The Oak Ridge Boys are an American country and gospel, music group. They are known for their vocal harmony and have been recorded both as gospel and secular group. They are also well-known for their appearance in the 1985 film, "The Return of the Blue Ghost". They are named after the city of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where the group originally formed in 1973. The original members were Alvin Crow Jr., Joe VENDENDER, Will Youmans, and Clayton Staton. Their debut single “New Country” was released that same year and had minor success on country radio. It wasn’t until their second single “ Christian Friend ” that brought them attention with its unique sound as a hybrid between bluegrass and country. Their third single “ Amazing Grace” continued that same style but brought them even more success. In 1983 they released their self-titled debut album which peaked at number 31 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart. With this new appreciation for their music, it opened up many future opportunities for them to perform as well as record with other successful artists.
Comeback with “The Oak Ridge Boys” (1989)
Although The Oak Ridge Boys had been together since 1973, they did not have a major hit until 1989, when they recorded “The Ballad of Little Billy”, which was included on the soundtrack of the film “Great Balls of Fire!”. This song was their first entry on the Billboard Hot 100 chart since “Amazing Grace” in 1979, and it went to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. The group followed up this success in early 1990 with a cover version of the Johnny Cash hit “Ring of Fire”. This song was also included on the soundtrack of the film “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”, and it was another No. 1 country hit for the group. In the summer of 1990, the group released its first studio album in four years, titled “The Oak Ridge Boys”. This album brought the group even more success, including two more No. 1 singles, “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow” and “Thank God for the Rain”.
The Road Back to Success
The Oak Ridge Boys’ success in 1989 and 1990 could be attributed to their return to their classic sound, which they hadn’t done since the beginning of their career in 1973. The group’s first three albums between 1973 and 1975 had a bluegrass sound with traditional country instrumentation, similar to Ricky Skaggs or the Osborne Brothers, but with a gospel-oriented lead vocal. The group had always been successful in the country music field, but by the late 1970s, the country music industry was looking for a new sound. The Oak Ridge Boys were a natural fit for this new sound due to their gospel background. The Oak Ridge Boys were the first country music act to sign with the newly established Warner Bros. Records in 1976, which was being launched as a country-music label because the parent company, Atlantic Records, wanted no part of the country business. The group moved to Virgin Records in the mid-1980s, then to Capitol Nashville in the early 1990s.
Billboard Top Country Hits
“New Country” and “Amazing Grace” were released when the group was a bluegrass act and “Christian Friend” was released when the group was a country act. “The Ballad of Little Billy” and “Ring of Fire” were released when the group had a hybrid sound between bluegrass and country. “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow” and “Thank God for the Rain” were released when the group was fully a country act.
New Success With “Time” (1997)
The Oak Ridge Boys had a lot of success with the “Time” album in 1997. It was their biggest-selling album, earning them a Grammy Award for Best Southern, Country or Bluegrass Gospel Album, and also spawned three top 10 singles on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. Two of these singles, “God Bless the U.S.A.” and “A Few Good Men”, reached number 1, and “Thank God for the U.S.A.” peaked at number 5. The group also had success with some of the album’s other songs, including “Elvira”, which was a top 30 hit, and “He’ll Do Anything but Work”, which was a top 40 hit.
Recent Activities and Final Words
The Oak Ridge Boys continue to tour. The current members of the group are Joe Bonsall, William Lee Golden, and Richard Sterban. Golden and Bonsall are the only two remaining members who were part of the group during its 1973 founding. Bonsall has been with the group since 1974 and Golden since 1975. Staton left the group in 2002 due to health issues and was replaced by Sterban. Vendenden left the group in 2004 and was replaced by Jeff Timmons. Timmons left the group in 2008 and was replaced by both Golden and Bonsall. As of 2019, the Oak Ridge Boys have released 56 studio albums, 29 compilation albums, and 8 gospel albums, and have earned more than 70 other awards, including 9 gold albums, 3 platinum albums, and 1 diamond album. In addition, the group has charted more than 80 singles on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, including 21 number-one singles.