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Shining God’s Light Through Music: Oak Ridge Boys & Aaron Watson

Today’s guests are allowing themselves to be used by God to bring a message of hope and light through their music–The Oak Ridge Boys and Aaron Watson. The Oak Ribonsalldge Boys have dozens of Country hits and a Number One Pop smash, and have earned them Grammy, Dove, CMA, and ACM awards. The roots of the group and for each man individually are steeped in Gospel music and faith in God. Aaron Watson Aaron started chasing his dream of becoming a country singer/songwriter while still in college. Through perseverance, a work ethic instilled in him by his father, and the grace of God, Aaron has seen his career come to life over the last 18 years, and as his audience grows, he is determined to let use his music and his words glorify God.

Shining God’s Light Through Music: Oak Ridge Boys & Aaron Watson – Jesus Calling Episode #98

Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. As we continue our series on country music and faith we welcome the Oak Ridge Boys to the show and we are rebroadcasting a very special interview with country music star Aaron Watson. The Oak Ridge Boys have one of the most distinctive and recognizable sounds in the music industry. Their four-part harmonies and upbeat songs have spawned dozens of Country hits and a Number One Pop smash, and have earned them Grammy, Dove, CMA, and ACM awards. The roots of the group and for each man individually are steeped in Gospel music and faith in God. Joe, William, Duane and Richard speak to God’s faithfulness in their lives and acknowledge His hand in their long and fruitful careers.

 

The Oak Ridge Boys press image on a bridgeJoe Bonsall: The Rich History of The Oak Ridge Boys

Joe: The Oak Ridge Quartet history goes way back to before 1943. The original Oak Ridge quartet sang in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. They were called the Georgia Clodhoppers at the time and performed for the people who were sequestered there at the secret city working on the atomic bomb that would end the war in the Pacific. It’s an incredible piece of history. And they became known as the Oak Ridge Quartet. They moved to Nashville, started the all-night singing conventions at the Ryman Auditorium, right around the Opry. It’s a big part in the Grand Ole Opry back in those days. Got through the 50’s,changed their name to the Oak Ridge Boys. Got into the 60’s when William Lee and Dwayne joined, into the 70’s when Richard and I joined. The Oak Ridge Boys, before Richard and I were here, where the top gospel quartet in the world. There was none better and to be a part of that is really cool now and then, throughout this incredible journey that we’ve had the last 44 years, a Hall of Fame career.

William Lee Golden: You know, it’s this music and singing that we all love. It’s what brought us together. And I feel like that’s actually what keeps us together.

Joe: It’s a real honor being part of a group like the Oak Ridge Boys with our roots steeped heavily in southern gospel and with the incredible, incredible music career that we have had.

I was the last one of the four to join the Oak Ridge Boys. I joined in October of 1973, although we’ve all been good friends long before that. I think you’ll find that with each of the guys. In fact, Richard and I grew up close to each other. And we’ve been friends since I was like 15 and he was 19.

From Elvis to The Oaks: Richard Sterban

Richard: Obviously I sing the low part, and I joined just before Joe – about a year before Joe. I was singing at the time in a group called J.D. Sumner and the Stamps Quartet.

I actually was singing with Elvis [Presley] –I was singing with the King of Rock ‘n Roll–which was an amazing experience, it really was. And while I was singing with Elvis one day, William Lee Golden called me up and said that the bass singer in the Oak Ridge Boys was going to leave the group and he wanted to know if I would be interested in joining.

So, I had to make a decision–I had to make a major decision in my life. And I have to admit, I did pray about it and I felt like it was really what the Lord wanted me to do with my life. So, I was singing with Elvis, but I made the decision to leave Elvis and to then join the Oak Ridge Boys. I believed in what the Oak Ridge Boys were doing,  I felt like the Oak Ridge Boys had a great deal of potential, and I wanted to be a part of the group, so I made that decision. I think I made a pretty good decision right there because so many great things happened to all four of us over the years, and it’s just great.

