Classic CD Review: The Arrival Of American Icons

  The Oak Ridge Boys Have Arrived was released March 30, 1979 by MCA Records, and was produced by Ron Chancey.

 

When the Oak Ridge Boys ventured into the mainstream country genre, they were well established as a gospel group with roots tracing back to the 1940s. The most famous lineup of William Lee Golden, Duane Allen, Joe Bonsall, and Richard Sterban had two albums that had hit singles on the country charts by 1979. With the debut at the Y’All Come Back Saloon, and ordering Room Service, the band announced that with their third record that The Oak Ridge Boys Have Arrived. Released on March 30, 1979, the group ‘s release spawned three hit singles, along with a concert favorite.

The opener, “Sail Away” is one of my favorites of the hits that the group has put out. Sometimes the artist’s hits become redundant and overplayed, but I never grow tired of this song. Duane Allen’s soft, soul voice gives heart to the wonderful lyrics. The guitar fills throughout the song compliments the softness of the song. Another favorite part of the song is how the drum fills kick in before the last verse as well, also bringing in the tambourine to the song, before kicking into a more mid tempo beat until fade out.

“There Must be Something About Me That She Loves” brings William Lee Golden to the lead mike on this straight country song. The band was still in their early stages of their country career , so keeping the traditional style of country music is relevant here by the early 1980s. Richard Sterban’s bass vocals comes to help out in the chorus, which adds a nice sound to the song. I did not have this release on record, only getting it a year or so ago when I discovered the CD at a used store, so this song is a pleasant surprise listen for me in 2019.

“Sometimes The Rain Won’t Let Me Sleep” lets Allen takes the lead again. I have always said that he is one of the most underrated vocalists in all music, especially on ballads. Allen brings passion to every word, which may only be rivaled with Barry Manilow in my opinion. A solid ballad, that could have been placed on the AC charts for the time. The early Oaks records (especially up until 1983) has great orchestration on the tracks, especially with the strings, which Kenny Rogers also brought to his records. This is a great song, under 4 minutes long. No fillers on this song, and has a great run time.

After the first three songs showing a softer side to the band, “I Gotta Get Over This” gets the record to a moving beat. Even though Allen is signing lead, Sterban again adds to the song. The drumming on the song by Kenneth Buttrey (as credited by my re-released CD where no major liner notes are featured) brings an added touch to the song. being a drummer, one can appreciated the playing on this song, where the added playing is not too much that distracts the song.

“My Radio Sure Sounds Good To Me” has a catchy intro vocally to the song. The song has the 1960s Doo Wop feel to the song, which is not surprising since Bonsall and Sterban had links to that era (Bonsall being from Philadelphia and Sterban sang with Elvis Presley). This song is just a great sing-a-long gem that dares the listener NOT to try and sing along (let me tell you, if you can listen to is without singing, you are a brave person and have unlimited willpower). This would be a great addition to their live shows.

Another reason for the pop feel is the song was written by Larry Graham of Grand Station. Even though the Larry Graham version is awesome, I have to say I jammed more to The Oak’s version, which is a testament to their talents. There are several covers that The Oaks have recorded throughout the years that have been better than the original (a song called “Elvira” comes to mind), and this is one of the them, taking nothing away from the originals.

Speaking of covers, the next song, “Dream On,” which was once recorded by The Righteous Brothers, was a country hit for the group, and just barely missed the Top 40 singles charts on Billboard AC charts. This song is probably the most famous Sterban sings lead on, and is still performed at their live shows today. I was first exposed to the song on the Greatest Hits record I got as a Christmas present, along with my first drum set from my parents, and seeing it performed on the group’s 1981 concert that aired on my local PBS station from Akron, Ohio. I remember even as a young child that the Oaks was one of the only singing groups ( I was not aware of The Statler Brothers at this age) that had a bass singer singing a lead part.

Another cover, written by Rodney Crowell, follows. “Leaving Louisiana In The Broad Daylight” was another song I was first exposed to via the Greatest Hits record and the PBS special. It then came to my attention on the television show “The Dukes Of Hazzard,” which the band appeared on. I was a big fan of the show, so having one of my favorite bands on the show was a treat for me (also John Schneider’s debut record was a major part of my childhood) The song, for me, had to be retired for a few years, due to overplaying it, but I have grown to re love the song in the past few years, seeing it live at their shows.

