Music / The Oak Ridge Boys

A long lasting Country Music group, although they weren't originally one. The band began in the 1940s as a gospel quartet composed of Wally Fowler, Lon Freeman, Curly Kinsey and Johnny New. The group split from Fowler in 1949, and several membership changes later, Smitty Gatlin headed a new lineup in 1957. He also pushed the band to a more country-folk sound and eventually recruited baritone vocalist William Lee Golden in 1964. After Gatlin retired, Duane Allen joined as lead vocalist, and Noel Fox and Willie Wynn took over on bass and tenor.

In the 1960s and into the early 1970s, the band achieved some notability in the gospel field, and even won a Grammy. By 1973, Joe Bonsall had taken over on tenor vocals and Richard Sterban on bass vocals, thus forming the most popular and well-known lineup. After a few false starts, including a guest appearance on a low-charting Johnny Cash single and a few dud releases on Columbia Records, the Oaks broke through in 1977 with the Top Ten hit "Y'all Come Back Saloon". From then until the late 1980s, they would remain a constant fixture on the country charts. "Elvira" and "Bobbie Sue" netted the group a couple crossover pop hits. Golden was fired in 1987, with Steve Sanders taking his place; Golden returned in December 1995, ironically after Sanders was ousted.

Although the hits dried up in the early 1990s, the Oaks are still recording to this day and remain a popular touring group, even to generations that were born well after their last hits.

Tropes present:

  • Basso Profundo: Richard Sterban has an impressively deep voice. The famous "oom papa mow mow"s on "Elvira" go as low as C2, but he has gone even lower: he hits an F1 at the end of "Trying to Love Two Women", and he is confirmed as having gone as low as E♭1.
  • Genre Shift: Gospel to country.
  • I Will Wait for You: "I'll Be True to You".
  • Inherently Funny Words: The name "Monongahela" in "Gonna Take a Lot of River" must've struck them as this, as they even named the album Monongahela.
  • It Will Never Catch On: Duane Allen, according to American Country Countdown, didn't think that "I'll Be True to You" would be successful due to the song having a Downer Ending. It wound up being their first #1 hit.
  • Long-Runner Line-up: The Golden/Sterban/Bonsall/Allen lineup, twice (1973-1987, 1995-present).
  • Long Title: "I Wish You Could Have Turned My Head (And Left My Heart Alone)" and "Gonna Take a Lot of River (Mississippi, Monongahela, Ohio)".
  • Repurposed Pop Song: "American Made" was re-written as "Miller's Made the American Way" for Miller Beer commercials.
  • Revolving Door Band Until the Golden/Sterban/Bonsall/Allen lineup was in place.
  • Solo Side Project: Two examples:
    • Joe Bonsall sang guest vocals on Sawyer Brown's 1986 single "Out Goin' Cattin'."
    • William Lee Golden recorded solo material in the late 80s when executives forced him out of the band.
  • Soprano and Gravel: There's quite a lot of distance between Joe's tenor and Richard's bass.
  • Subdued Section: The next-to-last chorus of "Come On In (You Did the Best You Could Do)" is a cappella.
  • Talky Bookends: Present in the video for "Gonna Take a Lot of River".
  • Truck Driver's Gear Change: "Elvira" repeats the chorus several times, each repetition going a semitone higher. Sterban's vocal, however, drops down an octave on the first key change.
  • Vocal Tag Team: Although Allen is the de facto lead singer, the band hasn't shied from releasing cuts on which the other members sing lead. Among the more prominent examples:
    • All four of them trade the lead vocal on the verses to "American Made" and "You're the One".
    • Bonsall sings "Elvira".
    • William sings "Trying to Love Two Women" and "Thank God for Kids".
    • Richard sings "Dream On".
    • Steve Sanders sang lead several times during his tenure, most notably on "Gonna Take a Lot of River", "No Matter How High", and "Lucky Moon".
    • Their cover of "Elvira" with a cappella group Home Free has Bonsall, Allen, and Sterban sharing the lead with three of the latter's five members. Home Free bass vocalist Tim Foust also alternates with Sterban on the "oom papa mow mow"s.
  • Wizard Beard: William Lee Golden became a mountain man and eventually grew a long, flowing beard that rivals those guys in ZZ Top. As mentioned above, this led to him being fired from the band to help them pursue a more "youthful" image.