Mandeville, LA – Exclusive Transcript – Yesterday in Tampa, Mike had the opportunity to interview some not-so-average listeners: The Oak Ridge Boys. Having been long time listeners of Mike, they had plenty to talk about, from the current state of politics (they’re opening the RNC tonight with Amazing Grace) and country music to how they get along on the road. Check out the transcript for more from Joe, Duane, William Lee, and Richard!
Begin Mike Church Show Transcript
Mike: I’m going to administer healthy doses of the founders’ red pill to the Oak Ridge Boys who are live here. I was struggling for a song to play for you guys. I went, “Slide guitar Joe Walsh, they’ll appreciate that.”
Joe Bonsall: That’s pretty cool. We know Joe Walsh. In fact, William is a good friend with Joe. Joe’s been to his house many times.
Mike: One of my favorite songs is that . . . when I was a little boy. About the time your first records came out in 1978 or so when he had that song right there, his first big hit. That’s how I met Joe Walsh. Of course, I met you guys through “Elvira.” Is that something for you guys that you have to live down, like the actors say? Wayne Knight, the actor, for example, the guy that plays Newman on Seinfeld, he’s always going to be Newman.
Joe: I think that happens with actors more than it does us. We embrace it. “Elvira” was a gigantic record, but we’ve had 50 or some charted hit records. “Elvira” was the biggest one and it’s the most requested. The Oak Ridge Boys are known for Elvira. We walk through an airport and guys go, “Hey, man, Omm Poppa Mow Mow, baby.” I don’t know, we embrace it. I think it’s cool. We enjoy singing it. It represents a nice time in our history. It’s fun to do.
Mike: Life was good back in the ‘80s when that song came out, wasn’t it?
Joe: In the early ‘80s, we were the hottest act in the business. We’re still around. We’re still doing good. We’re still pretty vibrant. We’re out there playing, singing, making new music. Everything is still going good.
Mike: Let me ask you a musical question and then we’ll talk politics because we are at the RNC after all. I had the great pleasure of interviewing Charlie Daniels about three years ago. I’ve always been a huge fan, again since I was a little boy, with that song “Uneasy Rider.” It was one of the first .45 records I ever had. I interviewed Charlie and I had a question I always wanted to ask him. I said, “You gotta tell me the story of ‘Devil Went Down to Georgia.’” He said, “Mike, that is a great question. We have a fiddle song on every album. We got to the end of recording this album and we didn’t have a fiddle song. So my manager told me the night before we got one day left in studio and we need a fiddle song.” He said, “I sat there that morning and I still didn’t have a fiddle song. I don’t know what just came over me, something about devil went down to Georgia and I just started humming it. The guitarist started picking up on it and half an hour later we’re in the studio recording it.” When you guys were in the studio — forgive me, I don’t know who composed “Elvira,” but when you were making the record, is it written in the lyrics, your bass singer, you were brought in for that record, weren’t you?
Richard Sterban: I was already part of the group. Dallas Frasier, who wrote the song, he wrote the “Omm Papa Mow Mow,” the end there, but it wasn’t as predominant. Our producer Ron Chancey, it was his idea for me to do that part. I just kind of adapted it to my way of doing things and it turned out okay, I think.
Mike: How difficult is it, William, to do four parts of harmony? Do each one of you pick a part and you automatically know it? Are you high, low, mid, upper high? How do you pick a part?
William Lee Golden: I think first thing is we decide who’s going to sing the lead part of a song. Richard always is usually the bass singer, unless he’s singing lead on a song and then we harmonize above. I would be the harmony above Richard and Duane would be above that and Joe would be the top harmony. That’s kind of how we stack our vocals. Each guy is in a particular range. That’s kind of how it works best for the Oak Ridge Boys. With “Elvira,” Joe sang lead.
Richard: Recently, we recorded a new Christmas CD. I do the lead vocal on one of the songs. William, on very rare occasion, sang the bass part. He actually sang under me. That felt really weird.