“Every Now And Then” is a country ballad that , if there is a filler on the song, this would be it for me. Taking nothing away from Allen’s strong vocals, especially hitting the higher note at the end of the song, the lyrics for me don’t move me as some of the other Oaks classic ballads. The orchestration helps the song give its power, and with the short run time, the song does not distract from the overall flow of the album; the listener does not have to get up to skip the song, because it is still an overall enjoyable song, but compared to the others on the album, it falls a little. I’m sure if the group performed it live, I would not be bummed or disappointed, due to how strong the musicians and the group is live.

“Dig A Little Deeper In The Well” may be known by fans of the group by it’s humorous video that was released on CBS that has made its appearance on Youtube. The video shows that the group did not take themselves so seriously that they could not have fun at times. I remember a manager of mine, when I worked at a grocery store, always loved this song off the album, and would sometimes sing it while we worked. I was only exposed to it on the PBS special, until I finally got a hold of the CD. It’s a old fashioned gospel song that gets people to feel good while listening with positive lyrics.

The album ends with one of my favorite songs in the whole catalog of the group, in fact I was going nuts when the band actually played it at a show I attended where I made many not so many requests via Twitter. “Dancing The Night Away” is the song that got me to search out this album. The song has been recorded by acts like Leo Sayer , Tanya Tucker, and the Amazing Rhythm Aces. The song was mentioned many times in Joe Bonsall’s writings as a favorite of fans, and I fell in love with the song. Once again, this is an example of the Oaks having a better version than the other acts who recorded it. The song is a strong ender for the album, starting off with the piano intro, and then by the end of the song, the song kicks up to a nice climax. The album started with a song about sailing, and ends with a guy staring across the shore. The band’s energy when I saw them perform it live, was almost became a hard rock song (my review of the concert can be found in the archives). If you see videos of the band doing the song, you’ll see how great a front man Bonsall is, and how he works a crowd. The song has a different take of a man looking back on a relationship.

With the exception of one possible song, The Oak Ridge Boys’ third record was filled with songs that was pleasing to everyone; it had country, gospel, and ballads. The format is still there listening to the released decades later. The band’s Ron Chancey produced releases covered all types of musical formats, and a few years later, the band would break into the pop music world , adding another dimension to their product. Sometimes earlier work of acts may have lesser quality songs, but this is not the case of The Oaks. The group still keeps growing musically, along with staying true to their pasts. If you get the chance, seek out this record which help develop the band into the country megastars, and American treasures, that they have become forty years later.

 

The Oak Ridge Boys are: Duane Allen, Joe Bonsall, Richard Sterban, and William Lee Golden.

 

For information on the group, visit: http://www.theoakridgeboys.com

Classic Album Review: Fancy Free Flashback

 

Art Direction : George Osaki, Design: David Hogan, Photos: Jimmy Moore. Fancy Free was released on March 26, 1981 by MCA Records. The album charted #1 on the U.S. Country Albums chart, #14 on the U.S. Billboard 200 Albums Chart. According to Wikipedia, it is listed as one of the first albums to ever reach multi-platinum certification in the U.S, and was produced by Ron Chancey.

 

One of the things that makes music wonderful (at least when I was younger) is that a great song or album can bring back memories. A listener can hear a song years later, and they can remember details from the first time they heard the songs-where they were the first time they heard the song (s), standing in line at the record store to purchase the album, or even who the songs made them think of a person or place from their past when they heard it.

Fancy Free, by The Oak Ridge Boys is such a record for me. I first discovered the singing group around 1980, when I received their Greatest Hits album, along with my first drum set, from my parents as a Christmas gift. From then on, I practiced playing songs from their albums, watched them on television every time I could (including many times seeing the PBS concert), and was a member of their fan club (back when that stuff was free). To this day, Fancy Free is my all time favorite release from the band, which was released on March 26, 1981. The album’s cover, with the group sitting in a car with a bright pink background(according to the liner notes of the album, a 1929 Dusenberg Dual Cowl Phaeton),  is one of the memorable covers in that genre. I can easily remember classic album covers in rock music from my youth, like the first Kiss record and Billy Joel’s An Innocent Man, but country music’s album covers were not always as creative (usually just a picture of the act), but two that really stick out in my memory is John Schneider’s Now Or Never, and this release by The Oaks.

