Originally published in the October 12, 2015 issue of Country Weekly magazine.
Duane Allen of The Oak Ridge Boys helps run the band’s business right down to their tour itinerary, in part two of our four-part series on the Oaks.
The Oak Ridge Boys—Duane Allen, Joe Bonsall, William Lee Golden and Richard Sterban—represent four distinct personalities who have managed to blend together as one unified quartet for more than 40 years. Perhaps one reason for their longevity is that all four enjoy their own personal hobby that keeps them occupied and fulfilled when they’re not on the road or making music in the studio.
As The Oaks prepare to enter the Country Music Hall of Fame on Oct. 25, Nash Country Weekly will profile each member and his own unique hobby for a special four-part series. In this issue, Duane Allen, who became a member of the group in 1966 when the original Oak Ridge Boys still sang gospel music, outlines his role as Oaks’ president and unofficial overseer of the business model.
Unlike his three Oak Ridge Boys counterparts, Duane pursues a pastime that has everything to do with music. Richard loves baseball, Joe writes children’s books and chronicles the band’s history while William Lee expresses his nonmusical side in his paintings and photographs. But Duane’s hobby is, well, The Oak Ridge Boys. Duane helps construct the business model and plan the foursome’s tour schedule, while serving as the primary lead vocalist onstage. He’s been called the CEO of the group, but Duane has a more precise definition.
“I believe my title is actually President,” he says with a smile as he sits behind a desk at The Oak Ridge Boys’ office outside Nashville. “My goal is to help us reach an area of income that will be comfortable for all of us and our employees.” And Duane has those logistics worked out right down to the season’s last tour date.
“We need to work 150 days out of the year,” Duane points out with definitive assurance. “At least, that’s what it says on my computer. That is how many dates we need to keep everyone happy and in a good financial state.” Each year, Duane, who’s as tech savvy as any 72-year-old you’re likely to come across, draws up the business model for the group on the computer and works out the tour schedule to get to that magic 150 mark. “There are some years where we have fallen short at first, but then we picked up additional dates,” Duane explains. “Other years, we’ve actually had more than 150 tour dates because of shows that we did not expect to have. It’s a good schedule but certainly nothing like we had in our younger days,” he adds with a hearty laugh.
It does seem, however, that the Oaks are busier than ever, when you peruse their tour schedule along with their recording commitments. Their current tour keeps the Oaks on the road almost through the end of December, with few breaks in between. They’ll rest long enough to embrace their induction to the Country Music Hall of Fame on Oct. 25.
But for a quartet whose members are now in their 60s and 70s, slowing down does not appear to be an option. Duane notes that each member of the group still has that “little-boy enthusiasm” about music, which partly explains why they continue to be a popular road draw. “The Oak Ridge Boys are still fans of our music industry,” he says, smiling. “We look forward to going into the Nashville publishing offices and finding new songs. We still love to record. And when we walk out onto that stage, we want to be great every single show. As many times as we have sung ‘Elvira’ or ‘Bobbie Sue’ or our other hits,” Duane adds, “we still make it sound fresh, like it’s the first time we’ve ever done it. And that’s a credit to everyone in the group.”
The members put that youthful enthusiasm into their latest album project, Rock of Ages: Hymns and Gospel Favorites, which took the guys back to their gospel and spiritual roots. The album garnered two Gospel Music Association Dove Awards nominations. “We recorded that with some of the best musicians in town,” Duane says. “It is truly a vocal album. We got pretty emotional on some of the songs because they mean a lot to us. There are a couple of times when you could hear a little emotional crack in Joe’s voice, but we left it in. It was so powerful. We just put our hearts into this album.”
Offstage, Duane keeps the band in the forefront and in the public eye with his extensive use of social media. “We all have a presence there,” Duane says. “We’re active on Facebook. Joe likes to use Twitter and I’m on that a lot as well.” Somehow, Duane finds enough time in the day to spend as much as 10 to 12 hours on his computer, checking chart activity and responding to fans and Facebook posts.
“I retweet all posts,” Duane proudly points out. “And I try to respond as quickly as I can. I feel like that is part of my responsibility. I have kind of a little office set up on the bus where I can look after the business and check our social media pages. It is something that I want to do,” Duane adds with emphasis. “It doesn’t feel like a chore to me. I don’t consider any of this to be work.” NCW