Mike: The Oak Ridge Boys live on the Mike Church Show here. Let me ask you a really stupid question. Is there an Oak Ridge that one of you is from or a couple of you?
Duane Allen: There is an Oak Ridge, Tennessee. That’s where we got our name. Our original name in the ‘40s, none of us were there, but when this group started it was called the Georgia Clodhoppers. They were a part of a noon-day show in Knoxville, Tennessee that included people like Archie Campbell and Chet Atkins and a lot of people that you later learned were members of the Grand Ole Opry. A lot of those people started in Knoxville, Tennessee. That was 25 miles away from the secret city where they were developing the components of the atomic bomb. They were separating the atoms there. There grew to be close to 60,000 people working there during that time while they were developing those components. They would bring in outside entertainment on family day. They brought in the Georgia Clodhoppers so many times, they started calling them their Oak Ridge Quartet, and that’s where the name came from, where it stuck. We now have a street in Oak Ridge, Tennessee that goes right into the civic center called Oak Ridge Boys Place. We’re closely affiliated with that town by name. We don’t live there. We live in Hendersonville, which is a suburb of Nashville.
Mike: You walked me through a little history of the ‘50s and ‘60s there, even before the ‘50s. You didn’t show up in Hank, Jr.’s rowdy friends settling down. Were you guys rowdy friends?
Duane: Yes, we were. We were all there.
Mike: William, did you settle down?
William: I didn’t.
Duane: I was driving an old limousine carrying — who’s that funny guy I was carrying? I forget who it was. I had one of my old limousines that I have in my car collection, an old ’49 Packard. I was driving him as a limo driver. I had the hat and suit and everything.
Joe: It was in the video, the “All My Rowdy Friends” video.
Duane: Yeah, we were all in it.
Mike: It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the video.
Duane: These guys are all friends of ours.
Joe: I will tell you, in the final “All My Rowdy Friends” Hank, Jr. video, these two guys appear and me and Richard got edited out. We’re not in the video. Whatever that thing was we taped, we weren’t good enough, we weren’t rowdy enough. These two guys are rowdier than these two, I guess. That’s how it goes.
Mike: The Oak Ridge Boys are live with us here on Radio Row. Tomorrow at the Republican Convention, I believe you’re doing “Amazing Grace.”
Joe: We are, indeed. It’s a real honor to be doing that. We were supposed to sing the anthem today. When today went away, we kind of thought we were going away. They invited us to sing “Amazing Grace” during the prime time tomorrow night. That’s a real honor for us. We’re going to do it a capella and it ought to be a great moment.
Mike: I can’t imagine you doing anything other than a capella.
Joe: Our shows are with a big power band behind it.
Mike: I can hear the band, but I can just imagine . . .
Joe: A capella works well for us. That’s what we’re going to do tomorrow night here. Like I say, it’s a real honor to be doing it.
Mike: Is there any way we can get a little a capella while we’re here live on Radio Row? You guys can pick the tune.
Oak Ridge Boys: [singing “Elvira”]
Joe: That’s singing early on Sirius XM. That’s singing early.
Mike: I don’t need to introduce you guys anymore. I think that serves as a wonderful introduction. Let’s talk politics here for a moment. Why the RNC? This is your fifth? You’ve entertained for Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush.
Duane: Everybody since Carter.
Duane: Not yet.
Mike: Obama, no. No invitations to the White House?
William: He hasn’t called yet.
Duane: I don’t think he’s calling, to be real honest with you.
Joe: We don’t take politics to the stage, we never have, but you’d have to live in some kind of weird cave not to know that the Oak Ridge Boys, we’re pretty much very conservative thinkers and very much a conservative group. We’re the guys you see at the state fair. We’re your Middle America boys. You see us riding out there with both Bushes on occasion. We’ve been a part of many Republican campaigns. Romney and Ryan campaign asked us to be here and that’s why we’re here.
Mike: What’s it like to meet the president, William?
