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Oak Ridge Boys, The

Originally based in Knoxville, Tennessee, Wally Fowler put this group, who are known for their performances of gospel and country music, together in 1945 after he and the other members had recorded together as Wally Fowler & The Georgia Clodhoppers in 1943.  They played in Oak Ridge and called themselves the Oak Ridge Quartet and performed together at the Grand Ole Opry in 1945.  They sang together for the next 4 years until the other three members left Wally to form their own ensemble.

The Calvary Quartet were hired to replace the missing members and they continued to perform as before.  In 1957 they had a debt outstanding to one of their members, Smitty Gatlin, and this resulted in them signing the rights for the name of the group to him.

After several changes in their line-up, the following year they worked with Cadence Records to record an album, which was followed by a further 5 albums for three different record companies, with three of the recordings being done with the Skylite label.  Their producer at Skylite in 1961 decided they would do better with a name change to update their image and so the Oak Ridge Quartet became the Oak Ridge Boys.

In 1962 their baritone, Ron Page, left the group and was replaced by Gary McSpadden, who was with them long enough to record three albums, including two on the Warner Brothers label.  Jim Hammill replaced Gary but he also left the group in 1965 when his position as baritone was given to a fan of the group, William Lee Golden, who had put himself forward.   Smitty Gatlin left in 1966 and took up a career as a minister of music and Duane Allen came in as his replacement.

For the next 6 years they were constantly recording with twelve albums under their belt, which doesn’t take into consideration the compilations that were put out at the same time.  During that time they received their first Grammy Award in 1970 for the song “Talk About the Good Times”.  1973 saw them hitting the charts for the first time when they recorded the song “Praise the Lord and Pass the Soup” with Johnny Cash and The Carter Family and being the opening act for Roy Clark.

That same year they moved record label again, this time to Columbia, and put out several single recordings and three albums.  This wasn’t such a good time for them in their popularity though as they didn’t have as good a promotion as before and many fans thought that they may have been leaving gospel music behind them.  In 1976 they were the chosen backing group to sing on Paul Simon’s “Slip Slidin’ Away” but after they released a further single of their own which only achieved mediocre success, they requested to be released by Columbia.

They started up their own record label and released a live album virtually straight away.   1977 was a change for them when they went entirely to country music and joined ABC Records.  Their first album with them saw two singles reaching the country music chart’s Top 5 and their next album gave them their long awaited No. 1, “I’ll Be True To You”.

Many further albums later in 1981 they released their crossover hit single “Elvira” which became possibly the one they are best known for and the album from which it came, Fancy Free, is still their best-seller.  They followed that with another crossover hit, “Bobbie Sue”, which came from the album of the same name and the song, “So Fine”, also from that album, saw them in the studio making their first music video.

After a Christmas album in 1982, they out the album American Made in 1983.  This one became a bit problematic when Miller Beer used the title song for a television commercial with the words slightly altered.  The Oak Ridge Boys declined to sing it but had no say in the matter of the song being used.  Several years and several albums later they had another single used for television when their “Take Pride in America” was used to promote recycling on public service announcements.

In 1987 William Lee Golden left the group after he had released his own solo material and his unkempt appearance caused controversy and earned him the nickname “mountain man”.  He sued the company after Steve Sanders, who was the guitarist for the group, replaced him but it resulted in an out of court settlement.

After a further four albums were put out by MCA, they moved over to RCA but even though they released three albums with them, it was not a successful move as the person who signed them was replaced by someone wanting to concentrate his efforts on the promotion of the group Alabama.  This saw them moving to Liberty Records and recording another of their Christmas albums.

The mid-1990s saw further line-up changes when Steve Sanders left the group in 1995 just hours before a concert performance.  Luckily their member, Duane Allen managed to get his son to fly in with no notice and take the part as baritone for the night.  That night became the beginning of Dee Allen working with them for the rest of the year.  Exactly at the turn of the New Year in 1996 William Lee Golden came back to them and they recorded their album Revival, which was produced by Leon Russell.

They recorded more albums over the next four years and then in 2000 were signed up by Spring Hill Records.  They were inducted into the Vocal Hall of Fame in 2001 and released many more albums between then and 2009, covering several genres of music such as bluegrass, gospel, Christmas, patriotic and country.  Their 2009 album The Boys Are Back had the title track penned by Shooter Jennings and charted on both the Country and Top 200 charts.

They continue to record and perform and In October 2015 they were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Some of the known members and touring members past and present over the last 64 years:
Dee Allen (1995 – baritone)
Duane Allen (1966-present – lead vocals)
Glen Allred (1951-52 – vocals, guitar)
Joe Allred (1949-54 – tenor)
Monroe “Curley” Blaylock (1947-49 – bass)
Joe Bonsall (1973-present – tenor)
Don Breland (??-?? bass guitar, bandleader)
Tony Brown (1972-75 – keyboards)
Don Carr (tours 1991-present – guitar)
Bobby Clark (1958 – tenor)
Carlos Cook (1952-53 – lead/ 1953-54 – baritone)
Garland Craft (1975-81 – piano)
Jeff Douglas (1995-present – dobro, guitar)
Wallace “Happy” Edwards (1958 – tenor)
Mark Ellerbee (1970-1975 – drums)
Hobart Evans (1957-58 – tenor)
Ron Fairchild (1980s-2001/2002-2009- keyboards)
Tommy Fairchild (1958-59 – lead/1959-60 – piano/1961-72 – piano)
Wally Fowler (1945-52 – lead vocals)
Noel Fox (1969-72 – bass)
Cat Freeman (1954-56 – tenor)
Lon “Deacon” Freeman (1945-49 – baritone, guitar)
Jimmy Fulbright (2001 – keyboards/2003-present – bass, guitar)
Smitty Gatlin (1957-58 – lead vocals/1958-59 tenor/1959-66 lead vocals)
Chris Golden (tours: 1995 – mandolin, guitar/1996 – drums)
William Lee Golden (1965-87/1995-present – baritone)
James Goss (1960 – piano)
Jim Hamill (1963-64 – baritone)
Herman Harper (1957-69 – bass)
Powell Hassell (1957-58 – piano)
Boyce Hawkins (1949 – piano)
Curly Kinsey (1945-47 – bass)
Paul Martin (1995 – baritone)
Gary McSpadden (1962-3 – baritone)
Skip Mitchell (1976-86 – guitar)
Little Johnny New (1945-49/1952 – tenor)
Calvin Newton (1953-56 – lead vocals)
Chris Nole (2009-present – keyboards)
Ron Page (1956-62 – baritone)
Pat Patterson (1949-53 – lead vocals in 52-53)
Bob Prather (1952 – baritone)
John Rich (1972-75 – guitar, steel guitar)
Les Roberson (1955-56 – baritone)
Steve Sanders (1987-95 – baritone)
Bill Smith (1957 – bass)
Richard Sterban (1972-present – bass)
Gary Trusler (1960 – piano)
Bob Weber (1949-56 – bass)
Bobby Whitefield (1950-52/1954-56 – piano)
Rex Wiseman (2006-present – multi-instrumentalist)
Little Willie Wynn (1959-73 – tenor)