100 Greatest Men: #88. The Oak Ridge Boys

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

They started out as a gospel group in the forties, but it was their country-pop hits of the early eighties that made them superstars.

First formed as Wally Fowler and the Georgia Clodhoppers in 1943, they became the Oak Ridge Quartet when they found that they were performing their gospel songs in that area of Tennessee more than in any other place.

The lineup would change over the next thirty years, but their focus on Southern gospel did not.  Renamed the Oak Ridge Boys in 1961, they slowly gained national prominence.  In 1971, they won the first of four Grammys in the gospel categories, for the song, “Talk About the Good Times.”

Singing backup for Johnny Cash and the Carter Family in 1973, they earned their first country chart appearance with the minor hit, “Praise the Lord and Pass the Soup.”  That same year, the lineup that would make them country superstars was finalized:  Duane Allen (lead), Joe Bonsall (tenor), William Lee Golden (baritone), and Richard Sterban (bass).  High-profile appearances with Roy Clark and Paul Simon soon followed, but their first major label deal was a bust, as Columbia didn’t understand how to market them to the gospel market.

Switching to ABC, they quickly became country stars with their 1977 breakthrough hit, “Y’All Come Back Saloon.”  The song was such a big hit that they were soon country radio staples, winning Vocal Group honors from the CMA in 1978 and the ACM in 1979.

In 1981, “Elvira” launched them into the stratosphere, powering their Fancy Free album to double platinum.  They won a Grammy and Single honors from both the ACM and CMA for that platinum-selling hit.  They remained top-selling artists through 1984, thanks to big hits like “Bobbie Sue” and “American Made.”   And while album sales began to slow in the second half of the decade, they remained in heavy rotation at country radio.

Golden exited the lineup in 1987, replaced by Steve Sanders until 1995.  Album sales weren’t as high during this period, but they did score another pair of signature hits that topped the charts: “Gonna Take a Lot of River” in 1988, and “No Matter How High” in 1989. They enjoyed their last top ten hit in 1991, “Lucky Moon”, their only successful single during a short tenure at RCA.

Personal problems led to Sanders exiting the group, and Golden returned in 1996.  In the years since, their original country lineup now intact, they’ve continued to record and to tour, as they approach the band’s seventieth anniversary in music.

Essential Singles:

  • Y’all Come Back Saloon, 1977
  • I’ll Be True to You, 1978
  • Leavin’ Louisiana in the Broad Daylight, 1979
  • Elvira, 1981
  • American Made, 1983
  • Gonna Take a Lot of River, 1988

Essential Albums:

  • Y’all Come Back Saloon, 1977
  • The Oak Ridge Boys Have Arrived, 1979
  • Fancy Free, 1981
  • American Made, 1983
  • Monongahela, 1988

Next: #87. Billy Walker

Previous: #89. Sawyer Brown

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

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4 Comments

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4 Responses to 100 Greatest Men: #88. The Oak Ridge Boys

  1. Paul DennisNo Gravatar

    While the history of country music’s early days was full of successful vocal groups (Sons of the Pioneers, Foy Willing and the Riders of the Purple Sage) most of them were western groups and by the 1950s successful recording artist mostly were either solo acts or duets. While there were groups such as the Jordanaires, the Willis Brothers and the Four Guys performing during the 50s and 60s, it wasn’t until the Statler Brothers appeared in 1965 that a vocal group was again to have sustained success. The Oak Ridge Boys were the next group to have such success

  2. I was listening to old country music when I Stumble upon this site. I’m glad that there are still people who appreciate these kind of music. When I listen to it I feel like reminiscing. I can’t understand these mixed emotions. I just know that I love the feeling.

  3. Erik NorthNo Gravatar

    A fair amount of the Oak Ridge Boys’ hits still get played on country radio, especially “Elvira” of course, which is always fun to listen to, even if a bit noveltyish these days (if I remember right, the great Dallas Frazier scribed it).

    And for anyone’s info, the appearance with Paul Simon that Kevin mentioned was on Simon’s 1977-78 Top 5 pop hit “Slip Sliding Away.”

  4. DCNo Gravatar

    Strangely, just as I finished reading this article, the Oaks’ version of “Leavin’ Louisiana in the Broad Daylight” started playing on the radio.

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