That said, it’s hard to ignore the years of 1987-1992 in the Oaks’ history as well. As has been well documented over the years, Golden left the group in the spring of 1987. It’s water under the bridge, and there’s no reason to bring any of the reasons up as the Oaks are tighter and more comfortable with each other than ever. But, with his absence came the need for a new baritone singer, and Steve Sanders got a promotion from the ORB Band to being one of the members.
Their first single with Sanders, “Time In,” only dented the top 20 on the charts, but by the summer of 1988, they returned to the top with the uptempo “Gonna Take A Lot Of River.” It was the first single from their second album with Sanders, Monongahela. The next single proved to be one of the group’s most unheralded classics, giving Sanders a second straight opportunity to sing lead. To say he took advantage of the opportunity is to say that “Elvira” was a medium hit or that William Lee Golden missed a spot while shaving.
Sanders possessed a gritty R&B style voice at times that served him well when he needed to dig down and find the soul of a song. These lyrics were about the pain of a breakup – at time feeling strong emotions about a relationship that was no longer there. He handled the verses in convincing manner, and then when the harmony kicked in on the chorus, it was classic Oaks in full throttle.
The group enjoyed a few more hits with Sanders, but by the mid-90s, it was clear that he was wrestling with some very strong demons. By the end of 1995, a change was in order, and Sanders left the group. His replacement? Ironically, the same man who recommended him for the job almost a decade earlier, William Lee Golden. Since then, the group has recorded some of their most artistic work ever. Last fall, they released a collection of songs for Cracker Barrel that included their versions of some of those Sanders-era hits. But, interestingly enough, “Bridges And Walls” was not included. I am glad of this, as to me – just like nobody could do “Ozark Mountain Jubilee” or “Thank God For Kids” like Golden, “Bridges And Walls” was Steve Sanders’ moment, and thus should always be.