The Oak Ridge Boys press image singing around a single microphoneFrom the Army to The Oaks: Duane Allen

Duane: I made friends with the Oak Ridge Boys when I was in college. And I would go to see them in different places and I got acquainted with all of them. And I remember the first time I ever saw was at the Oak Ridge Boys concert in Will Rogers and it was in the round theater over there.

You were walking around the hall and that’s the first time I ever saw you in my life, and I was still a college student at that time. I graduated from college and I joined another group, and the Oak Ridge Boys heard me singing in that group and they offered me a job. I couldn’t take the job because Uncle Sam was calling me and I had to go to the Army first. I fulfilled my obligation in the Army and the Oak Ridge Boys job was still available. So, I traveled to Nashville, and walked in at just the right time to join the Oak Ridge Boys and I feel like if you can get out of the Army, buy a new car, drive all night from Texas, and walk into the Oak Ridge Boys’ office at the very time that they’re trying to call me to offer me a job–I think that’s a God thing.

From the Paper Mill to the Oaks: William Lee Golden

William Lee Golden: I was a fan of the Oak Ridge Boys–like some of the rest of us–before I ever got to be invited to be a part of the Oak Ridge Boys. I grew up singing as a kid all my life. Then I sang in quartets, you know and sang in groups in high school and out of high school.

But it was out of high school, and I was singing in a part-time group, and working at a paper mill and met the Oak Ridge Boys and got to know them and we sang some shows with them.

They said they wanted to start the next week so I went back to Brewton and gave them my resignation at the paper mill. I took a vacation to fill out my time and came back to Nashville. I started at the very bottom, and after 53 years I finally worked myself sideways.

Brought Together By God, Kept Together By God

William Lee Golden: It’s just this music and singing that we all love. It’s what brought us together. And I feel like that’s actually what keeps us together.

We made decisions as young guys about what we wanted to do with life. And thank God that–I don’t feel like things just happen. I think there’s a reason and a purpose for everything in God’s plan.

Sometimes we can’t see it until it does happen. Other times we may be surprised, but then you live life and nothing is surprising anymore. I feel the Oak Ridge Boys are here for–we’re spiritually brought together through our love and our appreciation for gospel music. Originally, it was that love and passion that we each had that brought us together. And I feel like it’s the same God that brought us together is the same God that kept us together.

“We’re spiritually brought together through our love and our appreciation for gospel music.” – William Lee Golden (The Oak Ridge Boys)

Rooted In Gospel & Harmony

Joe: Our roots and our heritage are in southern style four-part-gospel harmony singing, and you can’t get away from that. The biggest hit records we’ve had, you can hear it. A lot of that has to do with the bass singer here, man, you know that in that foundational bass part underneath of all the harmony that we’re doing. Harmony’s fun. Singing harmony’s fun. Living in harmony is fun. Being in harmony, listening to harmony, being a part of harmony. It’s all fun. I know, like William said, that kind of feeling–it keeps us going, it just keeps us going. There’s a certain energy level that is the Oak Ridge Boys. It’s hard to really explain it. It’s hard to pinpoint it. I’ve even tried to write about it, and I’ve accomplished some good things writing about it, but man is it so hard to put down that thing that is the Oak Ridge Boys and we have to give God the honor, the praise, and the glory for all of it. For the good health, for the longevity, for the career, for the ability to still get out there at our age and still sing pretty doggone good.

“We have to give God the honor, the praise, and the glory for all of it.” – Joe Bonsall (The Oak Ridge Boys)

Narrator: Faith has long been a part of the history of the Oak Ridge Boys from their early roots as a Gospel group to the individual faith journeys of each member. They also use Jesus Calling as a way to spend time with God daily during their busy lives performing and touring.

The Oak Ridge Boys - Shine the Light Tour 2018

Faith & Jesus Calling

Joe: I’ve been a fan of Sarah Young’s for a long time. I enjoy her inspirational writing. I enjoy the way she portrays things from God’s point of view in her writing and how encouraging it is. We’re on the Shine The Light Tour this year and we’re talking about our music shining a light on things. I think Sarah ever more shines a light on every page of her books and her devotionals, if you will. She always backs it up with great scripture and every day there’s a there’s a nice message for you that you can use in your life.

