Joe Bonsall is probably most recognized as “one of the” group members of country music‘s, The Oak Ridge Boys; but he is also a notable author, with seven published books and an eighth due out in September, which has been titled “From My Perspective by Joseph S. Bonsall”. A 250-page book that is packed with Joe’s entertaining reflections on life, service, worship, patriotism, nature, family, and God. As always, Joe’s commentaries are sometimes witty, sometimes sentimental, and always inspirational.
Joe lives in Hendersonville, Tennessee, with his wife Mary Ann; they also share a ranch on the TN / KY border, and both give Bonsall much to reflect on. I was invited by Joe to spend an afternoon with him as he gave me some insight to his new project and some “stories behind the story” moments.
Bev: Joe, I am so excited to spend time with you and talk about the new project, what made you decide to write this one?
Joe: My upcoming book is called “From My Perspective by Joseph S. Bonsall”. I am Joseph S. Bonsall; when I write, I am Joe Bonsall; when I sing, I am Ban-Joey when I play the banjo. I am top cop, pop-pop, I am daddy, and I am Joey. And we are all doing just fine. In fact I think I write about that in a chapter in the book called Being Joseph. The new book is a unique little personal perspective from me! Is it auto biographical? Not exactly. Is it a book on the Oak Ridge Boys? No. Is it an inspirational book? No. Is it a book about nature? No. Is it a book about banjos or birds? No. Is it a book about music? No. Actually what I am getting to here, is that it is all of the above. There is a little bit of everything in this book. Somebody awhile ago asked me if I had written an autobiography; and I figure between this book and the book I wrote before that, GI Joe and Lillie; I think you will learn all you need to learn about Joe Bonsall without it being a full fledged autobiography. I also write a lot about America, and a little about politics, but I do not delve into that too much. I write about veterans and the flag. I am very patriotic. I guess you would call me pretty much a conservative Christian on most matters. I am Christian on all matters. Therefore there is a lot of inspiration in the book. There is a lot of Oak Ridge Boys in the book too. It would be impossible for there not to be, because I joined the Oak Ridge Boys when I was twenty-five years old. I have been with this group now thirty-seven years. That is a long time to be with one group. And the weird thing is the other three guys have been here longer than me! Now I did write a book on the Oak Ridge Boys called An American Journey. It is available at Amazon.com. If you look online with a search engine you will also find other books I have written; Molly the Cat, and GI Joe and Lillie. And you can preorder “From My Perspective by Joseph S. Bonsall”. Anyway, I think you will enjoy the book. There is a lot of good information in it. It goes in a lot of different directions. It is not a book you have to read chronologically. I think it is the kind of book you can pick up any day, turn to a chapter and read and get something out of it. And I think that every chapter has its own little poignancy, its own little back story to it. There is humor in the book. There is a lot of very funny stuff in it.
Bev: How long did it take you to put all your notes together to decide what was going to be in the book?
Joe: My agent, good friend and associate, Kathy Harris, is the marketing director for The Oakridge Boys and had read some of the pieces that I had written over the years. And she said, “Wouldn’t it be great if you could put together a book of these little articles and commentaries you have written over the years?” Taking her lead, and then she found Journey Books who were willing to do this book, I went kind of crazy! I started writing all kinds of new stuff! I wrote new things to go with the old things. I think writing new things took me about eight months between the writing and the tweaking since the idea first manifested itself. I love to write on the road. There is a lot of down time on the road. People do not realize that. The Oak Ridge Boys work one hundred fifty-one hundred sixty days a year on the road. There is a lot of crazy traveling. Some of it is flying, but for the most part we ride on this tour bus where I am sitting right now; as most of the country’s rock and roll artists, gospel or bluegrass do. You have downtime on a bus; you have downtime on a plane. That leaves plenty of time to get out the laptop and write!
I write about my beautiful farm. It is located on the Tennessee-Kentucky line. It is about four hundred acres. I go out there a lot to spend time with the grandkids or sometimes it is just my wife and I. Oh, I write about my grandkids too, by the way. I am moved by nature out there, from the standpoint of a relationship with God. I think the last chapter of the book deals with the fact that last year we had one of the coldest winters in history here in Tennessee. Which is kind of ironic, we are here in July. And now this past May we had one of the wettest in history, with the floods and everything. And in June we had the hottest June on record here in Tennessee. Now July is dry, no rain and it is like a drought. So, we are having some very strange weather here. At the beginning of the year, when the Oaks take some time off, we had big time snow and freezing cold day after day. I went up to my farm and just immersed myself in the cold and in the sounds of the winter. Crunching in the snow, walking by the creek, listening to the sounds of nature. I find a lot of inspiration for my writing at my farm. I think as an author I tend to overdo it at times; the “you must get alone time”, because I really believe it is imperative to do so. In the very fast paced world we live in, how can you feel God, how can you feel nature, if you are not listening? I talk a lot in the book about listening. In order to listen, you must take that quiet time walking past a creek, picking blackberries, drinking fresh nectar out of a honeysuckle vine. Getting away is important, because then you can open your mind and heart and listen, listen to nature, listen to what God has to say to you. I write a lot about that in the book. A chapter in the book called Wintry Days is one of the examples. Another is called A Nothing Day. It is pretty much the same story only in the summertime version of it instead of wintertime.
