“Music marks the passing of time.” That is very relevant to an everlasting career of the Oak Ridge Boys as they prepare for their annual Kentucky State Fair outing come August 20th. For over 35 years, the Oak Ridge Boys have stood on the stage at both Freedom Hall and Cardinal Stadium engaging fans with entertainment to put their worries behind for a few hours. Each of those 35 years has marked another year of good health, good music, and another moment made in history.
I recently spoke with Joe Bonsall about the success of his musical and book writing career. There are many sides of Mr. Bonsall. There’s Joe Bonsall, singer for the Oak Ridge Boys; Joseph S. Bonsall, noted book author of “GI Joe and Lillie,” “From My Perspective,” and several books of his cat Molly. (Be sure to check out a humorous story in “From My Perspective” about going to a book expo and telling others about his talking cat books!) And there is Banjoey – the banjo playing, homegrown picking till the cows come home, and appreciator of music in general.
Joe Bonsall: Being “One of” the Oak Ridge Boys
Who could ever imagine a young lad from Philly become an energetic singer as part of one of the longest standing vocal groups in country music history? Being in part of a group, one will soon be known as “one of the” as if it is their middle name. There are memorable moments over the time, but perhaps one of the biggest thrills is being up on stage as the fans sing and dance along to the hits in time.
Remember the phrase, “Music marks the passing of time.”
Coming out on stage, Joe notes that the Kentucky State Fair is definitely a memory maker. “The Kentucky State Fair is a special show for us all. The day of the show I study the last four years to make sure we give them something new and refreshing that is different than what we gave them last year. There are some songs we leave in the set as they are expected, but we do change it up because it is a very special show. Our first show was with Eddie Rabbitt over at Freedom Hall. We look forward to that show. Every year we do the fair, I can’t believe it’s here already. There is no where else that we have played as long as the Kentucky State Fair. In fact, there are many places we have outlived, but nothing is ever like playing the Kentucky State Fair.”
Joseph S. Bonsall: From His Perspective
Just like his singing career, Mr. Bonsall has well-crafted his writing career using his full name for a pen name. One of his first adventures was the stories behind the relationship of his mother and father, two war veterans, in “GI Joe and Lillie.” The heartfelt book is a must have for any bookshelf.
His latest endeavor, “From My Perspective,” takes on a new approach of multiple stories that intertwine amongst various sections. On writing the book, Bonsall said, “at first thought that it wouldn’t make sense by going all over. This book is very antidote. I write about everything from banjos to barn wallows, as well as music, faith, and more. I didn’t know how it would come out. The book company compartmentalize it so well. If you are an avid reader, you became familiar with the story teller.”
What you might have never expected is to hear in “From My Perspective,” is a story about the rise of fame of Taylor Swift. Bonsall agrees that no matter what people may say Taylor Swift has honed her craft of songwriting with the ability to connect with her fans. One funny thing to think about is how we as fans, music critics, radio jockeys, the industry as a whole, puts particular people in genres. At the end of the day, it is all about the music.
Bonsall noted, “To me Taylor is a great example of success. One can argue genres for days on end. I remember back in the day folks said that the Oak Ridge Boys were too pop and try to be rock and roll. Really – what is real country music? To some it may be George Jones and Merle Haggard or perhaps bluegrass. Now people call the Oak Ridge Boys classic country, when in fact we’re still singing the same stuff that we did many years ago. For crying out loud, we even recorded ‘Seven Nation Army’. Music is music, good is good, bad is bad, and that’s why God invented the I-pod. I wave a flag for folks like Taylor Swift because she’s made it all the way to the top. Who else is singing to 55 thousand in Pittsburgh like the other night? Who’s gone and sold out every single major coliseum around the world? Not just here, but everywhere. Who’s selling millions and millions of albums? It’s not Michael Jackson anymore, it’s Taylor Swift. Her heart is still in country and she’s a country girl. She’s done so much good with her success, some that a lot of people may not know about. When the tornado ripped through Hendersonville, she donated to rebuild all the playgrounds. The girl has a big heart and she’s young. I think the sky’s the limit for Taylor. Is she country? At the end of the day, it’s music and it touches people.”
“From My Perspective” is an enjoyable read that one can pick up, set down, and pick right up at any point in the book. For the fun side of life, Bonsall wrote several books on the perspective of his cat Molly. Whether it is talking cats, instruments talking with the sound of strings plucking, or the stories told of war, Bonsall has shown what a talented individual he is.
Banjoey: Homegrown Pickin Never Goes Out of Style
Resting among the Kentucky (or as Joe puts it “Kain-Tuck-Kee”) and Tennessee state line, you can find Joe working on the farm while sitting atop of a John Deere tractor. You might also find him sitting in a picking circle plucking away on his banjo. One of the highlights last year during the Kentucky State Fair was when he was invited on stage by the Grascals to play the “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” with Kristen Scott Benson. Nevertheless, Banjoey was on a roll (pun intended) and eased his way alongside Kristen.
The Future of Joe
What does the future hold for Joe Bonsall? One thing is for sure, as technology grows and people age, the Oak Ridge Boys and Joe Bonsall have embraced change. The band, as well as Joe has Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, and much more. You might find little tidbits of history on the Oak Ridge Boys, or perhaps catch a random factoid, such as the perspective of watching a baseball game. Who knew 140 characters could make a big impact?
To sum up everything in his career according to Bonsall, “Every song is a story. Every person in every seat is a story. Every light, every soul is a story because God’s most important gift is the ability to breathe oxygen every day and life. It is an incredible gift and when you are given that gift, it is your responsibility to do the best you can with that gift.”
Jessica Blankenship is the owner and founder of Kentucky Country Music website. The Berea College graduate has been a music journalist and historian for over 20 years. She enjoys providing concert photography, reviews, historical articles, red carpet event coverage, and exclusive interviews of your favorite musicians. Jessica is proud to be a Kentucky Colonel and alumni of the FFA and 4-H Clubs. In 2018, she was named one of Laurel County’s Ten Under 40 Award Recipients. In 2019, she was a member of the Inaugural class of BRIGHT Kentucky as part of Leadership Kentucky. She has been featured on the Kentucky Music Preview podcast, Hollercast podcast, Overtones radio show, WFKY Nashville News Roundup, KET, and more. Beyond music, she enjoys traveling, helping her community, collecting gnomes, and Volkswagens.