baritone of the group. The group did not immediately act, but eventually did.
Bill (William Lee) Golden joined the group in January 1965. They cut another album for Starday and another on Skylite. In 1966, Duane Allen joined the group to replace Gatlin who left the group to become a minister of music. They cut another on Skylite, one on United Artists, and from 1966-1973 they had 12 on Heart Warming (in addition they had several compilations there.) They also had an album on Vista (Heart Warming's budget label) that included unreleased songs from previous sessions. In 1970, the Oak Ridge Boys earned their first Grammy with "Talk About the Good Times".
Richard Sterban joined the group in 1972. Sterban had been a member of "J.D. Sumner and The Stamps Quartet". Most notably, that band backed Elvis Presley live in concert during Sterban's time as a member. Shortly after Presley's 4 June 1972 Madison Square Garden concerts, Sterban left the group (this has been reported as October of 1972.) Joe Bonsall (a member of the Keystones and on Oaks lead, Duane Allen's Superior label) joined in October of 1973. The group's lineup would remain consistent for the next 15 years. They moved to the Columbia label and cut three albums and some singles there. They went from being one of the top acts on Heart Warming to about the bottom on Columbia as far as priorities. They cut some great material there, but Columbia did not service the gospel radio stations like Heart Warming did, and many people thought the Oaks were leaving gospel music which also hurt the group. They cut a live album on their own label which was a mix of gospel and country. In 1977, The Oak Ridge Boys switched from gospel to country, with the release of their first ABC (later MCA album, Ya'll Come Back Saloon. They then cut Room Service, The Oak Ridge Boys Have Arrived, and Together.
The group's 1981 album, Fancy Free, contained the Dallas Frazier-penned song "Elvira". It remains the group's most widely known song. It would become a #1 country chart hit, as well as a #5 pop hit.
Bobbie Sue, their seventh album (including a Greatest Hits album), was released on February 10, 1982. The title song was another crossover hit, reaching #1 on the country chart and #12 on the pop chart. They then did a Christmas album (simply called Christmas) and then their American Made album.
The 1983 single "American Made", which begins this way: