While this album is very cool given the fact that it is somewhat hard to find, and quite collectable, it is a very strange release. If you forget about every ORB album that came before it, and disregard every album that came after it, on it's own it's a fun and humorous listen. The Boys do justice to every song here with their wonderful harmonies. Songs such as 'Rocky Top' and 'Good Hearted Woman' aren't normally heard in four part harmony, which makes them unique here.
However, when you consider the serious gospel message that was delivered for years prior to this release, and the professional, precision, perfect four part harmony, country assault the Oak have carried out for years since this album, this quirky little live record doesn't quite fit in anywhere in the Oaks catalog.
The Boys seem to be trying to find themselves here with a mix of gospel, country and humor which make them sound more like a Vegas revue act rather than a gospel quartet or a serious country act. When one listens to the shenanigans in 'Good Hearted Woman' or 'Love Medley', it's hard to take any act seriously.
At the time of this release, fans of that day must have been terribly confused. But, as time rolled on and the Oaks established themselves as a powerhouse country machine, when one takes a trip down memory lane and listens to this album, one can fully enjoy it, knowing who the Oak Ridge Boys are today.
Outstanding Cuts: You're Still The One
Cut Outs: Love Medley, Good Hearted Woman
The Oaks stint at Columbia Records was considered a failure. Though they won several Gospel Grammys, and their first album reached the Top 40, their goal was to break into Pop music, and they were unable to get any radio airplay from any pop stations. Furthermore, the gospel stations were not serviced by Columbia, so the Oaks got little to no Gospel airplay either. The Oaks also lost their reputation with gospel bookers when they signed with pop booking agent Larry Goldblatt, and got VERY few gospel dates. Also, Goldblatt didn’t follow through with his promise to get them dates, and they were left with no pop dates either. The Oaks were literally starving.
But then, the Oaks found Jim Halsey, who promised to get them dates IF they would become a country act. The Oaks jumped at this opportunity, and under Halsey’s guidance, they began putting pop and country covers in their shows. You can hear many of those covers in this album, the 1977 Live Album.
The album was edited and mixed at the Oaks’ Rockland Road office, and Mickey Baker, who was the Oaks’ road manager, was credited as producer so he could get his career furthered. Baker, however, had no creative input on this album. This was a great album, in my opinion, because of its uniqueness. The Oaks sing many covers of pop and country songs of the era that were in their live show, many of which you wouldn’t expect them to sing. This album is a very rare and collectible album, since it wasn’t available at retail, and it was only available at Oaks concerts, to my knowledge. The album came about because they had just left Columbia, they didn’t have the ABC-Dot deal finalized yet, and they needed something to sell at their shows, since they couldn’t afford to buy the Columbia albums. They needed a secular, or at least top-of-the-fence, album to sell, since by 1977, they were no longer playing gospel dates. It MAY have had a limited distribution somehow since it qualified for a Grammy, with my guess being that a few mom and pop stores carrying it to make it qualify. The Oaks released it on their own, and called their “label” “Rockland Road Records”. This was the only album to be released with this label. The logo was done by Fred Satterfield, who would later become the Oaks’ drummer. If you want this album, you’ll probably pay top dollar for it, with people selling it in the hundreds range on eBay, Amazon, and at record collection shops.
This album starts out with a cover of the country standard, “Rocky Top”, which stayed in their show until around 1979. This cover is pretty good, I’d say a bit better than average. We then get another song that would rate better than average in my view, a cover of the Dave & Sugar song “I’m Gonna Love You”, (Dave Rowland of Dave and Sugar was in Joe Bonsall’s original gospel group, The Keystones), which is led by Duane Allen but alternates in the chorus with some lyrics led by Joe Bonsall. We then get a song I really liked, a medley of pop love songs that were done as if the Oaks originally did them, “The Love Medley”. We then get a song I liked even more, a cover of Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys’ “Faded Love”, one of the best-written country songs around. Richard Sterban leads this one, and the Oaks’ version is the best I’ve ever heard “Faded Love”. We then get a cover of Willie and Waylon’s ”Good-Hearted Woman”, led by William Lee Golden, which I felt was average, at best. Mark Ellerbee’s add-ons in the song make it hard to take seriously.