Bev: The fact that you do write about other people, like the Oakridge Boys, family members, etc. is there anything about the fans that you have written your perspective of?
Joe: In my book “From My Perspective by Joseph S. Bonsall” I do not think I have written much about that aspect of the Oakridge Boys. I did write a lot about that in the book “An American Journey”. I think I felt like I had traveled down that road. Most of the references to the Oak Ridge Boys that are in the new book are maybe more up to date references. More part of my lifestyle, than delving into what makes the Oaks the Oaks.
Bev: Do you find it hard to separate yourself from them?
Joe: I think one of the real secrets of the Oak Ridge Boys is the individuality. We are four different guys from four different parts of the country. And we are all totally different one from the other. You would not even think that this group of guys would even know each other let alone work together in a legendary capacity; a historic capacity! I think the Oaks are a phenomenon and I can say that because I am just (creating quotes with his fingers) “one of the”. “of the” is the key. We still cannot get away from the “of the”. I write about this in the book. We are “of the" Oak Ridge Boys. For example, people are always saying things like, “hey, there goes one “of the“, aren’t you one “of the“, I could swear I just saw one “of the” in the airport”. We are one “of the“. That is our middle name. Joe Bonsall of the Oak Ridge Boys. Duane Allen of the Oak Ridge Boys. William Lee Golden, artist, historian goes out there on his own and does all kinds of cool things by himself. But he is still, no matter how he slices it, one of the Oak Ridge Boys. Richard Sterban, bass singer extraordinaire. You see him at the game and you know he is a big ball fan, but you also know he is “of the”. He is the bass singer of the Oak Ridge Boys. So when you are a part of something like this for so long, you cannot get away from that. So therefore in a writing capacity and in an author capacity, when you start to write, you still cannot help writing about the Oak Ridge Boys and how it relates to what you are talking about or doing. For instance, I have a section in the book where I write about veterans and sacrifices. I am very big in writing about our heroes. It is called sacrifice for freedom! There is always a price to be paid. Our young kids are paying the price now. My parents, I wrote about in G.I. Joe and Lillie, paid the price in the forties. A lot of guys my age paid the price in the sixties and early seventies in Viet Nam. And we cannot forget Korea either, although a lot of people do. My father-in-law paid the price there. Okay? So there is always a price to be paid. And the Oak Ridge Boys are very appreciative of that as a group. Some of the events and some of the happenings, some of the things that have gotten me close to our troops and to our veterans have been as a result of the Oak Ridge Boys. So we are all kind of intermingled somehow in my writing.
Bev: When you put this together as a book, what kind of readers did you visualize reading it and is it aimed towards a specific genre or age group?
Joe: Well, actually I am hoping that everybody of all ages will enjoy this book! It has been called the baby boomer’s delight by Jerry Jenkins. He said it is more than that, but it is a baby boomer’s delight. I have to think a lot of people my age will relate to it. It is like GI Joe and Lillie. I mainly wrote that book for veterans and hoped that they would relate to it. I prayed they would and they have. And it has picked up a much broader audience and I think that “From My Perspective by Joseph S. Bonsall” can do the same thing. In fact, I just got an email not too long ago from a nine year old that read G.I. Joe and Lillie who was so moved and educated by it. He said “I knew nothing about World War II. So thank you for writing this book. I loved it! I loved your parents and I loved your mother.” Nine years old and he got it, you know? So I am really kind of hoping that “From My Perspective by Joseph S. Bonsall” does the same thing.
Bev: I know that as a public figure and musician you are often asked for advice on how to be successful, do you envision this as a book on advice?
