Saturday, July 9, 2011

New Opry Members---Oak Ridge Boys

Last night while listening to the Friday Night Opry, Bill Anderson was finishing up his segment and he made the statement to the crowd that there was still lots more to go and that they would be glad that they picked this night to be at the Opry. Right away, I thought, this is finally the night for the Oak Ridge Boys. And it was. After they finished their first song, "Y'All Come Back Saloon", Jimmy Dickens came out on stage with a beard to match that of William Lee Golden's. And after some laughter and much applause, Jimmy asked them to become the Opry's newest members.

Here is the press release from the Opry:

"After the Oaks performed their hit "Y'All Come Back Saloon," 62-year Opry member Jimmy Dickens surprised the group by walking on stage dressed as a 4'11" William Lee Golden, including long beard and sunglasses. "All my life I've wanted to be a little bitty Oak Ridge Boy," Dickens announced to raucous laughter in the Opry House. "On August 6, I will become the newest member of the Oak Ridge Boys, and at that time, you will become the newest members of the Grand Ole Opry!"

Joe Bonsall responded for the group, saying, "Jimmy, that's the funniest thing we've ever seen, first of all. This is a brotherhood and sisterhood unlike any other. We have been friends of the Opry for a long time....We will get on our bus later and let this process, and I guess we have until August 6th to let it sink in."

The group concluded its set with the classic "Elvira," then returned to join Larry Gatlin on"All the Gold in California."

The Opry got this one right. The Oaks have been Opry guests and friends for decades. Their Opry roots go back further than that. While they will not make the Opry any younger, they will bring lots of energy and excitement to the show. They appeal to all age groups. I have seen them several times on the Opry and each and every time, it has been a standing ovation. I will be curious to see who handles the actual induction of them as it could be just about any Opry member.

I have said on this blog several times that the Oak Ridge Boys have had discussions with the Opry several times about becoming Opry members, but the group felt that they would be on the road so much that they could not be serious members and give the show the commitment it should. With their careers starting to wind down, it looks like this was the time to do it. I for one, am glad that they are joining the cast.

Congratulations Oak Ridge Boys and nice job by Pete Fisher on this one!!!!!


  1. A great choice. I'll just echo you!

  2. Byron, I'd like to throw something wild into the mix. I have been annoyed at the claim that The Potato has been an Opry member for almost 63 years; he was off from 1957 to 1975, though he was a guest in that period. Well, I'd like to cause an argument: as of August 6, he will no longer be the Opry's senior member! Wally Fowler came to the Opry in 1946, I believe, and his group was the Oak Ridge Quartet. His group split from him, and later he sold the name to one of the singers, who formed the Oak Ridge Boys in 1961. But the "Oak Ridge" name came to the Opry before Jimmy Dickens!

    Of course that's being ridiculous. But it's a reminder of how steeped in Opry history this group really is.

  3. I know. As much as I like Jimmy Dickens and what he brings to the Opry, he has not been an Opry member for 62 years. But he did join the Opry 62 years ago, if that makes sense.

    Now a few notes on Wally Fowler; He was born on February 15, 1917 and passed away on June 3, 1994. In his early career, he was a member of the John Daniel Quartet, which he joined in 1935. That group joined the Opry in 1940. Fowler left this group in 1943 and moved to Knoxville. During this time period, he was doing some song writing and had songs recorded by Eddy Arnold, among others.

    He had a new group, the Georgia Clodhoppers and they recorded on Capital Records in the mid 1940's. He came to Nashville with his group and joined the Opry on September 15, 1945. He continued to record country songs and started his own publishing company, Wallace Fowler Publications.

    By 1947, his Oak Ridge Quartet, which was his gospel group made up of members of the Georgia Clodhoppers, had gained such a following that he started to devote all his attention and career focus to gospel music. On Friday November 5, 1948, he booked several gospel acts into the Ryman Auditorium for the first of what became many, all-night gospel singing programs. They were broadcast on WSM and became to gospel music what the Opry was to country music.

    In the 1950's, Wally was one of the biggest promoters of gospel music in the country. But, his son-in-law, gospel musician Larry McCoy said, "Wally was a visionary, but not a very adept businessman." He sold his interest in the Oak Ridge Quartet in 1957 to group member Smitty Gatlin, as forgiveness on a debt. It was Smitty in 1961, who changed the name of the group to the Oak Ridge Boys. Wally still attempted to use the name Oak Ridge Quartet, but in 1965, he was legally no longer allowed to use the name of the group that he founded.

    Wally would go on to perform with several country groups and have a syndicated televison show. He also performed in Branson and he died near Nashville, drowning while fishing. Many feel he might have suffered a heart attack.

    As far as the Oak Ridge Boys, Smitty Gatlin remained with the group until 1966. The first member of the present line up to join the group was William Lee Golden, who joined in 1965, with Duane Allen following in 1966. They continued as a very popular gospel group until 1977, when they recorded and released their hit, "Y'All Come Back Saloon."

    Finally, Wally was instrumental in discovering Patsy Cline. In 1948, Wally Fowler's Oak Ridge Quartet came to Winchester, Virginia and at the time, they were regular performers on Roy Acuff's radio show on WSM. Patsy asked Wally for an audition and he gave it to her. He was impressed and told Patsy's mom that they needed to go to Nashville and have Roy Acuff listen to her. She did.

  4. Great info, Byron. I also remember the Boys saying that a lot of people in gospel music were teed off at them for going "country." For them to do what they did took guts: they could have wound up failing in country AND ruining their gospel connections in the process.

    By the way, for years, my late mother muttered about William Lee's hair and beard. Now she would be muttering about Richard's hairstyle. We've GOT to do something about that ....

  5. Yea, my wife still makes comments about William Lee living in a tepee!! And, Richard does look a bit "freaky"!!

  6. We also tend to forget that Duane Allen is an Opry in-law since he's married to Norah Lee of the Carol Lee Singers, right? And Herman Harper, their great bass singer for so many years, also was an Oak Ridge Boy.