How the Oak Ridge Boys became the Grand Ole Opry Boys
Recently I spoke with Joe Bonsall about his successful journey in music, being an author, and overall a great human being. Little did we both know the day that I published his interview here on Examiner (click here to read), would be the very day that the Oak Ridge Boys would be asked to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Be sure to check out the Oak Ridge Boys, along with the Grascals, at the Kentucky State Fair on August 20th.
Joe Bonsall shared with me this piece, "The Grand Ole OPRY Boys…" It will explain from his perspective on the moment, as well as his thoughts on why the Oak Ridge Boys had not become a member of the Grand Ole Opry before.
On July 8th, upon the legendary stage of THE Grand Ole Opry, in between Y’all Come Back Saloon and Elvira, history was made. The oldest living Opry star, Little Jimmy Dickens, strode onto the stage dressed as William Lee Golden and surprised us all by announcing that The Oak Ridge Boys were to become the newest members of the prestigious sisterhood and brotherhood that IS the Grand Ole Opry! That night is now etched in music and Oaks’ history. The official induction will take place August 6th on the same stage.
We should have known something was afoot when so many friends showed up for just a quick Friday night Opry appearance. But, as usual, we were really pounding out a huge schedule, which included a ton of studio time. We were a bit tired and totally caught off guard when Dickens appeared behind us dressed in a full fake beard, cowboy hat, and dark shades.
"I have always wanted to be a little bitty Oak Ridge Boy. You don't know this, but on August 6th, I will become the newest member of the Oak Ridge Boys and you all will become the next members of the Grand Ole Opry," he announced.
As Duane Allen would say, “HOLY MOLEY!”
What an emotional night. We came offstage to confront a ton of cameras and press from newspapers and TV stations, all the while trying to process this astounding honor. The WOW factor was overwhelming, because we did NOT see this coming! It was a total surprise.
So then…it is now a week later and, as the accolades and congratulations continue to pour in from literally around the world, I have had some time to ponder and, indeed, process the honor. For seven straight days now we have received tons of Tweets and Facebook posts. Our inboxes have been chock full of texts and emails regarding the Opry, which is a testimony in and of itself to the power of this great tradition in country music.
Many friends and peers have expressed surprise that we weren’t members sooner. Many thought we WERE members, and others have lamented the “what took so long?” approach. My thoughts are that the time frame does not matter. The end result is that, out of the clear unsuspecting blue, we went to bed last week as the newest members of the Grand Ole Opry.
THIS is what matters!
In my humble opinion, or as my granddaughter might say, IMHO, there may be several reasons why the time is now and was not THEN for The Oak Ridge Boys. It is my observation that the Opry was very different in the late 70’s and early 80’s, when The Oak Ridge Boys were topping the charts and selling out coliseums. Many of the older stars back then did not seem to embrace the newer acts as much as today.
The Grand Ole Opry is bigger than it has ever been right now, and I believe that the cutting edge leadership of Colin Reed, Dave Kloeppel, Steve Buchanan, Pete Fisher, and their associates, including Gina Keltner, has everything to do with it. Maintain the tradition of the great older acts and bring in a healthy mix of the young stars, the likes of which are lifting country music to newer heights with every passing moment.
Bring Trace and Carrie and Brad and Dierks and Blake and Josh into the fold and, along with Little Jimmy Dickens, Bill Anderson, Jim Ed Brown, Jeannie Seely, and such, the Opry becomes a winning situation, making people of all ages very happy that they bought a ticket. The Opry has also expanded to Tuesdays and Fridays and has added special events, like Classic Country nights and a Bluegrass series, so Saturday night scheduling conflicts cease to be as much of an issue.
Still, as years went by and The Oak Ridge Boys continued to pound away at our blessed career, I had thought our time to join the Opry might have sadly passed us by. I always figured that, although I felt their love and respect, we had gotten lost in the passing time warps and eras—that the Opry membership boat had sailed away.
That is why tears were shed last Friday. That is why the outpouring of love and support to the Opry and to the Boys. I am not sure what the “it’s about time” thing really means, because I had no high expectations here.
I have been thrilled to know Pete Fisher as a good friend and a fellow Twitter buddy, and we have always been happy to sing a few songs upon the hallowed stage when asked. In so doing, we have ALWAYS felt a small part of the magic that IS the Grand Ole Opry. But it is different now. We can now call ourselves OPRY stars…official MEMBERS!
It is indeed one of the highest honors that might exist for a singer of songs and, to a man, we are proud and humbled. It is seriously like a bunch of friends have been asking us over for dinner for years and this time they said, “Hey BOYS pack a bag… you are moving in now… THIS is HOME!”