William: Well, it’s always a great honor, regardless of what party it is. It’s the highest office in our country. I think that we should have that love and respect for the office, for being Americans. What we treasure most of all is being Americans. Whoever the leader is, it’s a great honor to be in their presence.
Mike: Do you think that brother Willie, maybe he didn’t get that memo? I heard that Willie Nelson was doing a little funny stuff before his first meeting at the White House.
Joe: Well, I can’t tell you that for sure. I don’t know about that.
Mike: Let’s talk about country music for just a moment here. Obviously, going all the way back to the 1930’s and ‘40s, you just have the brilliant talent that is Hank Williams. This man is a poet, is able to write things down, much like Jimmy Buffett is able to do today, is able to tell stories about Americans that people want to listen to. Country music kind of evolves here. You guys get involved in the late ‘60s or 1970’s. It’s still very country and western. There’s very little western today and a lot of what I hear that passes for country music, I don’t even want my kids listening to this. It’s quite frankly pornographic, some of it. Do you guys have any concerns for the direction of what is called country?
Duane: I think country music is still a lot cleaner than the other forms of music, with the exception of a few people that like to express themselves very poignantly. I think for the most part, country music is something you can take just about any member of your family to those shows. The Oak Ridge Boys — I don’t have an opinion too much on the people that get into the edgy things. I can speak for the Oak Ridge Boys. We pride ourselves on providing a show that we call family entertainment. You can bring your grandmother, your grandchild, your mom and dad. Any age group can come and we can all rock out together. I’m very pleased about the Oak Ridge Boys. That’s what we push. Anyone else that wants to get over the line a little bit, we’ve never made our living on getting over the line. We’re pretty much right down the middle. We stay there. If somebody wants to get over the line a little bit to get some attention, that’s the way they do their thing. We just never have really found a lot of pleasure in that. We came out of gospel music.
Mike: I was going to say, you guys were gospel to start with, right?
Duane: We all are still believers. We just don’t feel like with the foundation that we have, that some of that stuff — we’ve never really done a lot of songs about cheating or drinking, but we do sing about the pickup sometimes. We do sing about the things that happen in Middle America’s life. We sing about real things.
Mike: I asked Charlie Daniels — as I said, I had the pleasure to meet him. One of the questions I asked him was, “Charlie, you’ve been touring since the 1970’s. What’s the difference on the tour bus when you go to a little town somewhere in the middle of Kentucky or my home state of Louisiana?” I know you travel to Louisiana.
Joe: We were just there.
Mike: When you stop in Carencro or Lafayette, Louisiana, what’s the difference? 1970’s to 2012, has America changed a lot?
Duane: We were in Lake Charles, Louisiana two nights ago and it was sold out.
Mike: Mrs. Church is from Lake Charles, Louisiana.
Duane: We had some great gumbo. The place was sold out. We do the same kind of show there that we will do tomorrow night when we sing “Amazing Grace.” The show for us is putting everything we have into every song and every performance that we do. When we feel it coming back, that’s what you call communication. You work on the same thing when you put it out over the airwaves. If it comes back to you with listeners, that’s how we succeed. We judge our performance by how well the people receive it.
Mike: Are there four separate favorite songs that each one of you have as an Oak Ridge Boy? You love singing your hits, obviously. Are there four, separate, individual favorite songs?
Duane: I really like the song that we have right now. I like songs I can get my teeth into that affect emotions. I’m very passionate about that. I really won’t sing a song unless I can relate to it. We have a song right now called “I Get To.” It’s basically saying I don’t have to hang around with my dad anymore and wash his car and cut the grass because since last summer when he had a heart attack, I look forward to helping him and being with him, I get to. I like those kind of messages.
Mike: I like that, too.
William: I sang a song back in 1982, if you’re asking which — we’re talking about songs that a lot of time each one sings. I sang one called “Thank God For Kids.” After I recorded it, then I became a grandfather.
Mike: Thank God for grandkids.
William: Now I have a young son Solomon who just turned eleven.
Mike: You stay busy, William.
William: Yeah, I do.