So thank you Sarah. Thank you for being a blessing.

17th Avenue Revival

Narrator: The Boys go on to talk about their new album, which revisits their Gospel roots, called “17th Avenue Revival.” They discuss their motivation to bring light through music to the world and how that keeps them singing after 44 years together.

The Oak Ridge Boys - 17th Avenue Revival album coverJoe: It’s a real honor being part of a group like the Oak Ridge Boys with our roots steeped heavily in southern gospel and with the incredible, incredible music career that we have had, and to record a new album like we just did called “17th Avenue Revival” which revisits some of those gospel roots.

I’ll tell you, we were just talking to some people in another interview and they were talking about a song we’ve got called “Brand New Star” and we were talking about how that song was moving people because it represents the Christian belief that there is a great hope, and a great life, and a great promise after the grave.

It’s a happy sounding song about losing a loved one. But as Christians, you know we can be happy about that because we know what the promises are, and we lean upon those promises. We stand upon those promises, so to speak.

William: We wanted to get everything we could out of the song because to do that, and then really experience what we’re experiencing now is the reaction from the public when they hear it, and we see how it is affecting them. In many ways, the song “there’s a brand new star up in heaven tonight,” is talking about dying, but it’s giving you another way to look a look at it, and it’s a happy thought. Many grieving people today need another way to think about that. And it’s helping a lot of people to find that way.

The Pathway of A Song

Duane: I think it’s probably one of the most honest albums we’ve ever recorded. We honestly wanted to do something monumental. It was a goal after we were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame–what else is there?  Well, the answer to that question has always been music to us. Make some more new music and follow it. But you have to really craft that music direction by the songs you choose–by the vision that you have where that music will probably go, and to accomplish that…

Joe: It’s amazing the journey of a piece of music can be when all of a sudden you’re singing it live, and then you start getting tweets and e-mails and things from people where the song meant something to them.

Sometimes you never know the pathway that it’s going to take. I really believe that comes from Jesus Christ. I believe that it does. I think that these things are way beyond our understanding. But you’ve got to be open to even begin to follow along the journey yourself–to even have the journey to begin with. So, we have been open to great songs and to a vision of this project 17th Avenue Revival and to put our touch on it, and to then have it move people. Wow, what a journey that is for a project, and for a song, and for a group like us, you know? We’re singing songs–that’s what we do. But again, it’s more than just singing sometimes.

It’s been a great honor to be with this group singing, and not only to have fun and sing songs like “Elvira” and have people enjoy it and get up and clap their hands enjoy “Being in Louisiana in Broad Daylight” or whatever they are. But to every once in awhile be able to hit them with a great Gospel song or a great hymn, and be able to move them a little bit and make a difference in their lives–I think that’s what the boys have always been about.

This world needs a light and that light is Jesus Christ. I mean it says in God’s word that “in Him there is no darkness at all.”

It’s all light and we’ve got to be open to that. And there’s enough darkness in the world where we need to be shining a light whenever we can.

Narrator: To find out more about the Oak Ridge Boys new album “17th Avenue Revival, visit Oakridgeboys.com.

Narrator: We’ll be right back after a brief message about a special offer from Jesus Calling.

Narrator: Next up, we have a special rebroadcast of a favorite episode from Country artist Aaron Watson. Aaron will be joining us at the CMA Fest, in Nashville Tennessee on June 8th at 3:00 pm. If you’re in Nashville, come by and meet Aaron at the Jesus Calling booth, in the Fanfair X area at booth #106. You can also catch Aaron live on the Jesus Calling Facebook page at 3:00 pm Central time as well.

 

Through Life’s Disappointments, Hang on to Hope

Aaron Watson: I’m Aaron Watson. My first job is being a dad to Jake, Jack and Jolee Kate.

I grew up in Amarillo, Texas. My Dad is 100 percent disabled from serving our country during the Vietnam War. My mom is a schoolteacher.

