By John Wooley
Every generation has its stars. A select few of them remain stars for generations.
Those rare figures come to us from all fields of endeavor – Willie Mays from baseball, for instance. Humphrey Bogart from the movies. And, from popular music, The Oak Ridge Boys.
Just as Willie Mays was much more than his immortal over-the-shoulder catch in the 1954 World Series, and Casablanca was far from the only great Humphrey Bogart movie, The Oak Ridge Boys are more than the unforgettable strains of 1981’s “Elvira” oom-poppa-mau-mau-ing its way through our collective consciousness.
Fifty years after these legendary performers first stepped onstage together in the summer of 1973, this now-legendary quartet, made up of Duane Allen, Joe Bonsall, Richard Sterban, and William Lee Golden, continues to pack in the crowds and bring down the house.
For the entirety of that amazing half-century, the Oaks have been weaving their colorful threads into the tapestry of America’s popular music. As is the case with Mays, a look at their statistics can be dizzying: a dozen gold, three platinum, and one double-platinum record album (to go with the double-platinum single “Elvira,” which sailed up to No. 1 on both the pop and country charts). Thirty Top 10 hits. Performances before five American presidents. Pioneering work in the field of country-music videos. Induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. International touring. Millions of streams. Live shows numbering in the tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands.
As was the case with Willie Mays, after logging more years in the business than all but a sliver of their contemporaries, the Oaks are still setting records. And making records. Following sales of well over 40 million albums and counting, The Oak Ridge Boys continue to lay down their one-of-a-kind vocals in the studio and on stages all over the world, experimenting with a sound known to millions, always looking for new ways to communicate with their music. As an example, their last three albums have been produced by famed Nashville music figure Dave Cobb, a Grammy Award winner for his work with artists such as Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton.
The group’s consistently fresh attitude and presentation is summed up nicely in a statement by William Lee Golden.
“We do things constantly to challenge ourselves, to try to do something different or better than the last time we did it.”
Like Willie Mays, like Humphrey Bogart – like all the greats – The Oak Ridge Boys transcend their time and place, continuing with every performance and each new disc to not only add to their amazing heritage, but also to further their quest to serve up more new and exciting Oaks music to the world. One of the most famous “legacy acts” ever, with a 50-year string of hits to draw from, they are much more than a group content to faithfully reproduce its dozens of hits.
After all this time, the Oaks and their music remain vibrant, alive, and inventive. To the delight of their millions of fans, they’re still breaking musical barriers, still reaching for new sounds, still performing at a high and wonderful level that both builds on and transcends the generations of their stardom.