Album ReviewsOLD FASHIONED, DOWN HOME, HAND CLAPPIN', FOOT STOMPIN', SOUTHERN STYLE, GOSPEL QUARTET MUSIC
When you pick up this new Oak Ridge Boys album in your local record store, you immediately notice two things. 1) That is a nice, fancy new logo, and 2) Who in God's name came up with this album title...possibly the longest album title in music history???
But, to be honest, who cares what the title is, this is a fantastic record! We have great songs here, great voices, and the mix is the best the Oaks have had since they've been with Columbia. All four voices can be distinctly heard, and that just adds to the whole joyous experience.
Duane Allen shines in the album opener "Lord I've Been Ready For Years" and "Jesus Knows Who I Am". Joe Bonsall really shines on the tear jerking, heartfelt, seemingly personal account of "Jesus Was There". Richard Sterban shows off his amazing bass voice on "The Same Old Fashioned Way". And Bill Golden, steals the show with the fantastic single "Where The Soul Never Dies". He also contributes the excellent "It's Been Done".
The final song of the album, "The Last Train To Glory" is sung by drummer Mark Ellerbee. His vocals aside, this song does nothing to compliment this album, and really should have been left off in lieu of a better song.
Old Fashioned...Quartet Music is truly a step in the right direction for the Oaks and Columbia Records. A very fine record, indeed.
The Oaks tried with their first two Columbia albums to make it in pop and get their music listened to by a bigger audience, however, the Oaks basically failed at that, as most pop and country radio stations, as well as Columbia, still looked at them as “just” a gospel group. Not looking to give up yet, the Oaks decided to go back to capitalizing on their lost gospel market and to come out with a gospel album titled “Old Fashioned, Down Home, Hand Clappin’, Foot Stompin’, Southern Style, Gospel Quartet Music, which, as Ed says, may be the longest title in music history, lol.
Duane Allen of the Oaks produced this album at his Superior Sound Studio, and this became the last album for 39 years that would feature the Oaks’ band on it,. Also, Skip Mitchell, who would become the Oaks’ lead guitarist soon after this, was the engineer on the album. The Oaks would also bring in some special guests for this album, which I will get to in a bit. This album also marked the first appearance of the Oaks’ famous logo on the cover, which was designed by Gary Huerta, who also designed Chicago’s logo. Joe calls this logo “the only good thing the Oaks got from Columbia”. This album, however, was my least favorite of the Columbia albums.
This album starts with an old school quartet song which fits well on this album, “Lord I’ve Been Ready for Years”. However, this song doesn’t appeal to me at all. It may be the fact that I’m just not really into gospel. The next song is a song that features Johnny Cash, one of the guests on the album, with the Oaks backing him, “No Earthly Good”. I liked this song a little better than average, which the reason I liked it some may have been Cash’s presence. The next song is a song I liked about average, but not as much as “No Earthly Good, since it was a bit catchy, “Jesus Knows Who I Am”, which was written by Oaks pianist Garland Craft. Next, we get a gospel lower-tempo song featuring the bass voice of Richard Sterban, which was written by Donnie Sumner, titled “The Old-Fashioned Way”, which was also about an average song for me. Then we get an old-time gospel quartet barbershop number which just bored me to tears unfortunately, titled “I’m Winging My Way Back Home”. Though it bored me, however, many critics looked at it as excellent.
We then get a great gospel classic which won the Oaks a Grammy for “Best Gospel Performance” which features William Lee Golden titled “Where the Soul Never Dies”. The Oaks still sing it in their shows on occasion to this day, and it is one of my three favorite songs on this album. Next, we get another gospel written by Garland Craft, but was a song that I didn’t care for, which may be due to the fact that I’m not a big gospel fan (no offense to Garland, who is a good friend of mind), “It’s Been Done”. However, this was another song that many critics liked. We next get a song that was responsible for telling the Oaks they had to get out of gospel, “Doctor God”. A show at a church around this time opened with this song (as they were opening their shows with this song at the time), and the entire congregation walked out of the church, which I thought was just RUDE. This song was another one I looked at as about average. The Oaks knew at this time they had to get out of gospel music. We then get a very emotional Joe Bonsall-led gospel ballad which moved even me, a person who isn’t the biggest gospel fan, “Jesus Was There”. It is one of my favorite gospel songs on the album. The album ends with another one of my favorite songs on the album, which was led by drummer Mark Ellerbee, the gospel rocker, “Last Train to Glory”. Ed doesn’t seem to like this song, but it is a great, very well-written song which was later covered by the DMB Band and Bob Carlisle.
Even though there are three songs on this album I really liked, I just did not like this album very much. The gospel nature of this album, as well as the 70s sounds, just did not appeal to me. This album goes down as my least favorite of the three Columbia albums.