Country music singer Aaron Watson stands against a wall.

My dad is my hero. He’s dealt with so much through because of his disabilities. I would have to say that I am who I am because of dad; the example that he set.

Mom and Dad’s marriage was not perfect; far from perfect, but always persistent. We’d have our big fights. It would always end with us hugging each other, and crying, and making up, and moving forward.

What Has God Blessed You With?

I think one thing that I always go back to, and I’ve told this story a million times; I was around 12 and my Dad had a cleaning business, and he also cleaned our church. My dad was a custodian-–not the most glorious job. One summer, all my buddies were going swimming and I really wanted to go swimming with them. My Dad said, “I really need you to help me today. We’ve got a lot of work to do.” I’m pretty sure that I complained every second of that day. We were in a bathroom–a men’s bathroom–and I had on the yellow gloves, and I was down on my knees, and I was scrubbing this toilet, and my Dad was in the stall next to me, and he was cleaning the toilet, and I’m just complaining.

“I’d rather be swimming. All my buddies are swimming. I’m here doing this, and I wanted to do this today, and I wanted to do that.”

Musician Aaron Watson performs onstage during 2016 Stagecoach California's Country Music Festival at Empire Polo Club on April 30, 2016 in Indio, California.
INDIO, CA – APRIL 30: Musician Aaron Watson performs onstage during 2016 Stagecoach California’s Country Music Festival at Empire Polo Club on April 30, 2016 in Indio, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Stagecoach)

I remember my sweet Daddy. He came around the corner of the stall and he said “hey.” I turned around and looked at him. He said “do you think that when I was growing up, do you think when I was a little boy that I wanted to grow up to be a custodian? Do you think this is what I wanted to do?” I said “No sir.”

He said, “But you know what? This is the job that God has blessed me with,” he said. “So what I’m going to do to show God that I’m thankful for this is, these are going to be the cleanest toilets in town.”

I just remember it hit me, right then and there, like I got it. “I get it Dad,” and I go back to that moment all the time. Because that’s the truth. God blessed my Dad with that job, through everything Dad had been through. That was a wonderful opportunity for him, and because of that job, he was able to buy me baseball gloves, and my sister’s piano lessons, and give us a nice home. He gave us a good life.

Love’s Never Going Out Of Style

Music was always a part of my life. It wasn’t my first love; my first love was baseball, I loved baseball. But you know, music was in the house. Dad was always playing old vinyl records. You know Willie, Waylon, Merle Haggard, The Rolling Stones, Beatles, Frank Sinatra: just lots and lots of good stuff. So that was always going on at the house.

Mom was always encouraging me to sing at church. Maybe she might even give me a little thump in the back of the head if I was sitting in the pew in front of her, and I wasn’t singing, and talking with my buddies. But music’s just always been a big part of my life.

As I got into college and I started thinking about what I was going to do with my life, I just felt like this is what I was supposed to do. In the beginning, you know, I’m pretty sure my goals were pretty shallow. You know, I can sing a song, learn to play the guitar so I can impress a girl. That was probably the extent of my goals at the time.

…that’s where I was like, “you know what, trends come and go. But love’s never going out of style.”

I met Kimberly in college. I stalked her a little bit. Cute little brunette. She’s the sweetest girl. She never gets mad, which I always say, “she never gets mad, and that makes me mad.” She’s always so cool, calm, and collected. I put that in a song. But she supported me from day one.

We’re on a date sitting at a table at our favorite restaurant in Buffalo Gap, Texas, called Perini Ranch. We were just talking about how crazy life has gotten, not just the business, but with kids. You know once upon a time she and I would do whatever we pleased. If she was hungry at 11 o’clock at night, we’d go get some food. Well, things have changed. You know there’s these three kiddos now: Jake, Jack and Jolee Kate. There’s ballet and there’s baseball, and there’s football, and there’s piano lessons, it just never stops. We talked about the many different changes, but the one thing that has stayed the same is love, and that’s where I was like, “You know what, trends come and go. But love’s never going out of style.”