I think a lot of kids who are singing today or who want to be singers will learn some things from the book as to how to do this. The creative process is something that is very important to me. I love the fact that because you listen to a voice and because you took the extra time and used the talent that God gave you. I think that God means for all of us to be creative, all in different ways, that this is one of the gifts from the The Creator. I love having something that is in my hand today that was not here yesterday. I do not care if it is a new song, if it is a book, or an article. I think that is one of the great things about writing a book or writing a song or anything. I call it the theory of creativity.
Bev: Will there be audio versions of your book as well as the printed version?
Joe: I hope there will. I have not talked to Journey Press about that. But if there is an audio version I am ready to go into the studio and do it. It will definitely be on Kindle. G.I. Joe and Lillie is on Kindle, which I think is so cool. Apple has Ibooks which is another outlet. I am pretty sure “From My Perspective by Joseph S. Bonsall” will be available on all those. And I hope an audio book as well.
Bev: In the printed version, will there be any photos or illustrations that go along with it?
Joe: Actually, yes. In the final days of tweaking the book and looking at final galleys, as in fixing little mistakes or adding things, the publisher decided that some photos would be apropos. Some would fit the chapters well. So now we have photos. I do not know how many, maybe thirty. So if I am writing that has something to do with my wife, you may find a photo of her and me at the end of the chapter. I wrote a piece about our grandchildren Breanne and Luke for his book, so you will see a picture of my grandkids. The pictures kind of fit the chapters. And again I have to say one of the positive and maybe crazy things about the book is that it is all over the place. It is condensed down into different sections. For instance, this section is more about music and another section is more inspirational. As I said it is all over the place. There is a lot of different ground covered.
Bev: I am excited to get my hands on a copy, as I am sure others are. When can we expect to see it on the book shelves?
Joe: The book is scheduled to be released September first. You can go to Amazon.com and or Barnes and Noble right now and pre-order. Either type in “from my perspective” or Joseph Bonsall in the search engine. If you visit my website www.josephbonsall.com and you can get a few excerpts from the book. Read a little bit about it. See if it is your cup of tea. I think it might be.
Bev: Another thing I know you do a lot of is Twitter.
Joe: Yes. (laughs).
Bev: So I assume you will be promoting it well on your Twitter.
Joe: I try not to blatantly promote it too much on Twitter. But from time to time I think a promotional tweet is in order. Listen to us. A year ago I did not even know Twitter was! And now I am, what, a Twitterer?
Bev: Yes, you are. I follow your Twits.
Joe: You do???
Bev: I cannot even believe I have over three thousand followers now. It is kind of amazing to me.
Joe: I think the fun thing to me about Twitter is being able to come up with something different. Like “It was on this date in seventeen-seventy-six The Declaration of Independence was read on the steps of city hall to a throng of people and the Liberty Bell rang for the first time”. I love to Tweet stuff like that. That is kind of cool.
Bev: Do you refer to your Twittering in your book?
Joe: I do actually write about Twitters a little bit in the book. But I think I do it to get their attention so I can come up with something a little heavier than that. I think it is one chapter that I definitely, definitely do that. I will tell you about a great chapter in the book. I have dedicated this book to a lady named Lo-Dee Hammock. Lo-Dee is ninety-three. She is sharp as a tack. She is a wonderful Christian woman. She is very inspiring to me. She lives in Branson. When the Oaks play Branson, I always spend time with her. I have a chapter in my book called Musings On Heaven. They came from a discussion I had with her about Heaven. Everybody has an opinion. Let’s face it, nobody has ever come back and told us about it. But we have read our different fiction accounts about it and we get out of the Bible what we can. So I asked her what she thought Heaven is. One morning we went through this whole diatribe on what Heaven could possibly be; what it might be like and what it might not be like; what might surprise us; what might not be there that we think is there; what will be there for sure. Or what we perceive there to be there in our own minds. I went right to my room that day, got on the laptop, and I came up with the words “Musings on Heaven.” And I start out by writing about Lo-Dee, this wonderful old friend. Then I continue to write about our different conversations we have on heaven. It is a wonderful chapter. It is actually one of my favorite chapters in the book.
Bev: Do you journal or write in a diary or anything similar to that on a daily basis?
Joe: I am not a diary person. But I am kind of a steel trap. I do not forget much. Sometimes I will write down dreams. As I write in my theory of creativity, some of your best ideas can come in a dream. How many good ideas have you had in the shower? Or out on a tractor? Mowing the lawn? I think that what you need to do then is jump out of that shower soaking wet and write something down you just thought of because believe it or not those fleeting cool ideas go away. Wipe up the floor later, but write it down man. If you had a really cool dream, write it down. I had this weird dream one night and at the end of it someone turned to me and said something to me so out there and so profound, that I wrote the whole thing down, word for word. I still do not know what I will ever do with it, but I would hate now not to have written it down and forgotten all about it.
