Three months ago, we gave you our thoughts on why Don Rich should be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2015 in the musicians’ category. This month, we take a look at what is known as the Modern Era category.
Open to acts that have been involved in the business for between 20 and 45 years, one could go in a lot of different directions this year. Ricky Skaggs, Randy Travis, and Hank Williams, Jr. would be on the short list of artists who deserve enshrinement. After being selected as an “Artist In Residence” this fall, the possibility of Alan Jackson getting inducted is very strong one.
Before the CMA gets to those very deserving artists, however, let us make an argument for The Oak Ridge Boys.
With their musical roots beginning back in the days of Wally Fowler and “All Night Gospel Sings” in the ’40s, the Oak Ridge Boys made quite the name for themselves — particularly in the mid south — as a gospel outfit, at first.
However, with William Lee Golden joining the group in 1964, and Duane Allen the next year, they truly began to exert a major influence on country music. Then, when Richard Sterban and Joe Bonsall joined in 1972 and 1973, respectively, the group had the lineup that would — to quote The Doors — “break on through to the other side.”
But it wasn’t as easy as that. The Gospel industry wasn’t that happy with one of their marquee acts wanting to leave the nest. Country audiences, meanwhile, viewed the Oaks as a Gospel act. There were some struggles involved in the mid-’70s, but thanks to acts like Johnny Cash and Roy Clark inviting them to open their shows (and a masterful job by manager Jim Halsey), the group started to hit their stride.
Signing with ABC/Dot in 1977, the quartet found success with “Y’all Come Back Saloon,” which hit No. 3 on the Billboard Country Singles chart, and the group was off to the proverbial races. Notching hit after hit well into the ’90s, the Oaks raised their game — and the profile of country music to a new level. Their tour with Kenny Rogers and Dottie West was the genre’s first foray into stadiums, and they would take touring as a headliner to a new level.
The Oak Ridge Boys weren’t just having hit records over the years — they were creating classics. 1978 saw their first No. 1 with the haunting “I’ll Be True To You,” and the decision to record “Elvira” — a song that had been cut several times before them — in 1981 paid huge dividends. The song topped the country charts, and sold well in excess of a million copies — a rarity then and now for a Nashville-recorded track.
They picked up awards from the CMA, ACM, Music City News, and The Nashville Network. Their 1984 Greatest Hits 2 release helped to start a trend of new material appearing on “Best of” compilations, spawning a pair of No. 1 records with “Everyday” and “Make My Life With You.”
As commercial tastes shifted in the ’90s, the group stayed visible with a highly popular weekly series on The Nashville Network, as well as continuing their hectic tour schedule throughout the years. While contemporaries like Alabama and the Statler Brothers slowed down and headed toward retirement, the Oak Ridge Boys kept going down the highway in high gear. They’ve recorded just about every style of gospel and country, and continued to experiment on their excellent 2010 release The Boys Are Back, produced by Dave Cobb and featuring compositions from writers such as Shooter Jennings.
A 2011 induction to the Grand Ole Opry only added to their list of honors, and they continue to play to sold-out audiences, particularly with their legendary Christmas tours. They also have given their time to many charities, including Feed The Children and numerous veterans’ organizations. In addition, the Oaks have never forgotten that they were once the new kids on the block, as they continue to encourage and support newer acts over the years — making a great bridge from the past to the present.
There are many acts that deserve to have their number called next spring by CMA Chief Executive Officer Sarah Trahern, but simply put, it’s the Oak Ridge Boys’ time to join that hallowed group of country legends. Country Music Hall of Fame members The Oak Ridge Boys. Sounds almost as good as “Oom Papa Mow Mow,” doesn’t it?