Joe: Me? I’ve got lots of favorites. To me, every song we sings represents time and space and represents a certain time in our lives. For instance, I can remember when “Y’all Come Back Saloon” hit in 1977. I remember riding in my car and hearing us on the radio for the first time. I wanted to roll down the windows and yell at people, “Hey, man, that’s us!”
Mike: When I’m on the radio, people ask me to roll my window down so they can yell at me.
Joe: I don’t know about that, Mike. You do great work. In all honesty, I can’t really pull a favorite out. Of songs that I sing personally, there was a song that came out around ’84 called “Never Hurts to Hurt Sometimes” written by the great Randy VanWarmer. I enjoy singing that because it’s a song that has meant a lot to people from a standpoint of people who’ve lost — a lot of times the song is equated with people losing people in their lives. I enjoy singing that song.
Richard: The songs that I personally sing are not necessarily my favorites. I like some of the songs these other guys sing better than the ones I do. They both have already mentioned two songs that stand out in my mind. Joe mentioned a song written by Randy VanWarmer, “I Guess It Never Hurts to Hurt Sometimes.” The song that really has a true double meaning to it, it sounds like when you first hear it it’s talking about a guy who’s lost a girlfriend or wife or lost love affair. After talking to Randy VanWarmer, the guy that wrote the song, he actually wrote it about his father, his father passing without him ever getting a chance to say goodbye to his father. That was one of his big regrets in his life. I have a similar situation in my life. My father passed away at a very early age, so that song is very meaningful for me.
Mike: That’s almost like Garth Brooks’ “Thank God For Unanswered Prayers.” The Oak Ridge Boys are with us live on Radio Row at the RNC. Let me ask you a question about songwriters. David Allan Coe, I don’t know if you know David. His most famous song, like your “Elvira,” is “You Never Call Me By My Name.” If you’ve ever heard the original, and I’m sure you have, by Steve Goodman, it’s not a very impressive song. David made it an impressive song. He talked about it. Last time I saw David was 2006, I think. He talked about how he had written over 2000 songs. He’s very proud of that. He goes down the list of songs he’s written and you go, “I didn’t know David Allan Coe wrote all that.” Are there songwriters in Nashville today that you guys may be drawing from that are future Steve Goodmans, David Allan Coes, Mack Davises?
Joe: I would say, and Duane can answer this better because he stays in touch with the songwriters probably more than any of us. I would say there are more great songwriters gathered in Nashville right now than maybe ever before, young guys, young girls that are writing. Some of the big hits out there right now by a lot of these young kids. You’ve got to look at Taylor Swift. Is she the only one that’s writing her own career in Nashville as opposed to co-writing your own career? Most big hit songs have three or four writers. They get in little circles and write hit songs and they’re good at it.
Duane: Carrie Underwood, she’s co-writing her albums now.
Joe: Yeah, but Taylor is writing every word of every song she’s singing. You’ve got to figure she’s getting a lot of good mailbox money.
Mike: Are any of you four writers?
William: Joe writes a song that we recorded this past year. It’s called “Sacrifice for Me.” It stops the show every night. It’s a simple song that he sings and it’s a patriotic song, but it has a little feel to me of the old Bruce Springsteen album, in his early “Nebraska” album.
Joe: Very much like the “Nebraska” feel, yeah.
William: It’s the simplicity of it. He puts it out there every night and it stops the show. The people just jump up screaming.
Joe: I don’t write many songs. I’ve written a few that have done well. I’m a little more, I think, adept at writing commentaries and maybe books than I am songs. There are a few songs that I’ve written, including “Sacrifice,” thank you, William. That has done really well for us and I’m really honored to have that happen. I at least know what it’s like to have a song work. That’s not easy. I have tried writing lots of songs and come up really short on a lot. I have a whole drawer full of very mediocre songs I’ve written.
Mike: We’ve just lost one of my favorite recording acts. This again goes back to when I was again, the brothers Gibbs. We just lost two-thirds of probably the greatest, maybe in the last half century, the greatest songwriting team out there. Not only that, they were brothers, too.
