The Oak Ridge Boys sprinkled in a special song during their performance Saturday night at the River Spirit Casino Resort.
The song: “Happy Birthday to You.”
The Oak Ridge Boys have been managed for more than 40 years by Tulsa-based music impresario Jim Halsey. The Country Music Hall of Fame group paid tribute to Halsey and the late Roy Clark during their set at Paradise Cove.
Addressing the sold-out crowd between songs, Joe Bonsall of the Oak Ridge Boys talked about the quartet’s history with Halsey.
“Back in 1975, the Oak Ridge Boys were really struggling,” he said. “We didn’t have much going at all. We were somewhere between being a gospel quartet and being a country music hitmaking act. But none of that good stuff had started happening yet.”
The “good stuff” happened after partnering with Halsey, who, at one time, operated the world’s largest country music agency out of Tulsa.
Bonsall recalled the Oak Ridge Boys getting a phone call from Halsey. Another act had to pull out of two dates and Halsey wanted to know if the group could step in as a replacement act.
“We didn’t have anything to do,” Bonsall said.
The Oak Ridge Boys joined Mel Tillis at the first stop and, among other things, learned that Tillis and his crew could party. Halsey traveled to watch the Oak Ridge Boys play with Clark at the next gig. Bonsall said Halsey met the Oak Ridge Boys backstage, prayed and offered professional advice: Get away from your record label and get a better one. Let’s get some dates booked. And let’s get you singing country songs.
This has become part of Nashville folklore, according to Bonsall, but Halsey told the Oak Ridge Boys they were three minutes away from being a major act in the music business. Translated: All the group needed was a hit to make a breakthrough.
“Y’all Come Back Saloon” went to No. 3 in 1977 and the Oak Ridge Boys popped 34 top-20 songs before 1990 arrived. Half of those reached No. 1.
Bonsall called Halsey the Oak Ridge Boys’ godfather and spiritual leader. He searched the crowd for Halsey and spotted him in a suite atop the venue.
Then Bonsall encouraged the audience to sing along as the Oak Ridge Boys performed “Happy Birthday to You.” Halsey’s 89th birthday: Oct. 7, 2019. (He said he celebrates his birthday for four days.)
Later, the Oak Ridge Boys dedicated “Amazing Grace” (the song is on their soon-to-be released Christmas album) to Halsey and got a standing ovation at song’s end.
The show included the Oak Ridge Boys going back to their gospel roots to sing “Just a Little Talk with Jesus.” Bonsall told a story about the Oak Ridge Boys joining Clark for a groundbreaking tour of the Soviet Union. He said they were not supposed to sing any material that had to do with religion, but Clark, every chance he got, prodded the Oak Ridge Boys to join him in singing “Just a Little Talk With Jesus.” Bonsall said they sang it everywhere — restaurants, hotel lobbies and even on the street.
“Over there in Moscow, I thought for sure we were going to wind up in a gulag way up in Siberia,” he said.
Bonsall said Clark joined the Oak Ridge Boys on stage the last time the group performed at the Tulsa State Fair and of course they sang “Just a Little Talk With Jesus.”
Said Bonsall after the Oak Ridge Boys sang it again Saturday night: “We can’t sing ‘Have a Talk With Jesus’ without paying a little tribute to Roy Clark.”
Clark, who resided in Tulsa, died last year.
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