It may end up being a chapter in a new book or an idea for a whole book, who knows? It is all part of the theory of creativity for me. I do believe that these moments do come. I call it the faucet turning on. And when the faucet turns on you have to follow that faucet! You have to go with it. Because eventually it is probably going to slow down and turn off and the thought may go away. And if you have not written any of it down, it disappears.
Bev: You mentioned earlier that this book has been a collection of the writings over many years, and you have had a lot of amazing adventures and opportunities over time, so is it safe to say you include some of these in your book?
Joe: Yes, definitely. Over the years The Oak Ridge Boys have had very many cool things going on or happening, and with that you get to meet wonderful people. One of those people is General Chuck Yeager, who has become a great friend of the Oak Ridge Boys. He agreed to write the forward to this book. Talk about one of America’s great heroes! He is our greatest pilot of all time. I mean this is the guy that broke the speed barrier for the first time. He went faster than the speed of sound for the first time ever. We take that for granted now, but imagine being in that little X15 for the first time when it dropped off the bottom of a plane and you are flying it. And you take that thing higher than it has ever been before and faster than it has ever been before. It is like, hey cool! Look what I just did. That is General Yeager, one of the greatest guys I have ever met. There has been times when he has come out to an Oak Ridge Boys show and he has introduced us. He walks out onstage and before he says anything, they are standing. They are saying “oh my God, that is Chuck Yeager!” He is a hero. We performed at his eightieth birthday party some years back in Texas. What a trip that was to have a bunch of his old pilot friends there with him that night. We sang songs, but aside from that it was amazing; an interesting thing I remember is that one of his old pilot buddies was talking about World War II off the coast of France where they were flying together and there were three of them flying side by side. General Yeager says “We have bogies at three o’clock.” These guys all tried to see them and could not. They flew another several miles and then they saw what he had seen. He is a unique guy. And again these are the kind of guys that are the fabric of America. They are the guys that make America what it is. They are the heroes and I love writing about veterans. And another thing is what he did as a gift for all who came to his birthday party; he gave them all a copy of G.I. Joe and Lillie, which I thought at the time was astounding. I had to sign them all. I sat there all afternoon signing books but my gosh, what an honor! Anyway, he wrote the forward to this book and I just love that man.
Bev: It is very touching to witness you speaking of your respect and heartfelt honor for our service men and women.
Joe: I could write about just that and be very, very happy. That and writing about veterans events and talking to this veteran about that battle. And because of my previous book, G.I. Joe and Lillie, I have had the opportunity to meet a lot of these guys. I have a great chapter in my book called Gun Stories. I write about two storied World War II weapons. The first being an M-1 Garand. The other is a forty-five caliber US Army issued side arm that was at D-Day and beyond. It is an incredible story about that gun. I have a friend named Eddie Polk in Louisiana. What Eddie does for a living is to take old veterans back to battlefields and does battlefield tours. He takes veterans back to fields where they fought. It is a very moving thing. He is probably responsible for selling two hundred G.I. Joe and Lillie books, because I think he bought one for every veteran he has ever met. The Oaks were doing a big show in New Orleans in a big casino, that was before Katrina. Eddie lives in Slidell, Louisiana. In fact, in Katrina he lost his whole house and everything. Eddie and I went to the D-Day Museum, which ironically was never touched by Katrina. The D-Day Museum, sitting right in the middle of New Orleans, was never flooded. The flood came up to the front of it and never came in. My daddy was at D-Day and it is very moving for me. Eddie and I walked through the Museum and we learned together and cried together. We learned about the Higgins boats that the guys landed on the beaches which were built in New Orleans. That is why the D-Day Museum is there. When we were walking out to the car, Eddie said, “Is there anything I can do for you? I would love to get you something to repay you for all the blessings you have brought to me.” And I said, “Eddie, this is really asking a lot, and I will pay for it gladly, but if you could find an M-1 Garand rifle, the storied rifle of World War II, the kind of rifle like my daddy carried across Europe for fifty days before he got shot up; I would love to have one.” Story short, Eddie said he could get me a gun. He called me a few weeks later and said he had it. “You do not owe me anything, it is from me. What do you want me to do with it?” He said he had to send it to a gun store, because it is the law. So I got in touch with a gun store buddy of mine in Gallatin, Tennessee. I said I would be home on Wednesday, driving up to my farm on Thursday afternoon, how about I stop by there at noon and pick up the gun? Noon comes, and I get there just about on time. There is this old