The Oak Ridge Boys have earned every award in the industry, including their upcoming induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Group member Duane Allen remembers when the Oak Ridge Boys got the news they were going to be inducted. “We got quiet for a bit. Have you ever heard the expression of a ‘Holy Hush’? It got real quiet for a few seconds and then we all hugged and then tears started flowing. I don’t think we really expected it.” Allen says they were sworn to “Twitter-free secrecy” and could only share the news with family and employees. He says, “they didn’t want it in the press for another four to five weeks so we had to keep it a secret for that long.” Their induction into the Grand Old Opry in 2011 was surely an equally sentimental experience.
The Oak Ridge Boys’ newest album, Rock of Ages, is recorded differently than previous albums. Allen says he got the inspiration after a call from singer Bill Gaither where Gaither told Allen that all of the member’s voices are so distinguishable. Gaither asked Allen, “what would it sound like if all of you were to go back as little boys when you first started singing and sing the songs of the church? What would that sound like?”
Allen responded “well Bill, I’ve been wanting to do an album backwards from what we’re recording these days.” He explains the current process: “these days we get all the best musicians in town and it costs a lot of money to record. So you get 7 or 8 of the best musicians and they punch in the clock for 3 hours and you want to get as much music as you can so you don’t do your vocal tracks then, you come in later and do your vocal work. You’re basically doing karaoke to your own tracks.”
Allen wanted to do it the opposite way and capture the magic of the voices first singing old hymns with minimum musicians. He said they’d bring everything else in later. Gaither had worked with Ben Isaacs in the past, which Allen says understands harmonies, so Allen gave Isaacs a call where he asked him to co-produce the album. Isaacs was immediately on board so Allen told the three other band members to pick out some songs they’d like to sing. He told them to pick songs that formed their early life and made them want to sing. “Imagine being in a little country church and there’s maybe three pews and you’re in the front row and the cute little Oak Ridge Boys are just singing their hearts out you know. Everybody sort of just jumped in. It was like a free for all and everybody was immediately involved in this project. It was like the greatest contribution of all four we’ve had in years and I just loved it.”
Band member William Lee Golden chose to sing Time Has Made A Change In Me. Allen recalls, “The emotion, the passion that is in his voice on that song – the only thing you’re missing are the tears that were there. When he got through he said, ‘I may have to come in and redo this again’. I said no, just leave it and you go on, don’t worry about it and let me work with it. I didn’t change anything. I didn’t want it to be perfect; I wanted it to be real.” Allen is proud that “each song has its own little touch of magic in it somewhere.”
Merle Haggard sings on one track and Allen describes how this collaboration came about. “Paul Martin is my son-in-law and he played with Marty Stewart. They were doing the RFD TV show and Merle was in doing that show. He handed Paul a CD and said, “would you give this to Duane? I’d like for the Oak Ridge Boys to cut this song.” Paul gave the CD to Allen, upon which he freaked out. “Here’s Merle Haggard wanting the Oak Ridge Boys to do his song!” Allen called Haggard and told him that it wouldn’t fit into the next few albums but if he could hold on a little bit it may fit into an album down the line. Haggard told him “hold as long as you want; I want you to do it.”
Nearly a year passed and Allen called Merle up. “Merlel I still want to cut this song but that resuscitation of that second verse, I just don’t think I can do that like you did it. It’s so you and it’s so real, you wrote it, and I feel you so much in it. Will you honor us by recording this with us?” Haggard agreed.
Tenor of the group Joe Bonsall tells readers about the backstage life and multi-faceted career of the Oak Ridge Boys in his book On the Road with The Oak Ridge Boys. “Through all these many miles we’ve traveled and everything we’ve been through together for more than 40 years, we haven’t really changed much as we’ve gotten older,” says Bonsall. “Singing, doing things right, honoring God and families in our lives… these things are still what really matter the most to each of us.”
Be sure to check out their album and book here.