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Backstage at Opry, Oak Ridge Boys’ Joe Bonsall details ‘Elvira’ lead, memorializes Loretta Lynn, Jody Miller

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WHEELING, West Virginia (WOUB) – It seems there isn’t a single pillar of country music that the Oak Ridge Boys haven’t shared history with. Perhaps the sole exception is Bobbie Gentry (more on that momentarily).

In the 49 years since tenor Joe Bonsall joined the Oak Ridge Boys in 1973 — remarkably, he remains the newest member of the four — they have amassed 17 number one hits on the U.S. country charts. They have performed everywhere from Monte Carlo to the in-flight Air Force One’s Oval Office. They are inductees of both the Gospel Music Hall of Fame (2000) and Country Music Hall of Fame (2015), in addition to the hallowed Grand Ole Opry (2011).

And when WOUB’s Ian Saint spoke with Bonsall backstage at the Grand Ole Opry — which Trisha Yearwood had just turned pink, in honor of those fighting breast cancer — it was from Dressing Room Number One, where the Oaks are usually designated. Appropriately, Room Number One is named after the King of Country Music, himself: Roy Acuff.

In 1981, the Oak Ridge Boys suddenly struck gold with a monster pop crossover hit: “Elvira.” Bonsall is the Boy who sang the impassioned lead vocal, that continues to mesmerize and invigorate audiences of all ages while he croons it as a great-grandfather today.

Ahead of the Oak Ridge Boys’ Saturday show in Wheeling and their early 2023 shows in Ohio — with a month-long Christmas dinner residence at the Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville in between — Bonsall and Saint enjoyed a career-spanning conversation, mere minutes before they returned to the Opry stage.

Among the many they topics discussed are:

  • How recording the Oak Ridge Boys’ monster hit, “Elvira” was provoked by Acuff-Rose Music executive Don Gant hearing a bar band in Texas cover it
  • Juxtaposing Bonsall’s soaring tenor with the deep depths of bass singer, Richard Sterban — whom WOUB also interviewed this year
  • The craziness of 1981 pop charts, which suddenly made global superstars of not only the Oak Ridge Boys; but also the likes of Kim Carnes and Rick Springfield (whom WOUB interviewed just a few weeks prior to the Oaks’ Sterban)
  • The recording process for “Elvira,” and the story of its late addition to the “Fancy Free” album
  • How Joe set his “Elvira” lead vocal starkly apart from its many covering predecessors, including Kenny Rogers; and how his unique approach powered it to the pop charts
  • How preliminary rapturous reactions of Pacific Northwest audiences cued the Oak Ridge Boys to urge MCA to release “Elvira” as a single
  • Why “Elvira” continues to animate audiences four decades later, and how its youngest fans fuel the fire of its endurance
  • Seeing a girl’s softball team bellow “Elvira” while driving past Bonsall, and they had no idea that they crossed paths with its lead singer
  • Having the same manager, Jim Halsey (who just turned 92), since 1975
  • Paying homage to many recently-departed female country legends, and detailing how each played key roles in the Oak Ridge Boys’ history: Loretta Lynn, and Jody Miller
  • Bobbie Gentry’s mysterious withdrawal from the public, and how it influences Bonsall’s thoughts on celebrity

Stream our interview with Joe Bonsall on-demand, by clicking the Play button in the YouTube widget beneath the headline. 

The Oak Ridge Boys play the Capitol Theatre (1015 Main St.) in Wheeling, WV on Saturday, November 12. Their Christmas dinner residency at the Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville runs from Wednesday, November 23 through Christmas Eve.

Their early 2023 dates in Ohio are APAC – Arbogast Performing Arts Center (500 S Dorset Rd) in Troy on Saturday, February 25; and The Ritz Theatre (30 S Washington St) in Tiffin on Saturday, March 18. For tickets, and a full tour itinerary, visit oakridgeboys.com/tour.