No matter where he is, Joe Bonsall always pauses to reflect on June 6. It’s the anniversary of D Day (June 6, 1944), when his father—and thousands of other Allied troops—invaded the beaches of Normandy, France, in the name of freedom. From Joe’s perspective, although he wasn’t yet born, that day changed his life in several ways.
You may know Joe as the high voice in the country music group, The Oak Ridge Boys, but he is also a notable author, with seven published books and an eighth due out in September. Joe lives in Hendersonville, Tennessee, with his wife Mary Ann and their nine cats, Sunny, Molly, Sally Ann, Ted, Baybe’, Blackie, Callie, Crockett, and LT. He and Mary also spend a lot of time at their 400-acre farm on the Tennessee-Kentucky state line.
Joe, your primary career has been in music. When, and why, did you decide to start writing?
I have always written, but I NEVER thought I would ever be considered “a writer.” That just happened over time and space. Heck, when I was a kid I wrote short stories in my head all the time. I was always in the starring role…a gunfighter, a super hero, a ballplayer…even Elvis’ secret brother, a story I relate in my new book. Kind of silly really, but the process of allowing your imagination to run free is what storytelling is all about. In later years, when I started to write articles for country music periodicals, I realized I had a bit of a flair for the written word. That eventually led to my Molly the Cat books! Talent? Perhaps. But for the most part…IMAGINATION!!
How does your faith play into your writing?
Learning to lean on God in my life has always seems to translate into writing. First of all, I have a desire to reach people with a positive message, but it seems that—no matter what I write—an infusion of faith manifests itself. Even when I am not trying to do that. My unpublished novel, The Miracle of Whitetail Hollow, is a good example. I started writing about a guy who was the best there was! My hero, Mr. Barlow, is a Patriot who loves his family and his country and would do most anything to defend our freedom. Eventually, however, I made him a born again Christian. It just seemed right to do that.
Has God ever provided an unexpected “detour” in your life that turned out to be positive?
My life has been filled with many pathways, with twists and turns and crossroads galore, and there have been a few unexpected detours for certain. Except for the life-changing event of accepting Christ when ALL things become new, the one that sticks out is my daddy’s debilitating stroke at age 39. I was just 15 then, and all of a sudden I was the man of the house. I became sole support of my family and was reclassified to 3-A, so I would not “see that hell” that had haunted my dad since D Day! My father’s incapacity kept me from getting drafted and going to Viet Nam.
Let’s talk about your upcoming book, From My Perspective. Tell us a little bit about it.
I am so stoked about this new book. I have never written an autobiography, however, between From My Perspective (Sheaf House, September 2010) and G. I. Joe and Lillie, one can learn an awful lot about Joey Bonsall. But this book is so much more. I write about many different things—from God, faith, music, and veterans, to banjo picking, guns, and barn swallows. There is a lot of The Oak Ridge Boys in this book. I joined the Oaks at age 25, and just turned 62, so how could there NOT be some ‘Oak Ridge Boys’ From My Perspective’?
Besides providing entertainment, what is the one thing you hope readers will take away from the new book?
I hope readers will enjoy my anecdotes and short stories, but at the heart and soul within the prose is a definite message of optimism and faith. It is my constant desire to portray God in everything and anything I write about. I am a positive person. The glass is ALWAYS more than half full to Ban-Joey, and I hope my experiences bring a smile, and a desire to be better and to appreciate freedom and nature and God on every level of existence!
You are working on several fiction books. Where do you get your ideas? Do your characters or your plots usually come first?
I am not sure what comes first. My head is always filled with STUFF, and I just try to write that stuff down. Ideas are all around us. My short story, Billy’s Tornado, which the publisher includes as a bonus in From My Perspective, came as a direct result of watching the devastating aftermath of tornados that hit my hometown. I wrote that story in just one day.
What kind of books do you like to read?
All kinds. I enjoy great fiction and read everything from the likes of Stephen King to folks like George Frazier, who wrote Cold Mountain, one of my favorites. But, most of all, I read books about war and history of war. Of late, I am reading Helmet for My Pillow by Robert Leckie and With The Old Breed by Eugene Sledge. Those books inspired the HBO series, The Pacific, which I thought was INCRED!!!!
This website is about both writing and music. Tell us about your latest music project.
I am actually doing some songwriting again. The Oaks’ latest project, The Boys Are Back, is doing very well, but we are planning to return to the studio in 2011, and I am trying to come up with something good to add to the mix.
What kind of music do you listen to when you’re relaxing?
I am a banjoist, so I tend to listen to a lot of top tier bluegrass, but I also listen to southern Gospel, rock and roll, and all kinds of music. The important thing to me is the quality of the song. Usually the format does not matter so much.
A few fun questions:
If you were a song, what kind of song would you be?
In my heart of hearts, I am a sentimentalist. So I would be an introspective song that might move you to tears. Most people think I would be a rockin’, heavy back beat, up-tempo song, because that IS how I live my life. But down deep I tend to run on a different track.
Are you a major or a minor chord?
A MAJOR chord for certain. I do not even like minor songs much. Have you ever heard anyone tear up a crowd with Wayfaring Journey? I think not!
In the story that is your life, are you the tall, dark stranger; the romantic lead; the mythical warrior; the mad scientist; or the child in an adult’s body?
I am a cross between the child in an adult body and the mythical warrior…who ALWAYS gets the GIRL…
You wrote a series of children’s books about your cats. Please tell us about them.
Well, I love my cats. Each one is different from the other. They occupy a special place in my heart and in my life. They are graceful and independent and just plain fun. Like little pieces of art they seem to grace your home as much as live in it, except for when they hurl on your manuscript.
Joe, your humor, enthusiasm for life, and respect for our nation’s history are always contagious. Thank you for taking the time to do this interview.
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For more information about Joe Bonsall and his upcoming book, From My Perspective, visit his website at www.josephsbonsall.com or www.josephsbonsall.com/Media/JSBBookOneSheet.jpg.
For information about The Oak Ridge Boys’ log on to www.oakridgeboys.com.