Everyone (even those who are not fans of the group) knows the famous “Elvira,” which kicks off the album. At one time, I was tired of the song, but after seeing the band live the last several years, it has grown back on me. Seeing thousands of fans singing along with Richard Sterban’s bass line is something to witness live in person. The song became a #1 hit on the country charts for the group (the Dallas Frazier penned song was previous recorded by other acts like Kenny Rogers and Rodney Crowell), along with crossing over to the pop charts , hitting at #5 (and the U.S. AC charts at # 8).

“Somewhere In The Night” is a wonderful ballad, lead by Duane Allen, and features the staple harmonies of the rest of the group. Sawyer Brown recorded a version of the song, but it lacks the powerful vocals and orchestration that The Oak’s version displays. The version on this release would have fit perfectly on the AC charts during this time.

“She’s Gone To L.A. Again” starts with the group’s vocal harmonies. The song’s lyrics is a perfect fit for the year of the release, where people in the 1980s had dreams of going to California to either be in a music band or an actor. Allen sings lead on the track, where his woman breaks up the relationship to follow her dreams. The guitars and piano playing on the track help complete the song. The country/pop flavor of the track is a wonderful precursor to songs that hit the radio years later with similar themes, such as the 1985 hit “Meet Me In Montana” by Marie Osmond and Dan Seals. The Oaks were ahead of the times on this song.

“When I’m With You” spotlights Richard Sterban on lead vocals. Many of the Oaks state “Dream On” is their favorite of Sterban’s lead songs, but this one is my favorite, due to the backing harmonies, guitar playing, and orchestration brings an Adult Contemporary genre to it. This is one songs by the band that gets overlooked. This is a romantic gem.

“Another Dream Just Came True” brings the record back on an up tempo feel. Even though some of the songs on the release could have been on the pop or adult charts, this song is a good plain country track. Even though Allen sings lead on the song, you can hear all the members in the mix, especially Joe Bonsall hitting some higher notes in the harmonies. Each track on the album is short, which makes the listening even more wonderful, because there are no extra tracks or fillers on the album. This song gets you singing along, and then its over. This song makes the listener want more of the catchy melody.

“I’m Sittin’ Fancy Free” is another song that catapulted the band into the next level of popularity. Another #1 country hit that crossed over to several charts, and is a staple to the group’s live set in concert, is a wonderful ballad. This track, like many other of the Oak’s ballads, displays Allen’s soulful lead, which is perfect on ballads, with the rest of the group complimenting him with their harmonies. This song is one of the greatest country ballads ever in my opinion.

“Dream Of Me” goes back to the country flavor with the legendary William Lee Golden singing lead. The song has strong acoustic guitars throughout the song. I have grown to respect the talents of Golden more and more the past several years (and those that have seen the band live will agree). The catchy chorus makes it hard not to sing along, and as mentioned before , is not overburden with extras on the track, where just when the listener is singing along, the song fades out. Many times albums have fillers on it, but this song is not a filler, even though it was not a hit for The Oaks, it was a hit for Vern Gosdin.

“When Love Calls You” is a wonderful song, which I have mentioned on my blog page as one of my favorite rare songs from the Oaks that doesn’t not get attention. This ballad has positive lyrics to it, where Allen sings about even though a relationship didn’t work out, love will call his name again will work out someday. The guitar work, along with the backing orchestration fills out the song. I always wondered how Barry Manilow would interpret this song, because he is the only other person that could capture the heart of the song besides Allen. I always wanted to ask the members of the Oaks how they decided who sang lead on the songs, because on this album , every pick was straight on in determining who sang lead.

“How Long Has It Been” gets the listener back to an up tempo feel for the latter part of the album. The song has great dynamics, with a softer feel during the lyrics, and then kicks up during the chorus. The guitar solo on the song has a great 1980s feel to it, almost similar to the pop songs early in the decade (like Joey Scarbury’s work, who later in the 1990s, gave the Oaks a #1 hit). The guitar work ends the song into the fade out, which gives the listener more of the wonderful work that started in the middle.

