Oak Ridge Boys Still Going Strong

In a day and age when music business success is often fleeting, the Oak Ridge Boys continue to enjoy an enviable and grounded career.

In a day and age when music business success is often fleeting, the Oak Ridge Boys continue to enjoy an enviable and grounded career.

The group has a new Spring Hill album, "Colors," out since May 20 in the general market and June 10 in Christian retail. The Oaks already have more than 170 dates set for this year and have landed an endorsement with BluBlocker Sunglasses that is adding extra marketing muscle to their summer tour.

The band has a TV special that will be telecast repeatedly in June and July. And group member Joe Bonsall has been busy promoting a book he wrote about his parents, "G.I. Joe and Lillie."

These activities have kept Bonsall and fellow Oaks William Lee Golden, Duane Allen and Richard Sterban extremely busy. Although the group is no longer a staple on country radio, Allen says, "If you stay in the business long enough, the cycle includes you again. I think the people appreciate the work we've been doing.

"We had a huge television special for Christmas that pushed our Christmas album and sold a lot of CDs for us," Allen continues. "We had great exposure. We started booking our dates after that Christmas special [aired]. The first week, we booked 42 dates. Right now we are 22 days over our goal for the year, which was 150 dates."

Produced by Allen and Michael Sykes, "Colors" includes "The Star-Spangled Banner" and new versions of previous Oaks hits "Thank God for Kids" and "An American Family" alongside new songs penned by hit tunesmiths including Jimbeau Hinson, Randy Van Warmer, Rock Killough and Troy Seals.

"I've always depended on Nashville writers to write the career of the Oak Ridge Boys, and they've always responded," Allen says. "I'm a song person. I've always felt that the ticket to get to wherever we want to go is in three minutes of magic."

The Oaks have placed 48 songs on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart, including 17 No. 1 hits. Among those chart-toppers are "Make My Life With You," "I Guess It Never Hurts To Hurt Sometimes" and "American Made."

Although the new project could easily be dubbed a patriotic album, it's much more than that. Devoid of flag-waving schmaltz, "Colors" is a musical tapestry of songs that illustrates the things that make up the fabric of American life. "The album basically turned out to be songs about faith, freedom, family, friends, kids and hometowns," Allen explains. "In finding songs for the album, I asked the publishers and writers to come up with songs for us that would reflect what a Norman Rockwell painting would look like if you could hear it."

"I'm proud to be singing these songs every night," Bonsall says. He wrote one on the album about his parents; the tune, like his book, is titled "G.I. Joe and Lillie."

"I'm proud to be right smack in the middle of America, which is actually where the Oak Ridge Boys have always been," Bonsall continues. "We are the guys you see at the county fairs singing while you are eating that corn dog."

The songs on "Colors" are being showcased on "Let Freedom Sing," a TV show taped in Branson, Mo., in March. A 30-minute version of the show was telecast in June, and an expanded, 60-minute version will run through the rest of the summer on various networks.

Like the Christmas special the Oaks did last year, "Let Freedom Sing" is a fundraiser for the Feed the Children charity. It will be telecast as an infomercial on PAX, WGN, INSP, Trinity, FOX Family and other networks. The show features the band's music interspersed with information about Feed the Children.

The group is also garnering exposure through its deal with BluBlocker, which is sponsoring the Red, White & BluBlocker tour. "We have our buses all painted with the Red, White & BluBlocker motif," Bonsall says. "It's a great relationship we have built with BluBlocker. They are helping us with a lot of advertising. For instance, there was Oak Ridge Boys BluBlocker Day at Wrigley Field on Memorial Day. They gave out 20,000 pairs of the BluBlockers, and the Oak Ridge Boys sang the national anthem."

Excerpted from the July 5, 2003, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com Premium Services section.

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