The Oak Ridge Boys


Kansas' "Carry On My Wayward Son"


The Oak Ridge Boys began as a gospel group named the Oak Ridge Quartet in 1945. In 1949, Bob Weber purchased the rights to the group's name from lead singer Wally Fowler and ascribed it to his group, the Cavalry Quartet. The Oak Ridge Quartet remained together through the mid-'50s, becoming one of the top gospel groups in America. Smitty Gatlin later created a new Oak Ridge Quartet after purchasing the name from Weber. Gatlin decided to steer the group towards secular success and changed their name to the Oak Ridge Boys in 1961. Although they were concentrating on commercial material, the group continued to sing gospel music. In the late '60s, the Oak Ridge Boys underwent an image makeover, growing their hair long and singing almost nothing but pop-oriented material. In the early '70s, they gradually incorporated more gospel back into their repertoire. By 1973, the group's core lineup -- Duane Allen (lead vocals), Joe Bonsall (tenor), William Lee Golden (baritone), and Richard Sterban (bass) -- had fallen into place and they made their first entry in the country charts with a cover of Johnny Cash's "Praise the Lord and Pass the Soup." The following year they signed to Columbia, although they nearly disbanded due to financial difficulties. In 1977, the group decided to switch over completely to secular music, beginning with the hit singles "Y'All Come Back Saloon" and "You're the One." Almost immediately, the Oak Ridge Boys became a fixture in the country Top Ten; for the next eight years, they had a string of 25 Top Ten singles, including 13 number one hits. In 1978, they had their first number one single with "I'll Be True to You." In 1981 the Oaks had their biggest hit with the crossover smash "Elvira."

By the late '80s the group's momentum began to slow down. They still had Top 40 hits, but they no longer dominated the Top Ten, as they did in the early '80s. In 1987, Golden, who had been with the group since 1964, was fired by the rest of the group, who believed that his burly appearance and long beard no longer fit their image. The Oaks' backup guitarist and singer Steve Sanders replaced him, and the group quickly returned to the Top Ten. Over the next three years, they had four number one hits, including "It Takes a Little Rain (To Make Love Grow)," "Gonna Take a Lot of River," and "No Matter How High." In 1990, their comeback slowed down. One more Top Ten hit, "Lucky Moon," followed in 1991, but the group had all but disappeared from the country charts by the end of 1992. The Oak Ridge Boys continued to tour and record throughout the '90s. Sanders left the group in 1995; he committed suicide on June 10, 1998.

Sandra Brennan

All Music Guide