Ben James to The Oak Ridge Boys

Ben James – photo © Josh Daubin

Ben James, a right handed bluegrass guitarist and singer from Hickory, NC, has been called up to the majors, where he will take the position of tenor vocalist with The Oak Ridge Boys.

We all know Ben from his time with Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Dailey & Vincent, and his own recent solo album, Wonderland, with RBR Entertainment. Throughout we have seen him excel singing high lead and tenor vocals, and choosing quality material that suits his uniquely high pitched voice.

James has now been chosen to succeed Joe Bonsal, who had been a member of the Oaks this past 50 years, but has elected to step aside owing to a medical condition that severely restricts his mobility.

In a statement yesterday, Joe shared his reasons for leaving the band that has been his life since joining in 1973.

“Many of you know I have been battling a slow onset (over four years now) of a neuromuscular disorder. I am now at a point where walking is impossible, so I have basically retired from the road. It has just gotten too difficult. It has been a great 50 years, and I am thankful to all the Oak Ridge Boys, band, crew, and staff for the constant love and support shown to me through it all. I will never forget, and for those of you who have been constantly holding me up in prayer, I thank you and ask for you to keep on praying.”

Bonsal further offered an introduction to Ben for the many fans of the Oaks.

“There is a young man named Ben James singing for me out there, and he needs your love and encouragement … his sound is different than mine, but he brings a ton of talent to the table! The Oak Ridge Boys will finish the Farewell Tour without me, but rest assured, I am good with all of it! God’s Got It!!!”

When we caught up with James this morning, he was still getting accustomed to his new role. Having played his first show with The Oak Ridge Boys this past Saturday in Greenville, MS, he said it feels a bit surreal. An experienced professional, there was no hesitation singing in front of large audiences, but Ben has been a bluegrass guy all his life.

So how did this all come about?

“I first met the Oaks when I was with Dailey & Vincent in ’22. I’d been a fan forever, growing up on quartet stuff. We did a show with them and all went out on stage for Elvira, and they had me sing a verse.

Joe has been battling this neuromuscuular thing for the past four or five years. They had been saying that there may come a time when we will need you. And they finally did.

I hate it for Joe, and I hate that I come in in this circumstance. I hate the whole situation; they are heroes to me.

I can’t be him, I can’t try to be him. I’m just going to be myself. I was really nervous at first but I’m just hoping to step in and do the best I can do. It is the opportunity of a lifetime.”

Something a lot of people may not know is that Joe Bonsal is also a grasser, taking up banjo later in life, and learning to become a skilled player. Though his background was in quartet singing, he follows bluegrass closely and dearly loves his five string.

Ben says that he won’t be turning his back on bluegrass, despite this new gig.

“I’ll always be a bluegrass guy. My plan is to continue to record as a solo bluegrass artist, and I will do a few festivals with the Ben James Band this year, and fill in with some of my friends at festivals.

But The Oak Ridge Boys will be my top priority.”

You can follow The Oak Ridge Boys tour schedule online.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.