One of the wonderful aspects of The Oak Ridge Boys is how they kept true to their past history of their gospel roots, and the album ends with this theme with “I Would Crawl All The Way (To The River),” another song I mentioned on a blog from 2016, as a rare song from the band that is very underrated. Sometimes artists try and end a record on a slow note, which very few can achieve. I personally like the idea of having the last song leave the listener begging for more, and this record does just that, with the group taking the listener back to the southern gospel church setting.

The song starts off with a soft acoustic sound, but by the end , kicks out in full force. Even though the follower of the band know who the song is speaking of, but nowhere in the song does the name Jesus get mentioned, and looking back at the success of the album now, it is remarkable that this perfect album gets a religious song put on the end of the record that is filled with pop, country , and rock songs on it. It shows that the group still took a chance on their traditional gospel when they were looking to branch out into other genres. The drum shuffle towards the end of the song is featured before kicking the end of the track in.

Fancy Free was the album that truly soared the band into another level of their musical plateau. The band has taken many chances in the career; from breaking out from the traditional gospel scene to go country, and then branching out again with this release, which gave the group more pop fans on top of the country fans that already knew the band. There are not many albums that I consider prefect, with every track being enjoyable without extra fillers or extended solos on the records. One of my other writings on my page was about albums that you can not skip any tracks on the release, and Fancy Free made my list of albums in ANY genre, not just country.

Fancy Free is filled with great songs, wonderful memories (This is one album that made me study and learn harmonies , which helped out in certain bands I played in as a drummer years later). Even though I was heavily into the top pop songs of the era, I never once strayed from the Oak Ridge Boys, especially this wonderful classic that should be a part of every single music lovers collection, regardless of the genre.

 

The Oak Ridge Boys are :

Duane Allen, Richard Sterban. Joe Bonsall, and William Lee Golden.

 

For info on the group, visit : http://www.oakridgeboys.com

 

 

Classic Book Review: One Book and Two Horror Icons

Cover: Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi in the 1934 film The Black Cat

One of my favorite eras in movie history is during the 1930s-1950s, especially with the Universal films. Most of the films were under 90 minutes and had suspense to the horror genre, as opposed to the slasher/gore from the 1970s to current films (although I like a good slasher now and then).

Two of the major actors of the time were Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, whose careers are captured in the book Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff: The Expanded Story of a Haunting Collaboration (McFarland, 2009) by Gregory William Mank. The book is a whopping 600 page plus account of the two actors, along with the films that the two worked on together.

This work first covers some of the actors’ early work on stage and film before making it big on the screen via the Universal monster films that made them famous. After Lugosi performed on the stage as Dracula, he was cast to be on the film adaptation, which made him a horror icon. Lugosi’s career and personal life is covered, with interviews from those close to him, detailing his lack of getting major roles after the Dracula film, and his distaste for Karloff personally. The many myths are discussed about how Lugosi claimed he discovered Karloff , along with his critiques of “giving up” the role of the Frankenstein Monster , because Lugosi was a “serious” actor, and not one that would grunt and moan throughout the film. Also interesting is how the book dives into the stereotype of Lugosi via the 1994 film Ed Wood, and the story that Lugosi claimed Karloff was trying to get him in the later days of Lugosi’s life.

Mank’s writing covers Karloff’s rise to fame, and how Karloff seemed to view Lugosi’s career and attitude with more grace (especially in the press) than how Lugosi looked at Boris. The author covers the hatred that Lugosi had towards Karloff, and also critiques the films that the two made together and separately, focusing on who was the better actor in the films.

The book is a lengthy text book history of the two actors, along with some great background information taken from interviews from the actors and close friends and wives to press releases from the studios. Books like these show interesting facts, such as how Karloff was to originally play in The Invisible Man , but due to money issues, he walked out of the Universal contract that he was to finish, Karloff collapsing on set during The Mummy, and the behind the scenes treatment he received by James Whale filming Frankenstein.

Mank seems to side with Lugosi throughout the book , thinking Lugosi got a raw deal in Hollywood when it came to getting film parts after Dracula. He also is somewhat unkind to Karloff’s acting in his films, along with some of the other Universal stars like Lon Chaney Jr. There are also a lot of “What If’s ” in the story, such as “what if Bela was available instead of acting on stage for this role” which brings thought to the book, as opposed to a typical history of the film and actors. However, towards the end of the book, the author brings the story back around to “who is the better ” of the two. While the author praises the work of Lugosi throughout the book, the end is that he states Karloff was superior because “of the striking eccentricity in his finest performance.” He also states that Lugosi has more watch able films , even during his worst ones, compared to Karloff’s worst ones.