We then get a cover of Orleans’ “You’re Still the One”, which is led by Joe Bonsall, and he does a great job on it, one of the better songs on the album. We then get a band number, led by lead guitarist Skip Mitchell, and then in the second verse by Richard Sterban, in the gospel classic “Life’s Railway to Heaven”. We then get another great song on this album, a cover of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils’ “You Made It Right”, led by Joe Bonsall, which the Oaks turned into a gospel song. We then get Richard Sterban leading Elvis’ “American Trilogy”, which he sang when he was with the Stamps Quartet as J.D. Sumner’s second bass singer. Here on the live album, I felt it was about an average song, in my opinion. Finally, we have the my favorite song on the album, which won the Oaks a Grammy for Best Gospel Performance despite the album’s poor distribution, the live version of the Oaks’ gospel classic “Just a Little Talk with Jesus”. I’d give this track a four-star rating, something I liked better than anything on the Columbia albums. This rocked-out version of this gospel classic was just excellent!
The Oaks also had some other covers in their show that were not included on this album, such as a cover of Olivia Newton-John’s “Let Me Be There” (which was led by Joe, and you can hear it on the 1975 Sweden concert, which I posted on YouTube), and the Eagles’ “Take It Easy” (which was led by Oaks Band pianist Garland Craft).
When this album came out, the Oaks were in between labels. They had just left Columbia, and were about to sign with ABC-Dot Records, where they would end up making the biggest records of their career. Jim Fogelsong saw a show of the Oaks’, and wondered why they weren’t having hit records. Their next album, “Y’all Come Back Saloon”, would spawn singles that became their first radio airplay and singles chart successes.
My Favorite Tracks: Love Medley, Faded Love, You’re Still the One, You Made It Right, Just a Little Talk with Jesus (my favorite of these)
Tracks I Didn’t Care for Much: There really weren’t any tracks that I can say that I really didn’t like. This album wasn’t one of my favorites ever, but it was good enough to where there were no songs that I honestly didn’t like.
---John Vairin (email@example.com)
1975-76 was an interesting couple of years for The Oak Ridge Boys. Trying to find more mainstream success after being basically shunned by the gospel music establishment, the group was literally grasping at ANYTHING that might translate into success. Gospel, country, pop, folk....whatever might grab the public's interest was tried. No where is this more evident than on their independent "Live" album, released just before "Y'all Come Back Saloon." This album is a prime example of how the Oaks were willing to try whatever they had to.
The show kicks off with "Rocky Top," sung and played in a brisk double time tempo, with Duane and Golden getting a solo verse on this country and bluegrass standard, before slowing down into a cover of Dave & Sugar's "I'm Gonna Love You," which gives Joe some features on the verses. The big difference between this album as "Boys Night Out" is the inclusion of the emcee work and chatter between (and sometimes during) songs. It really makes the album feel like a continuous concert.
It's also helpful in explaining what they are doing with some of the songs in the show. Duane explains, for example, that the "Love Medley" included here is a collection of hit pop songs if they'd had first shot at them. The arrangements (as well as the assembly of the medley) is very well done and creative, especially the transition between "How Sweet It Is" and "You Are So Beautiful."
Richard gets a lead with "Faded Love," which was introduced specifically for that purpose. Skip Mitchell, who had just joined the band at this point, gets a great guitar solo here, as well. Golden gets to let loose a bit with "Good Hearted Woman," which featured "backing vocals" from drummer Mark Ellerbee (though not as you would expect).
"You're Still The One" is a cover of the Orleans pop/rock hit, and really showcases Joe's tenor vocals. I wish they would've recut this song around the time of "Have Arrived," as it would've fit very well. Joe also shines on an interesting cover of the Ozark Mountain Daredevil's "You Made It Right," which is given a less folky and more gospel-oriented arrangement.
Speaking of gospel, they also include two well-known gospel favorites on this album. "Life's Railway To Heaven" features Skip Mitchell on the first verse, with Richard taking the second. The rest of the song is identical to the acapella rendition vocally, with a smooth rhythm guitar-backed music track. "Just A Little Talk With Jesus" closes the show with the classic arrangement that the Oaks have used for the past several decades. Despite being on an independent table released with limited distribution, this song still won the Grammy in 1977 for Best Gospel Performance (the same year that "Y'all Come Back Saloon" was nominated).
A highlight of the album is when Joe describes their (at the time) recent trip to the Soviet Union, and their love and appreciation for the United States, which leads into "An American Trilogy." Richard's connection to this song is quite well-known, as he sang backing vocals on the famous live version recorded by Elvis at Madison Square Garden. This version features Richard on the verses of Dixie, but the arrangement, lacking Elvis' orchestra, makes up the difference by tweaking the arrangement to fit the four-piece band. And it actually comes across more solid than Elvis' version.
This is probably one of the more unique albums in the Oaks' catalog, as it includes none of their gospel or country hits, and represents a time just before their breakthrough as country stars. It's a very specific time capsule with a specific agenda - to represent what they were doing in their shows at that time, and if you ever come across a copy on vinyl, be sure to grab it, as it's quite hard to come by and often sells for quite a bit of money online.