Something happened today that turned my emotions topsy-turvy. It may sound silly but some of you will understand it. But first, I must go back about sixty years in time so you’ll understand where I’m coming from.
I don’t even remember the first time I ever attended a gospel concert. It was one of the all night singings which at that time started about 7 PM and did not end until after midnight. It was at the Shrine Mosque in Springfield, Missouri and the quartets featured were, The Blackwood Brothers and The Statesmen Quartet. Jackie Marshall was still playing piano with The Blackwoods and Bro Hovie, The Chief and The Statesmen rocked the house. Thats what quartets did back then. Four men singing with a piano player that could pound out the rhythm, and yes sir they rocked the house. My mother took me to see all the greats…..those were the days! By the time I was in my teens quartets were my passion and my desire to do that began to grow. So it was transfused into my blood at an early age and has never left. I’ve moved on to other styles of music but Southern Gospel Quartet music is my roots.
Just before I entered seventh grade my dad took a church in Seaside, California so we moved across country to a place that seemed foreign; an entirely different culture. It was very hard on me to leave Oklahoma wearing cowboy boots and overalls to California where boys my age wore Levi’s, white socks and penny loafers. I believe however that the biggest thing that kept me grounded and possibly even sane was that many of my favorite quartets came to California a couple of times a year. We traveled to Los Angeles to the Long Beach Municipal auditorium for concerts and also to San Jose.
It was about that time when a quartet that I had never seen in concert began coming to the left coast. I fell in love with them and they became my favorite group as they are to this day. They were the Oak Ridge Quartet. Smitty Gatlin, Little Willie Wynn, Ron Page, Herman Harper and Tommy Fairchild. I loved their sound and Tommy Fairchild greatly influenced my piano playing style. I loved his rhythm and I concentrated on that. I listened to their records by the hour and learned to sing harmony by listening to each vocal part….I was blessed with an ear to hear it all. Everything I did was influenced by this group. I tried to comb my hair like they did, work the mic like they did and sing like them as much as possible. I was totally hooked on everything about The Oaks.
One particular concert will never leave my memory. It was at the auditorium in San Jose, California. A sold out show with The Speer Family, The Weatherford Quartet, The Rebels and of course The Oak Ridge Quartet. I cried at a lot of concerts because the music was so powerful and consuming to me. But this night was different. The Oak Ridge Quartet was singing and I got so emotional that I left my seat and went up to the balcony where I could be alone. It seemed the Lord met me there. The anointing came on me so strong that I couldn’t sit or stand. I just layed in the floor and cried for several minutes and was totally caught up in the Spirit. As I layed there the Spirit of the Lord showed me that I would be singing and performing just like The Oak Ridge Boys before thousands of people. He called me to sing that night. There was no doubt about it that night, and fifty years later there’s still no doubt. It was a defining moment of time in my life and The Oak Ridge Boys were a huge part of it.
I could go on and on but I will stop with those details. I just wanted you to understand what an influence this group has been to me. I followed their gospel music career and even though I had a hard time processing the move into country music, I remained a fan and am to this day.
I’ve been blessed to meet the Boys many times and have become well acquainted with Joe Bonsall and during my little more than a year on a Branson show when I worked with Duane Allen’s son Dee, I got to visit with and get acquainted with Duane who is one of the great singers of our time and a fine Christian gentleman as are William Lee Golden and Richard Sterban.
That brings me to my topsy-turvy emotions. Remember that?
I learned this morning that the Grand Ole Opry invited the Oak Ridge Boys to become permanent members of that great institution! I got teary eyed when I read the article. I haven’t been able to get it off my mind today. I’m excited for them and relieved that this invitation so long overdue, was finally extended. I quickly sent a text to Joe Bonsall congratulating them and as usual he quickly texted me back with his thanks.
Thanks to the Oak Ridge Boys for the wonderful impact they’ve had on my life and music and it’s exciting to know that it’s not over. It’s continuing on a great stage where many other greats have performed before them.
Long live the Oak Ridge Boys! One of the greatest influences on my life!
It’s been a good day…..and I’m still cogitating!
PS….If you’d like to hear a great interview we did with Joe Bonsall a few years ago on our radio show, send me an email and I’ll mp3 it to you. firstname.lastname@example.org