The author is certainly entitled to his opinion (it is his book), but this statement made this reviewer stop and say “Huh?” Most of the book, he praises Bela and then states towards the end that Karloff would be considered the more superior. Personally, I think Karloff showed his superiority due to the number of characters he became (The Mummy, Frankenstein, The Grinch, and Mr. Wong to name a few), as opposed to Bela’s (Dracula, Murder Legendre in White Zombie). I personally enjoy the other Karloff films, and the statements on Lon Chaney Jr. as somewhat laughable.

Regardless on which actor you prefer, the author fills the book with great tales, wonderful interviews, and photographs that make this book a great text for horror film collectors.

 

Review copy of this title was sent courtesy of McFarland.

For information on the author, visit: http://www.gregorymank.com/

The Overall:

Pages: 701

Language: Mild

Average Audience: Any

Geared For: Classic Film, Classic Horror Fans, Textbook Historians.

 

Bela Lugosi And Boris Karloff: The Expanded Story of a Haunting Collaboration by Gregory William Mank (McFarland, 2009 ISBN: 978-1-4766-7234-2) can be found at http://www.mcfarlandpub.com or call the order number at : 800-253-2187

Book Review: Author’s Take On Prayer Will Help Readers

Cover design by Faceout Studio, Jeff Miller. Cover imagery by Shutterstock.

 

Adam Dressler’s book this is how we pray: Discovering a Life of Intimate Friendship with God ( FaithWords, 2019) helps Christian Living readers in looking at the sometimes confusing world of prayer. Dressler answers questions and takes an everyday approach to the topic where some Christians get caught up in, and sometimes, due to leadership ideals, becomes hard when it comes to applying it to their own lives.

The book defines the word prayer in basic terms as “a friendship with God.” Each chapter walks through some of the ways a person can use prayer in their everyday lives. Does someone have to pray at length or under twenty minutes? What does someone do when they don’t know what do pray about? Is prayer just asking for things? What if the person is upset with God, and finds it hard to pray at that time? These topics are covered throughout the book (with the author’s personal experiences in covering these obstacles) along with providing Biblical text to back up his views.

Some of the chapters deal with praying with gratitude, how to deal with everyday distractions, what to do when the person praying feels like their prayers are not being answered, and being silent during prayer time.

One of the more entertaining parts in the text is the chapter titled “Others,” where Dressler tells about all of the stereotypical opinions that were given to him when he first became a Christian, which brings a humorous side to the book. Anyone who first becomes a Christian (or those looking back at the time when they did), can understand this chapter and the viewpoints, such as when they were told they had to read or pray for a certain amount of time, and getting up early at 5 A.M. to study (even if the person is not a morning person). A story about a friend of his who had a worn out Bible, stating that all Bibles should look like this, hit home here (especially since I don’t like when people write in their books, and as expensive as Bibles are, I’d always took care of mine-not let it get all worn with pages falling out).

The writing brings a more down to earth approach to the topic, as opposed to some books that seem to go over the heads of readers. This book can be geared for Christians on any level, not just beginners or only to experts. There are points that can be applied to anyone. Dressler’s writings does not come off as someone who is a pastor (although he is), and his admittance of failures in certain aspects are comforting. He is not a know it all writer. A few of the chapters, towards the middle, tend to drag a little for my taste, but the book is an easy read overall, where Christians can take away some relief if they feel their payer life is not prefect or up to what others may seem is the standard.

 

This review copy was sent courtesy of the publisher.

 

this is how we pray: Discovering a Life of Intimate Friendship with God by Adam Dressler (FaithWords, 2019 ISBN: 978-1-5460-3504-6 hardcover, 978-1-5460-3503-9 ebook) can be found at http://www.faithwords.com

 

FaithWords is a division of the Hachette Book Group.

 

The Overall

Pages: 240

Language: None

Geared For: Young Teens and up

For Fans Of: Christian Living, Christianity

Classic Book Review: Oaks Member Gives An American Treat

 

Cover by Janell Robertson, Green Forest, AR. Cover photo: David Johnson.

