In this column, we’ll talk to The Oak Ridge Boys’ Joe Bonsall on the premier of their new single and other cool stuff!
The Oak Ridge Boys, one of America’s favorite Country and Gospel bands, have been together for 50 years—with roots that stretch back to the 1940s. They’ve won Grammy, Dove, CMA and ACM Hall of Fame awards and are members of the Grand Ol’ Opry.
The Oak Ridge Boys have earned 12 gold, three platinum, and one double platinum album—plus one double platinum single—and had more than a dozen national Number One singles and over 30 Top Ten hits.
On Friday, May 21, they released their next single, Swing Down Chariot, from their upcoming album "Front Porch Singin.’"
Tenor Joe Bonsall has been with the band since 1973, singing lead on such smash hits as Elvira – which just celebrated the 40th anniversary of its release – Love Song and Peterbilt Sleigh. He is also an accomplished banjo player, songwriter, poet and author.
We interviewed Mr. Bonsall by telephone on the occasion of his 73rd birthday, while The Oak Ridge Boys’ lead singer, Duane Allen, kept trying to call him on all of his phone lines.
TF: “Front Porch Singin’” is a name that hearkens back to the roots of country music, in places like Virginia’s Crooked Road, Eastern Kentucky, Nashville, made even more popular in modern times during the pandemic. Tell me how that environment changes your performance, are there different acoustics?
JB: We had been off the road for six-months during the pandemic. We wanted to be back. An idea came to us from our Christmas tours, where there’s a part where we sit on rocking chairs, tell stories and sing songs. We’ve done everything, so we wanted to do that, the relaxed attitude of the front porch, with the harmony out front and very sparse instrumentation. Very homey, down-South. We went to the studio in August, we even social distanced at the studio! It drew us close, to be together, to be positive. I’d say we inadvertently recorded the perfect album for these times!
TF: How did a Philly boy get exposed to Southern Gospel music?
JB: I was very fortunate that there were great Christian kids in my neighborhood. I was trying to be a hoodlum. One of them had a Buick convertible and invited me to a show with the Blackwood Brothers and The Couriers – they brought Southern Gospel to the North. Meeting The Couriers was so cool, we are still friends to this day, though one of them has passed away.
TF: In your opinion, how has the country music industry changed over the years?
JB: I just wanna hear a good song, I don’t care who sings it. In the late 80s, people thought we were too pop when were touring with Kenny Rogers.
TF: How has your inspiration changed over the years?
JB: I just turned 73 today. My inspiration never changes, it is first, faith of my Savior, Jesus Christ. My middle name has become “of the”! As in, Joe Bonsall, “Of The Oak Ridge Boys”. Everybody is still singing good! On another note, have you heard Tom Jones lately? He still sings awesome.
TF: Do you work on taking good care of your health?
JB: It is imperative to do that, Tamar. Getting a good night’s sleep, getting up in the morning and taking a long walk. Eat better than you used to, though some of us are better at it than others. I try. It’s important as you get older. I wanna get out there and sing!
TF: How did you first realize that you had what it takes to be a successful author, on top of everything?
JB: I wrote some when I was a kid. I got a new Mac Book in the 90s. I missed my kitten, it ended up being a four-book series. I am writing a book that takes a unique look at the Oak Ridge Boys and myself, called, I See Myself. It’s an extra blessing for me!
TF: G. I. Joe and Lillie: Remembering a Life of Love and Loyalty, is a biography of your parents. Tell me something about them that people would find surprising.
JB: I wrote that book in the third person to look down at it, as a writer. I was able to see my parents as young people. My mother left some memoirs. I was able to “see” my father at 19 running away from home, also, my mom, running away from the farm, going to Baltimore, then Detroit as a “Rosie the Riveter”.
My father had a disabling stroke at the age of 39. He was disabled most of his life, he died when he was 75. I turned 73 today.
TF: Did having Oak Ridge Boys money help out with that?
JB: Certainly! We’re all good to our parents. But my mom really was the one who took care of him. You’re with Newsmax. I really like Newsmax! Give my best to Grant Stinchfield, I’ve been on his show.
TF: What music do you listen to when you’re relaxing?
JB: I like a good song. I have eclectic taste. As I said, I like the new Tom Jones album. [ringing] Oh, that’s Duane Allen calling on the farm phone. I like light opera, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Segar – real rock and roll – do wop, a cappella groups. We (his old band) used to sing in the subway in Philadelphia. I like Miranda Lambert, Eric Church, Brothers Osborne.
TF: Tell me about the charities you’re involved with.
JB: My wife and I have a foundation, it’s self-directed. We work for children’s literacy and anything to do with cats.
Tamar Alexia Fleishman was the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's youngest female solo violinist. A world-traveler, Fleishman provides readers with international flavor and culture. She's debated Bill Maher, Greta Van Susteren and Dr. Phil. Fleishman practices law in Maryland with a J.D. from the University of Baltimore, a B.A. in Political Science from Goucher College. Read Tamar Alexia Fleishman's Reports — More Here.
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