40 Years of The Oak Ridge Boys - Behind The Scenes With Jim Halsey
By: Chuck Dauphin
The name Jim Halsey is recognized around the world as one of the top managers and agents in the music business. A list of some of his past and present clients reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ - with Clint Black, Tammy Wynette, Roy Clark, and Reba McEntire being just four. After a career that spans over six decades, the legendary Kansas native is still at it today. In fact, one of his longest-tenured acts is set to make some big waves once again – The Oak Ridge Boys! The iconic group are celebrating 40 years together in 2013 – as the unit that includes William Lee Golden, Duane Allen, Joe Bonsall, and Richard Sterban. (The beginning of the quartet dates back to the mid 1940s.) Halsey has been with them since 1974, and is excited to be a part of the celebration, and shared with Roughstock some of the high water marks of that association.
“One of the highlights was their tour of the Soviet Union which I think was a milestone in their career, but also diplomatic relations between the East and the West back in 1976,” he stated, referring to a very historic tour the group worked as an opening act for Roy Clark. “From there, we tried to build them into an entity like no other, which they certainly are.”
Another aspect of their years together is their work on the small screen. “Their TV show from Las Vegas that they did for TNN also helped their career, as did their series of specials that they did for Feed The Children,” he says humbly. “All of those things have built them. It’s a collaborative effort that goes on amongst the four guys and all of the people on their staff, and all of us try to figure out what can we do next that is going to be productive and interesting, and inventive.”
The drive of the group remains as focused and as energized as ever, as they celebrate the past, but also look forward to the future. “A couple of years ago, we did the 30th anniversary of ‘Elvira,’ and got inducted into the Grand Ole Opry – which was one of the highlights of their entire career. So, what do we do now? It’s the 40th anniversary of the four guys that we know as the Oak Ridge Boys – Duane, Joe, William Lee, and Richard. You look back over all of these forty years, and see all the milestones that have kept them in place, and on top, current, and relevant. As a manager, that’s what you try to do.”
The group will also be citing many who have helped them enjoy success along the way. “Part of our program this year is recognizing every venue that we play on the tour as an important mark,” said Halsey. “They have a presentation that they will make on every date they play this year that will mark them as an ‘Official 40th Anniversary Venue.’ It’s their way of saying thank you.”
Halsey is also planning a retrospective television special that will highlight the years that Golden, Allen, Sterban, and Bonsall have spent together, but will also pay homage to Wally Fowler – the founder of the group, as well as some other early members. “We’re also going to go back into some of the history of the ‘Founding Fathers,” as you might call them, going back to Oak Ridge, Tennessee during the Second World War. That’s in process right now, and we have it tentatively scheduled for this fall on a number of PBS stations.” Halsey also added that the group will be offering a special package for sale as a fund raiser for the affiliates.
And, there’s more. “Another exciting thing that we are working on is having several of the cities that we play will be presenting the group with proclamations for their hard work and community service over the past forty years. At the end of the year, we will have that and other memorabilia from the Oaks’ history in a special exhibition,” he told Roughstock, saying that a site for the exhibition has not been determined as of yet.
He smiles when he talks about one of recent gift the Oaks were bestowed. “We got an interesting proclamation when we played the Ringling Brothers / Barnum & Bailey Circus. The guys were honorary ringmasters, and they were presented with a beautiful painting about 2 feet by 2 feet, framed, that was done by Elly Mae, the lead elephant in the circus. So, we’re going to have some really interesting things by the time the year is up.”
He also divulged one more project that is in the works. “Something else we are working on – something that will take a couple of years of work – is a Broadway musical called ‘Elvira – The Musical.’ We’re in collaboration with Rupert Holmes, who is one of the masters. We will try to make it interesting and appealing, of course, the Oaks won’t be in it. It’ll be like ‘The Jersey Boys’ - cast with actors, but it will be the history of the Oaks – told in song and dance with their life story threaded through the show.”
Halsey – referred to the group as their “Godfather,” feels the best is yet to come for the Oaks. “The beat,” he says, “goes on.”