 

Trivia Question: What American music act has their history traced back to the 1940s and is still going strong in 2019?

If you answered The Oak Ridge Boys, you win bragging rights (because there is no prize, sorry). The most well known version of the band began in the 1970s, and one of the members, Joseph S. Bonsall, recounts some stories of the group in his book An American Journey (New Leaf Press, 2004).

Bonsall’s writing, which is filled with superb photographs along with the entertaining stories all on glossy pages, has a style of humor, class, and respect among the words. Bonsall shows the respect he has for not only the current members of his group, but also the past members who came before them in order to set the groundwork for the bigger success that the lineup he is a part of achieved.

The book starts out with a history of how the original members of the Georgia Clodhoppers used to perform for local audiences in the Oak Ridge area during wartime in the 1940s, which led the band to eventually change its name to The Oak Ridge Quartet in the 1950s, and then again to calling the group The Oak Ridge Boys. The author details how singer William Lee Golden was the first of the most well known team to join the group, then Duane Allen and Richard Sterban (who sang with Elvis Presley), and finally Bonsall joining in 1973. One of the interesting parts of this section of the book is how Bonsall describes how each of the members, especially he and Sterban, were fans of the Oaks before they were members (those two actually sang in groups before Sterban joined a backing group for Elvis). Unlike some musical groups that try and ignore their past history and members, this book does not, and shows respect for those that built the foundation to the ongoing group.

Because of the respect the singers had to their past, which is also similar to Sterban’s own book (which you can find a review of here in the archives), Bonsall writes a chapter about when Golden left the band , which brought in the backing band’s guitar player Steve Sanders to take his place in 1987. Being a fan of this lineup (although I was listening to more pop and hard rock at the time), the work of Sanders was enjoyable under the circumstances (it’s hard to replace a well known member of a band). The group had several top country hits during this time, but the author’s emotional take on the book caught me by surprise. Most of the book is up tempo, discussing topics like, how what each member’s role in the group is, from handling interviews to the day to day business side of the company, but when Bonsall covers the time with Sanders with the band, he does it with respect, along with admitting fault in handling Golden’s departure. The return of Golden is discussed in this section, which is also emotional when reading the pages. A few other heart filled stories, although not intended by the author since it was written in 2004, is his stories about the band’s relationship with Roy Clark and President George H. W. Bush, who both passed away late last year. For those that follow the band will know the relationship the Bushes had with the Oaks, and reading it again years after the release of this volume is more powerful in reading Bonsall’s phrasings (with Roy Clark, the story the writer tells about traveling with him to the Soviet Union in 1976 and visiting what used to be death camps will definitely pull emotions from the reader).

An American Journey is not just a picture book, which I originally thought years ago when I first saw it in bookstores, although the reader will marvel at the great photographs included, but the text is filled with humorous on the road stories, like when Golden and the band was preparing for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade in 1978, another time when someone tried to steal their stage outfits, to stories on how the band views their role in music; from their faith and being patriots for their country, to the respect that each member has for each person’s roles are on and off the stage. The book also covers a section on how the people, including the backing band and managers who are behind the scenes, run the ship that is the Oak Ridge Boys business. The book does not go through the band’s timeline, with the author writing about what he wants to discuss- this is not a basic year by year biography, which also shows its uniqueness.

Rarely can an author put America pride, humor, religion, and emotion all in a 143 page book with photographs on every page that capture the writing, but Bonsall succeeds in this attempt with flying colors (I read the whole book in two days, and spent much time marveling at the photographs from the band’s past). Bonsall has a wit about his writings that could make him the country music’s version of Will Rogers. Journey is a perfect example of not judging a book by its cover; this is more than a normal picture book, filled with even stories that I was not familiar with , and I have followed the band for decades. This is a must for fans of the classic country music style, or if you are looking for something that is a great all around entertaining read that will not waste your time.

 

An American Journey by Joseph S. Bonsall (New Leaf Press, 2004 ISBN: 0-89221-601-8) can be found at Amazon.com

 

For all information about The Oak Ridge Boys, visit http://www.oakridgeboys.com

 

The Overall

Pages: 143

Language: None

Geared For: All Ages

For Fans Of: Country Music History, The Oak Ridge Boys,