Do You Have What It Takes?

So I think it’s a fun song that’s catchy. I think older couples can really relate to it. I think younger couples can strive for it. “Out of Style” is just a fun little ditty, a fun little song about my life and the experiences that I’ve had with music, and my marriage, my wife and I. So it’s been fun singing that song everywhere we go because it’s it’s real.

In college, it kind of hit me that, “Hey, there’s something here with this music thing.” I started getting asked to play different types of social events. I started playing coffee shops, and I realized then that people—I would play a lot of covers–then I’d mix in a few of my songs and I thought it was interesting that at the end of the night people would come up to me and say, “What was that one song you sang?” I was like “Oh, that’s a song that I wrote.” So I started noticing that there was interest in my songs, and that kind of started pushing me to just focus more on my music.

Aaron Watson with his family on a farm.It took a while to get off the ground and get running. I think my third album started getting a little bit of attention around the state of Texas, and I had the opportunity to come up to Nashville and speak with one of the largest record executives in the music industry. I sang him, I think, two or three songs and I sat there, and he didn’t say much. He was pretty firm with me, but basically told me that I didn’t have what it takes, but that there could be a future in my songwriting, but that I didn’t have what it took and that they weren’t interested in me at all. It kind of broke my heart a little bit; shattered my dreams.

I drove back home to Texas, and it was actually the next morning I was sitting at the kitchen table with my Dad. He was drinking coffee. He said, “So tell me about the trip, how did it go?” I said “Dad, they don’t like my songs, or my singing and he said that I don’t have what it takes.” I remember, he took a sip, and he said, “You know that’s the same thing they said to Willie for all those years.” I was like “Yeah that’s right!” He said, “You know, Willie finally made it by about the time he was 45.” You have to realize at the time I was 20. I was like, “Whoah.” I said, “Dad are you telling me that I’m going to have to grind it out for the next 25 years if I’m going to make it?” He said “Yep, if you want it bad enough.”

That just goes back to my Dad’s mentality of hard work, and hard work does pay off. At that point we decided to just get out there, play as many shows as we could, make the best records we can make, and treat our fans like family, treat our fans like royalty.

The Struggles Along The Way

Every night, after my show, I always hang out with my fans. I hate calling them fans, because they’re just the finest clientele. But even when I sign my name, I take pride in how I sign my name, because that’s my name. I try to instill that in my kids. Take pride in every little thing that you do, because that’s a reflection of me and their mother, the way we’re raising them. Who I am is a reflection of my Mom and Dad. I’m definitely the most imperfect person in the world, but it’s that persistence, that continuing to push yourself to be the best that you can be.

…my Dad was so thankful for every little blessing. It made me who I am today and I’m not too proud to do anything.

I think about my Dad coming around that stall saying, “Hey, do you think this is what I want to do when I was a little boy?” It hits me now, because my Dad was about the same age then as I am now. That hits me hard right now, because I mean, he’s right. There’s nothing too glorious about being called a custodian, you know. But my Dad was so thankful for every little blessing. It made me who I am today and I’m not too proud to do anything. If my country music career ended tomorrow, I would clean toilets every day if I had to take care of my family. There’s nothing more respectable than honest hard work.

People always want to talk about the last three years, but I don’t want to talk about just the last three years. I want to talk about the last 18 years, because every step of the way has been special to me, and it’s made me who I am. The struggles along the way really make you appreciate these kind of moments. We’ve just been so blessed.

Using Music To Glorify God

It’s also been one of those things where my career has given me the opportunity to inspire others and say “Hey, they said I wasn’t good enough. They didn’t even give me any opportunities, but I got out there. I worked hard and I created my own opportunities.”

It’s also given me this wonderful platform when people are like, “How in the world does an independent artist with no financial backing, like these major label artists, outsell all these big names?” It gives me opportunity to say, “You know what? I don’t know. But we’re just going to give all the glory to God and we’re going to thank Him for blessing us with the best fans in the world. So that’s been fun.Vaquero, the new hit album by Aaron Watson.