The Oaks were unable to get any pop dates with their pop booker, Larry Goldblatt, the manager of Blood, Sweat, and Tears. All of their gospel dates were cancelled as well after they were promised pop dates, and they had fallen out of favor with the gospel bookers. With no dates on the books, the Oaks were starving. But then, they found their savior, Jim Halsey, who promised to get them work IF they became a country act. Upon getting under Halsey’s management, since they had no radio hits of their own yet, the Oaks began putting covers of country and pop songs in their show, such as Olivia Newton John’s “Let Me Be There”, and Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys’ “Faded Love”, while still continuing to put gospel in their shows. You can hear many of these covers on their next album, the 1977 Live album, which was an in-house project, and not available at retail. The Oaks were beginning to get many dates, such as in Las Vegas, and Halsey was following through with his promises.
The Oaks had a couple of huge career moments in 1976. They got the chance to play in the Soviet Union with Roy Clark (not to mention were asked by the Soviets to sing “to Disneyland, I’m on my way” on “Where the Soul Never Dies”, which they changed to “to that fair land”). The Oaks also got a big career moment that year when they were asked to sing backup with Paul Simon on “Slip Slidin’ Away”, and the song became a MEGA-HIT.
However, now that they had a manager who was following through with his promises to help them, the Oaks were still not getting radio airplay in 1976. Columbia made a promise to the Oaks: they would either get them a hit, or they would release them. The Oaks were in negotiations with ABC/Dot, so they had another label ready. Columbia released “Family Reunion” as a single in 1976 to country radio, but despite Columbia’s decent pushes, it only made it to #83 on the Billboard Country Charts, and #53 on the Cashbox charts. Columbia followed through with their promise, and released the Oaks.
Meanwhile, ABC/Dot records was extremely impressed with the Oaks. The label’s president, Jim Fogelsong, went to one of their shows, and was just blown away by the show he saw. Fogelsong wondered why the Oaks weren’t having hit records. He immediately signed the Oaks, and felt that this group should be right up there with the Statler Brothers as the second former gospel group Nashville should embrace.
And the rest is history!
My Favorite Tracks: Where the Soul Never Dies, Jesus
Was There, Last Train to Glory
Tracks I Didn’t Care for Much: Lord I’ve Been Ready for Years, I’m Winging My Way Back Home, It’s Been Done
---John Vairin (firstname.lastname@example.org)
After two failed attempts at reaching a wider mainstream audience with "The Oak Ridge Boys" and "Sky High," the Oaks decided to go back to the basics with the self-descriptive "Old Time, Down Home...." (you get the picture) album. Recorded at their own studio with their own band and produced by Duane, and featuring special guests that included Charlie Daniels and Johnny Cash, this album would wind up winning the Oaks another Grammy, and would also become their swan song for Columbia Records.
With the guests spread out through the album, we get quite a variety of music that, at times, feels more like a jam session. Richard gets a gospel ballad with the Donnie Sumner-penned "The Same Old Fashioned Away," as does Joe with the fabulous "Jesus Was There." Garland's songwriting talents are tapped on "Jesus Knows Who I Am" and "It's Been Done," and Johnny Cash sings lead on his composition, "No Earthly Good," backed by the Oaks.
We get the old-style quartet singing with "Lord, I've Been Ready For Years" and "I'm Winging My Way Back Home," which is a bit of an odd choice, considering at the time, they were staging "Rainbow of Love" quite frequently (although, my guess is that they chose "Winging My Way" so as to avoid the constant comparisons to JD Sumner). The same goes for "Where The Soul Never Dies," which got the Grammy for them in 1976 (and is still staged to this day).
Even their drummer at the time, Mark Ellerbee, got a lead with "Last Train To Glory." While this song never became a hit for the Oaks (despite one of Ellerbee's best vocal performances), the song would be covered by the DMB Band in the 80's, and later by Bob Carlisle in the early 90's.
One of the more notorious songs on this album is "Doctor God," which inadvertently became part of a defining moment in Oak Ridge Boys history. The Oaks had opened a show with this song, and as they sang this song, an entire group of audience members stood up and walked out en mass. Joe described this in several interviews (including their 1986 biography) as the moment they decided to leave gospel music behind.
Even looking at the cover of the album, one gets the sense that it was meant to feel more informal and fun. It's not the most perfect album they've ever made in terms of production, but what it lacks in polish it makes up for in performance. It's just a bit ironic that this album would be released only a year before their break into country music.
This album remains one of my favorites. Joe and Richard had been with the group for a couple of years by this point, and I think this was the album where they really seemed to find their footing. Joe in particular sounds at ease with "Jesus Was There," and Richard's smooth bass singing really shines on "Same Old Fashioned Way."
The Oaks would also recorded several singles around this time - "Heaven Bound" and "Family Reunion," which would wind up on later compilations.