Harmony was a key element of the 2015 Country Music Hall of Fame induction press conference Wednesday morning. Special guests and invited media were on hand when emcee and fellow Hall of Fame member Brenda Lee announced gospel, country and pop crossover quartet the Oak Ridge Boys, family act Jim Ed Brown and the Browns, and innovative guitarist Grady Martin as the newest members of the Hall of Fame.
Held in the rotunda of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in downtown Nashville, the announcement heralded the work of Modern Era inductees the Oaks, Veteran Era honoree Brown (and his sisters) and late Willie Nelson player Martin, who was recognized in the category of Recording/Touring Musician Active Prior to 1980.
“This is Cooperstown, man,” said the Oak Ridge Boys’ charismatic front man Joe Bonsall, drawing an allusion to the venerable Halls of Fame for sports and rock. “This is Canton. This is Cleveland. This is Nashville.”
Along with Bonsall, the Oaks include Duane Allen, William Lee Golden and Richard Sterban — the famous baritone who supplies the “oom pawpaw mowmow” on the group’s most famous hit, “Elvira.” But the Oak Ridge Boys as a musical entity have been around since the Forties. Begun as the Oak Ridge Quartet, it was 1973 when the “classic” lineup came together, hitting the country charts for the first time. In 1976, they backed singer Paul Simon on his hit “Slip Slidin’ Away.” “How many of you knew that?” Brenda Lee asked the crowd in her introduction.
Two years later, as country was crossing over to pop more frequently, the Oaks began a string of chart-topping country hits that would peak with the multi-award-winning “Elvira.” Penned by Dallas Frazier, the tune was a Number One country hit, a Top Five pop entry, a Grammy winner and a karaoke staple for decades to come. Hits such as “Fancy Free,” “Bobbie Sue” and “American Made” were among the many that followed. Commemorating the 40th anniversary of the classic lineup in 2013, the group continues to record and tour and will perform on the main stage at LP Field at this June’s CMA Music Festival.
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During his speech, Bonsall recalled the group’s tour through Texas in support of their debut album: “I see young Oak Ridge Boys in a truck stop in Texas pouring quarters into a jukebox listening to ‘Y’all Come Back Saloon,’ and a couple of truckers saying, ‘Y’all look like girls. Play that song one more time and we’ll kill ya.'”
Brown’s speech was much more somber, especially when he tearfully addressed his recent battle with lung cancer, which is now in remission. “Cancer is no fun,” he said, “but I made it through it.”
In the Fifties, Brown and sisters Maxine and Bonnie toured with Elvis Presley, signed to RCA and soon scored a string of hits including “I Take the Chance,” “I Heard the Bluebirds Sing” and the 1959 Number One smash “The Three Bells.” An adaptation of a French tune, the story-song notched 10 weeks at the top of the country chart and had a four-week run at the top of the pop chart as well. In 1963, the trio joined the Grand Ole Opry and continued to tour around the globe. The group disbanded in 1967, two years after Jim Ed launched his successful solo career, which also included a string of hit duets with Helen Cornelius. His most famous song came that same year: “Pop a Top,” which Alan Jackson would later cover in 1999. In January, Brown released the new album In Style Again and remains a regular presence on the Grand Ole Opry.
Guitarist Martin, who died in 2001 at 72, is best known for his guitar work on Marty Robbins’ “El Paso,” Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman” and Nelson’s “On the Road Again.” As an integral element of Nashville’s “A-Team” of session musicians, he was one of the most in-demand guitar players in Music City. Born in Chapel Hill, Tennessee, in 1929, Martin also was a touring guitarist, hitting the road with Jerry Reed and Nelson’s band, before retiring. He was inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame in 2007.
The honorees will be formally inducted at a ceremony in the fall.
(Additional reporting by Joseph Hudak)