Originally created 03/23/06

Long career of Oaks has had usual ups, downs



The Oak Ridge Boys will be back at the Newberry (S.C.) Opera House for shows at 3 and 7 p.m. Sunday, but don't even think about calling for tickets.

Opera House General Manager Debra Smith says both shows are sold out with tickets priced at $37.50 each.

That has been pretty much the story of the Oaks in a nutshell since the quartet - Duane Allen, Richard Sterban, Joe Bonsall and William Lee Golden - switched from gospel music to country music in the early 1970s. Their 1976 country single, Family Reunion, however, barely charted and Columbia Records dropped them. MCA Records gave them another shot, and they hit big with their 1977 single Y'all Come Back Saloon.

Subsequent Oaks hits sold millions worldwide, firmly establishing them as one of the greatest acts in country music.

I ran into Mr. Allen, the group's lead vocalist, in February in front of a Nashville, Tenn., nightclub. He was there for an early-morning artist showcase sponsored by Music Row magazine. Things still are going great for the Oaks, he said.

"We work about 160 days a year on the road, and it's more than that when you add in our charity work and our publicity days like today," he said.

We reflected about their incredible career, which included their 1981 crossover hit single Elvira.

Mr. Allen said that when the group switched from gospel to country, only three gospel acts wished them well: The Lewis Family, of Lincolnton, Ga.; Wayne Christian, of The Christianaires; and Wendy Bagwell, of The Sunliters. Times changed, and most gospel acts came to realize that the Oak Ridge Boys hadn't left gospel entirely, always incorporating gospel songs into their shows.

We talked about when Mr. Golden left the group for seven years amid hard feelings to pursue a solo career and help his sons get established in the music business.

"Well, actually, I never had any real problems with William Lee," Mr. Allen said. "The only disagreement we had was basically of things that we needed for us to look face-to-face with each other and talk about. That happened a year after he was gone, and we then were back to where we were as friends and that never changed.

"I think if you let the little things mount up, they can look like something big. But you take them apart and talk about the little things one by one and they go away."

Don Rhodes has written about country music for 35 years. He can be reached at (706) 823-3214 or at don.rhodes@morris.com.