gun store in Gallatin, and there is nowhere to park. The parking lot is packed! I had to park way down the street! I could not believe it. I get to the gun store and I see why. I walked in there and it was full of old men. The guy said “I been waiting for you”. I asked him why he had not opened it and he said he had been waiting until I got there. So I told him to open it. He opened that cardboard box with the cutter and out comes that M-1 Garand. (at this point in our conversation, Joe breaks up a bit with tears in his eyes and pauses). All those old men were holding it, hugging it and crying. It got funny a little bit later on when they started telling me how to use it. And they all agreed that I needed to shoot it. Some of them gave me magazines that they had kept over the years. The gun store owner provided me with a bunch of thirty-ought-six shells. He said I needed to go load this thing and fire it so you will know how your daddy felt when he fired it. Then he put it in the safe. And that is what I have done with it. One of the guys was showing me that if you do the clip just the wrong way, it snaps back and you lose a finger. And another guys said “yup” and held up his hand. He was missing a finger”! The whole place laughed. I hugged all those old guys. It was the most incredible thing. It is in My Gun Stories in the book. And the ironic thing about it, is that last year we were staying at the Garth Mansion in Hannibal, Missouri, the place where Mark Twain went to write. He had his own bedroom in the Garth Mansion. I went to Mark Twain, Samuel Clemens’ room, shut the door and spent all day in there that day and wrote Gun Stories. So this chapter was actually written in Mark Twain’s bedroom in Hannibal, Missouri.
Bev: Now that you have this one done, will you continue writing so we will see a Volume II and Volume III?
Joe: I do not know. It has been talked about. I say, let us get this one out first. I will see if anybody really cares. I want to see if it really moves people. I think it will inspire people.
Bev: Other than the online Amazon site, what else are you planning to do for promotion?
Joe: Well, I hope to go on a book tour. I plan to do a lot of radio interviews. They are always easy to do. I am on the road so much of the time. I can talk to a lot of different people. I have a chapter in the book called Being Joseph. It talks about what one goes through to promote a book. Of course when I am writing I am Joseph. This is a humorous article. It runs through talking to country DJs early in the morning, then talking to a gospel station right through talking to a public radio station where they speak to you like “Well, Joseph, in your Molly the Cat book series, you write about Gypsy. What is the impetus behind the character?” Now in my mind, I am picturing Gypsy licking her behind. But they have to be Joseph and come up with some impetus behind the character. You see? Promoting a book is really weird sometimes. But it is really fun. And it is quite eclectic. I hope I get to do it all for this book. I think it can be accepted as a good Christian inspirational book for the most part. I think it can be accepted as a book on the Oak Ridge Boys. I think it can be accepted as a little book about America and what makes America America, again delving into the veterans and so forth. There are little side trips that it takes here and there and some will make you laugh, some will make you reflect on your own life, but hopefully when it is all said and done I hope people get some good inspiration out of the book.
Bev: Any bonus material included in the form of CD’s or anything to entice the readers?
Joe: I wrote a short story a couple of years ago when the big tornadoes hit here in middle Tennessee; both in Sumner County where I live and up in Macon County where my farm is. There was a tornado that hit Macon County that churned along and cut a one mile stretch through sixteen miles all the way through the county. If you were in that mile stretch, your home was destroyed and everything you owned was destroyed. There were a lot of people killed. I was very inspired by that. In fact, the Oak Ridge Boys sang at a benefit for both tornadoes, here in Sumner County and also one in Macon County to help raise money for the people who were affected by the storms. Well, out of all of it, as a writer, I wrote a short story called Billy’s Tornado. It was a story of a young couple who moved to you do not really know where, it could be Indiana or Tennessee, but it was definitely from the west coast to this area and a devastating tornado happens. It is about their faith and their family and how they pull together through adversity. Journey Press decided that this would make a great bonus short story at the end of “From My Perspective by Joseph S. Bonsall”. So you are not only getting all the things we talked about, but you are also getting a wonderful little short story at the end called Billy’s Tornado. I am very excited about that.
Bev: Joe, what an honor and privilege to spend this time with you. I have enjoyed it so much and I cannot wait to read the book. Thank you so much for sharing your afternoon with me.
Joe: The pleasure was all mine and I am thrilled you took time out of your busy schedule for me as well. I look forward to seeing you again soon.
For more information on Joe Bonsall visit http://www.josephsbonsall.com/ and to pre-order your copy of “From My Perspective by Joseph S. Bonsall” visit http://www.amazon.com/ .
Transcribed by Darlene McPherson for Digital Rodeo