What If?

ORBWhat if the Oak Ridge Boys never left Gospel Music?  Sometimes I think about certain scenarios as I look over the history of Southern Gospel music.  That caused me to create this new feature titled; What If.  Every so often, I will generate a ‘what if’ scenario and allow, you, the readers to hash out how Southern Gospel music may be different as a result of the ‘what if’ scenario.

So, lets examine the, what if the Oak Ridge Boys never left Gospel Music.  Let’s throw out a few talking points.

  1. The Oak Ridge Boys would be celebrating 56 years in Southern Gospel music (if we’re using 1958 as the beginning).
  2. The group has had the same vocal line-up for 41 years, unheard of for any Southern Gospel quartet.
  3. If they would’ve remained in Southern Gospel music, would there have been personnel changes over that 41 year period?
  4. With such a rich legacy, would they be regarded among fans as one of the most popular groups in SG history (like the Cathedrals)?
  5. Would they have stayed cutting edge and may even drifted in to the CCM market?

So what do you think?  Talk among yourselves about how Southern Gospel would be different if the Oak Ridge Boys had never left the industry.

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8 thoughts on “What If?

  1. Hey Steve, once again great article. Just a side note, William Lee Golden left the band (probably forced out would be more accurate) for about a 7-8 yr period. He was replaced by Steve Sanders, if I remember correctly, Steve was a member of their band & moved to Williams baritone position. Also, I believe I’m correct in saying that in 1958 none of the current members were with the “Oak Ridge Quartet”. William & Duane joined in the mid 60’s & Richard & Joey joined the Oaks around ’72 or ’73 (or so). I was a big fan of The Oak Ridge Boys. Many southern gospel legends have been a part of this band including: Jim Hamill, Gary McSpadden, Herman Harper & Noel Fox (who was later the bass singer for a group that performed at my church when I was about 8 or 9, The Christian Troubadors. The church could not have had more then 100 in attendance but like you Steve, I got their latest record & that’s why I’m in the music industry today). Thanks for leading me down a southern gospel memory lane today! Donnie

  2. This is a hard question…on one hand they would have no doubt been the biggest group in SG right now…but I wonder if they would have made it this far if they had stayed in SG. Would they have fell prey to the constant “callings” to new ministries, the changes, and the lack of support?

    One way to keep a group together is to actually make money. I’m certain the ORBs have made much more money than they would have staying in SG.

  3. According to Duane Allen, it wasn’t so much that the Oaks left gospel music as they felt like they were forced out, and had no choice but to change directions if they were to stay together as a group. I know that between 1974-1976, they were pretty much broke. Duane had to take money out of a tax fund to cover payroll (and was nearly arrested for it), and William Lee Golden was literally living in their office building because he was so broke.

    As for the longevity of the lineup, I chalk that up to the group being a partnership. In 1977, when the Oaks finally found country success, both Joe Bonsall and Richard Sterban bought into the group, which effectively made all four members partners in the group (according to Sterban, they initially bought in at 10% each, and continued buying in over the years until they were all 25% equal partners). It’s a lot harder to walk away from a group when you’re a part owner than if you’re just a paid employee. In fact, when Golden was fired in 1987, the other three had to buy out his share.

    I think, though, that they always had ambitions of going further than just gospel music, and even if the industry had not closed the door on them, they probably would’ve branched out anyway.

  4. That’s like The Harry Potter, a fictional scenario.Such situation is
    highly impossible. What made them who they are musically, the essence of
    their style and business model are totally incompatible with the culture of
    Southern Gospel. Short of a some die hard devotees and a few fairweather
    fans that grew to like them due to their popularity in other genre, they
    wouldn’t be accepted by the majority, as evidenced by the highly
    disapproving and downtight angry comments about them, even denying them any
    role in SG history .

    Which makes question 3 a highly impossible scenario as well. Most popular?
    Not when you are that hated, by that many. The impression I got was that The
    Oak Ridge Boys in the minds of most Southern Gospel fans are only little bit
    less hated then the minorities…;)

    If you saw what D.Allen says on Facebook about being mistreated,
    blackballed, hurt, pained, etc he literally reeks such pain it’s hard to
    read. Even if his anger towards the SG groups and fans is someone
    exaggerated – so let’s divide his words by two or three – it’s still pretty
    obvious they weren’t meant to remain there.

    I study SG culture as an part of religious American religious conservatism,
    and see it clearly that ORB are completely anti-everything the SG culture
    stands for.

    1. Ode, good to see you here. My ‘what if’ was supposed to assume that the Oak Ridge Boys would have never been black balled by the industry, thus causing them to remain a part of the industry. I know I didn’t make that clear, but that was what I was shooting for.

      1. Thanks, the pleasure is all mine.
        You were perfectly clear. I rather speculated on what I see as impossibility
        of such outcome even in the imaginary “what if” world.

        Even if they weren’t blackballed as obviously as they were, the
        ‘holiness movement’ and hostility towards pure entertainment vs ‘ministry
        oriented performance’ of the time that you told me about would have forced
        them to leave.

        I was trying to bring up the idea of incompatibility of a progressive band
        like ORB with SG. They simply outgrew its constraints. Another poster above
        seem to have suggested the same idea – ORB would have left anyway.

        While other “what ifs” might be perfectly legit ( if a group
        left the scene due to things beyond their control, like death of a lead
        member), this one is not.

        The only way they would have stayed if instead of conforming to rigidity of
        the industry they changed it from within, as other trendsetters before them
        have done.

        Then may I turn the tables and ask you -was it, in your view, at least
        theoretically possible at the time? Would they still had the following
        needed to keep their head above water?

      2. All things being equal, I don’t believe the Oak Ridge Boys would have lasted as long as they have if they hadn’t made the move to country music. If they hadn’t left the Gospel music industry, their progressive style of the time may have found them more in the CCM market, like the Imperials of the 1980’s.

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