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The Oak Ridge Boys performs the national anthem at LP Field during the 2012 CMA Music Festival. Photo by John Russell

With all the miles traveled over their four decades together, doing around 150 concerts each year, The Oak Ridge Boys have entertained countless Country and gospel enthusiasts from several generations. That’s why it’s almost a shock to learn that the quartet has never issued a live album – until now.

Or did they?

On April 15, Cleopatra Records will release Boys Night Out, recorded by Duane Allen, Joe Bonsall, William Lee Golden and Richard Sterban. What took these two-time CMA Award winners so long to cut their first concert album? Or, for that matter, is this really the first one?

Boys Night Out is being touted as your first live album. Yet in 1977, you released The Oak Ridge Boys Live, with 10 tracks.

Bonsall: Well, a lot of people don’t really know about that album. It never charted on Billboard. We kind of did it ourselves.  We were transitioning from gospel to Country, and we recorded some shows at the Lincoln Plaza Dinner Theater in Oklahoma City, and we put it out at the time on our own little label (Rockland Road Records). So we decided last year to start recording live shows and see what happens. Then Jim Halsey, our manager, got with Cleopatra, and they said, “Man, we’d love to release an album worldwide on the Oaks – a live album with their biggest hits on it.” So that started the progression – and all of a sudden, we find ourselves doing press with England and France and Germany.

How did you decide what songs to include?

Bonsall: We collaborated with the label. We made some decisions, they made some decisions. Some were obvious: We’ve go “Elvira” on there, and “Bobbie Sue.” “Y’all Come Back Saloon” was our first big hit ever. William Lee singing “Thank God for Kids … “Make My Life with You,” by Duane, one of our most requested songs ever … Richard singing on “Dream On” is classic … Well, that’s six. But we’ve got a deep well of material. I’ve heard Duane say a few times that we’ve recorded 60-some songs altogether. But Cleopatra and we picked 15 good ones.

ORB_Bush41_by Darrick Kinslow

To mark their 41st anniversary as a group, The Oak Ridge Boys met with former President George H. W. Bush and Mrs. Barbara Bush before taking to the stage in Galveston, Texas. They dressed appropriately to honor “Bush 41” and his fondness for colorful socks. Photo credit: Darrick Kinslow

Bonsall: Duane Allen. Without Duane, it wouldn’t have even happened. He also produced it with a lot of help from Ron Fairchild, our keyboard player, who is a studio wizard.

Are all the recordings recent, or have they been collected from various shows over the years?

Bonsall: No, we started recording live shows last February (2013). We recorded 11 shows in Laughlin, Nev., and we went back there this year to the same place and recorded 11 more. We play the Riverside Resort there every February – seven nights, and they always sell out so they add matinees. We’ve got fans that come out and plan their whole year around it. We had an audience of about 300 people that come to every single show.

Allen: That’s just the front row; all the others sell out too!

Golden: Joe put together the show for all these. There was never the same show repeated. Each had a mixture of different songs in it. And at the end of the seven days and the 11 shows, there were like 60 different songs that we had recorded. “Elvira” and “Bobbie Sue,” maybe “Y’all Come Back Saloon,” were on every show, but other than that, there was a lot of mixture. Some of them, we hadn’t done in years, but we would get together in the afternoon at a sound check and run over them.

Bonsall: We did these songs we call “classic Oak Ridge songs,” songs that maybe weren’t a single, like “Dig a Little Deeper in the Well.” Everybody knows it, it’s an Oak Ridge Boys song, but it was never a single. Recently we’ve been doing “Roll Tennessee River.” That was a popular song for us in our real heyday. Golden sings the daylights out of it; it really rocks and shuffles along, big-time.

So will there be another live album?

Allen: Oh, yes – several.

Golden: It’s rumored that at the end, we’ll have more live albums than the Grateful Dead [laughter]!

Bonsall: There could be a boxed set bigger than Music Row before it’s all done.

Check back on for Part 2 of our conversation with The Oak Ridge Boys.