Country Music Hall of Fame members The Oak Ridge Boys are in the process of kicking off their 2016 Christmas tour, and have just released their seventh holiday album, Celebrate Christmas. At a press event in Nashville on Monday, Bonsall reflected on how much the holidays have become a part of the Oaks’ make-up as artists. “It’s amazing how Christmas has become a part of who we are and what we do. We all love Christmas, but back in 1982, we recorded our first Christmas album. It was during the hottest time of our career, and we recorded ‘Thank God For Kids.’ It became a monster hit. Kenny Rogers took us out on his Christmas tours, but before that, Minnie Pearl was doing these television specials for CBS, and she had a big cast of Country stars, Hollywood actors like Roy Rogers and Dennis Weaver. We were in all three of them. Not too long after that, Kenny took us out on his Christmas tours.”
Watching Rogers in action inspired the group to do things in a similar manner. “One night, we backed up, and realized ‘We can do a Christmas tour.’ In December, it’s kind of light. We started talking about it, and started having meetings about things like buying elf outfits, all kinds of Christmas production and trees. It all metamorphized into a tour that is about to embark on its’ twenty-seventh annual tour. We’ve got new production, and just released our seventh Christmas album. It’s going to be thirty-four shows in thirty-one cities across eighteen states. We end the 23rd in Nashville, so we’re hoping that people here will see us in our final Christmas show of the year,” he said of their date at the Schermerhorn Center.
With membership in both the Grand Ole Opry as well as the Country Music Hall of Fame, what goals do the Oaks have lined up for 2017. Duane Allen says that their main initiative is to keep on doing what they love. “Our bucket list is making it work every year. We loved what we were doing before we ever got an award. The awards are just icing on the cake for us.” Before they embark on the New Year, Allen stresses that making the Christmas tour a positive memory for fans is their number one focus. “We just want to fill every auditorium that we go into, and put on the best possible show that we can. We’ve got new songs, a new LED lighting system, and some very exciting things for us. The excitement starts with us, and if we’re excited about something, they pick up on it. They always pick up on our excitement, especially on our Christmas tour. It’s the biggest thing we do all year.”
Bonsall teased that a new Country album with a major producer is a possibility in the near future, but they also have other projects outside of music – such as the Oak Ridge Boys Favorite Southern Style Bread ‘N’ Butter Jalapenos product line. He says it’s all a part of keeping the Oaks brand out there – in a variety of ways.
“Who knows, they could become the biggest thing ever. One day we could say ‘Who would have ever thought we could have retired on buttered jalapenos?’ There’s always something coming around, and when Jim Halsey is your manager, you never know what is coming around the corner. He’s always open-minded to something new and fresh and different.
When asked how the idea came up, Bonsall said “Our good friend, Tony Dry, is someone we’ve known for years. He makes the greatest salsa you’ve ever had. He came up with this idea and sent it to us. I thought it was really cool. I love a good burrito. You mix some good salsa with chicken and a little cheese, and I put some of these jalapenos in it. I loved it. Then, Tony and Jim got the idea to make these Oak Ridge Boys Jalapenos, and they did. Now, Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores has them in all their stores, along with the new Christmas album.”
When you have recorded as much Yuletide music as the Oaks have, how do you keep the new music fresh? Bonsall credits Allen for striving to find great new material to mix in with the classics. “First of all, you have to find songs we’ve never recorded before. That’s always challenging to us because we’ve done so many Christmas albums over the years, there aren’t a lot of classics left. Duane is always great finding new songs for us, whether it’s a regular project, a Gospel one or a Christmas one. He always works hard to find new songs. Our albums always feature a mix of old and new. We try to mix it up, and that’s always been our goal for the show.”
One of the highlights from Celebrate Christmas is Richard Sterban’s take on “Blue Christmas.” While Ernest Tubb originally had a hit with the song in 1949, Elvis Presley made it a iconic classic with his 1957 recording. For Sterban, it was a way to pay homage to someone he had worked with so closely in his pre-Oaks career. “For about two and a half years – prior to joining The Oaks, I sang with J.D. Sumner and The Stamps quartet. For about a year and a half of that time, I worked with Elvis. He was the ‘King Of Rock & Roll,’ and back then, he probably was the biggest star in the world, his tour was probably the biggest in the music business, and to be a part of that was something that was very exciting. Elvis definitely influenced me, how I sing, and the kind of music I like. I think that ‘Blue Christmas’ was a perfect example of that influence shining through.”
Celebrate Christmas is in stores now.