All throughout the Bible He uses a lot of people at the bottom of the totem pole to do some very big things. So you know, that’s the prayer I pray before every show is that God gives me courage to get up there to let my light shine. That I can be a positive influence on the people at my shows, and that He will use my music and my words to glorify Him.

I get an opportunity to share my faith in some very, very unique places. Not too many preachers get to go into honky-tonks and dance halls and show their love for Jesus.

What Does It Mean To Be A Strong Christian?

I mean it is a crazy environment. I just want to be home, ninety-nine point nine percent of the time, you know, things that you don’t think about when you’re 20. It never crossed my mind twenty years ago about how much it would take being away from home missing my kids–I didn’t think about those kind of things. But you live and you learn, and you know, Daddy’s got to work. So it is what it is. But I just try to be the best that I can be.

I had a guy at my show in Rootstown, Ohio two weeks ago. He came up to me afterwards and he said, “I just want to tell you how much I appreciate your faith.” He said, “I don’t have that kind of faith like you.” And I said, “Eell, what’s wrong?” He said “I don’t know,” He said, “I don’t have much of a family,” and he said, “I just know I believe in Jesus, I’m just not a very strong Christian like you.” I said, “What makes you think that I’m a strong Christian?” He said, “Because you get up there and you share your faith and you talk about how much you love Jesus.” I said, “Well I do love Jesus.” I said, “Just because I love Jesus doesn’t mean that I’m a strong Christian.”

There’s nothing that we can do that’s so bad that Jesus will stop loving us. The sacrifice that Jesus made for us covers everything.

Whenever I feel myself slipping I realize—Oh, I haven’t been reading my Bible much. Oh, I haven’t been praying much. Oh, I haven’t been taking time to stop, slow down, and focus on my heart, and focus on my soul, focus on my family, focus on my relationship with God.

What I love about Jesus Calling is that it’s something I can rely on especially to get me back into the groove of also getting my Bible back open. I just think it’s a great tool to be used alongside the Bible, and I know that I’ve talked with people about Jesus Calling, and it’s a great gift to give people to get them introduced to the Bible. It kind of helps get me started when I kind of get out of my routine.

There’s nothing that we can do that’s so bad that Jesus will stop loving us. The sacrifice that Jesus made for us covers everything.

God Gives Us Hope When We Struggle

Six years ago we lost a little girl, Julia Grace. We lost Julia shortly after she was born. It’s been nearly six years ago. It’s hit me hard this year, especially, because I keep thinking that when I take the kids to school, I should be walking Julia in for kindergarten, and that cuts me so deep.

Those were hard times for us. We had some doctors, we found out that Julia had Trisomy 18, which we had doctors tell us that she incompatible with life. We had several doctors tell us that we should terminate the pregnancy, but that’s just not something that we could do. It’s tough for me to talk about, obviously, but some of those moments while Kim was pregnant with Julia are some of the most beautiful moments of my life.

When Julia was born, we had her for about an hour, and we got to hear her cry, and we got to hold her. The kids got to love on her. They got to see their sister. I got to sing to Julia. It was the toughest, most beautiful thing I’ve ever experienced. I mean, it changed me for forever.

I struggle with it. I struggle with it. I ask why, I ask why. It’s OK to ask why, but the fact of the situation is that this is the life that we live in. We want to think that everything is easy and it’s good, but it’s not. Why did Jesus come to earth? He came because of the heartache and the suffering.

He gives us hope that there’s something better beyond this life, and that’s heaven, and that’s eternity with Him. That is what has gotten us through the hard times, is the hope. We have hope because of Jesus, and we know that we’re going to see our little girl again someday in heaven.

The world needs to know, that even in their suffering and their loss, that God is still there with them. People need to know that bad things are going to happen, and that’s the world that we live in. But we have hope in Jesus, and that’s what gets us through the hard times.

Narrator: To learn more about Aaron Watson, visit AaronWatson.com and to get his new album, Vaquero, please visit your local Target store or get it online at Target.com or anywhere music is sold.

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