Joe: Actually, if you count the younger brother who passed a while back, Andy, poor Barry has lost all his younger brothers.
Mike: They are brothers. I remember reading an interview in Rolling Stone in the 1980’s when they were really superstars, about how they had split up in the late ‘60s and had to get back to being brothers. You guys seem like you know each other. You can finish each other’s sentences. You have a brotherhood going here. Tell me a little bit about that.
Joe: I think it’s a very close brotherhood here. We’re probably closer than brothers, because brothers seem to fight more. I know some brother acts out there, some people related out there on the road and fight like mad and almost have to get on separate buses. We’re not related, but I think that even helps our brotherhood. We’re very close. Not that we see eye to eye on every single thing, but we’ve been around each other long enough to not only become, are you ready for this analogy, mighty oaks, but weeping willows. We’ve learned how to bend and weave with one another. You not only have to be a strong oak, but you must be a willow. What time is it?
William: You’ve been reading books again.
Joe: I need to write that analogy down.
Mike: Just to compliment you guys — I realize you’ve got to hit some other interviews — harmony has to be one of the most difficult musical things. It takes real skill, not only to sing it but to be able to hear, which is why the Bee Gees were so impressive to me. Give them a song and they could do it. You guys could probably, once you set your mind to doing it.
Joe: We do that, too. As was alluded to a little bit earlier, we came up in gospel music. Southern-style gospel quartet music was something we all loved at a very young age. You really learned how to sing harmony in gospel. Coming up singing gospel songs and coming up with that four-part harmony attitude thing, it’s pretty natural for us. We can just about open up a phone book and give you a four-part harmony on it.
Duane: It’s always funny to me when we work country shows. At the end of a big television show, they want a big, old gangbang with everybody coming out there. All these solo country artists come out there and they all sing lead. We start singing harmony. “Help us sing this harmony.” “No, I’m the lead singer.” We all try to get real close to the microphone so we can fill in all the parts so it sounds good. Sometimes we’ve actually gone in afterwards and put in harmony parts on these big television shows so it’s fuller.
Mike: So there’s no ego here with who gets to sing the lead, just whatever is going to sound the best?
Duane: Everybody in this group has had a number one hit, everybody. That’s just the way it is. When he sings lead, I sing under him. When he sings lead, if it’s not too high, I sing over him. When Richard sings the lead, he usually takes all the verses and we come in singing with him on the chorus. We just fall into place because we’ve worked so long together. There’s only one part left when all the other parts get their part for me. I take that one.
Joe: It’s a cool thing on stage at night. There’s times Richard may do something that just knocks that place dead and they applaud and applaud. The three of us just go, okay.
Duane: We get a part of that.
Joe: I just read a review about us not too long ago that really got off on the fact that we really do support each other singing up there. It’s a cool thing. Golden sings “Thank God For Kids” and people start standing up or “Before I Die” or something like that. Yay, Golden! It’s all of us that get it. It’s an all for one — what’s that phrase?
Mike: One for all and all for one.
Joe: Thank you very much. That’s the Three Musketeers, isn’t it?
Mike: Three Musketeers plus one.
Joe: We’re the Four Musketeers.
Mike: This has been a joy and a real treat. Thank you so much. I obviously admire your work. That’s a great life, isn’t it, knowing that you impacted millions of people? It also has a little bit of responsibility with it, too.
Joe: There’s a price for everything and a responsibility that goes with it. Do you know how cool it is to walk into a hotel and have everybody go, “Man, the Oak Ridge Boys are here.” It’s pretty cool. It never goes away.
William: We still travel about 150, 155 days a year on the road.
Mike: You got to love what you do to do that, and it shows. There’s no fluff here. Could you give us a little preview of “Amazing Grace”?
Oak Ridge Boys: [singing “Amazing Grace”]
Mike: Brings tears to my eyes, fellas, thank you. That’s the Oak Ridge Boys, no introduction needed.
End Mike Church Show Transcript