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, 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 dud release 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; he returned in 1995.
Although the hits dried up in the early 1990s, the Oaks are still recording to this day.
- Badass 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.
- Basso Profundo: Richard Sterban has an impressively deep voice.
- 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.
- 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)".
- Older Than He Looks: Sterban is 69, but looks about half that.
- 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.
- 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. (Most notably, Bonsall sings lead on "Elvira".) All four of them trade the lead vocal on "American Made" and "You're the One".
- But in a weird zig-zagging, Steve Sanders almost always got the lead when he was in the group (except for "True Heart").