He sang backup for Elvis and his deep, resonant voice is one of the most recognizable basses in country music.
Nashville-based singer Richard Sterban is probably best known as a member of the Oak Ridge Boys, who are about to bring their harmonies and hits when their Boys Night Out tour stops in Vernon June 7.
“When you come to an Oak Ridge show you are going to hear a lot of our hits,” said Sterban, talking to The Morning Star before the Boys set out on tour.
Some of those hits, recently recorded for a 40th anniversary album, include Elvira, Thank God for Kids, and Leaving Louisiana in the Daylight, as well as ones contained on the Boys’ 2014 album, Boys Night Out, Y’all Come Back Saloon and Bobbie Sue.
“We have a gospel music background, so will add some gospel songs in the show and have also recorded some new songs. In general, the Oak Ridge Boys is a family show for grandma and grandpa to share with the younger set. When we walk on stage, we bring a lot of history with us.”
Sterban isn’t kidding.
The Oak Ridge Boys originally formed as a gospel quartet just four years after Mick Jagger was born in 1947, so you can say the Boys have beat out The Stones for one of the longest surviving bands still touring.
Current members Sterban, Joe Bonsall, Duane Allen, and William Lee Golden (known for his long, snow white beard) have been together for just over four decades now, and show no signs of slowing down.
“I think we’ve become the best of friends. It’s why we’re still together,” said Sterban.“We get along better now than when we were younger. We’re too old to let petty things bother us. It’s a great friendship and there is great respect between the four of us. All of us bring different things to the table. We pull together and are a true team.”
The Boys are not only celebrating their longevity in the music business, they have hit two major milestones recently.
The first was when they became official members of the Grand Ole Opry two years ago.
“We’ve been playing at the Opry for years, and now that we’re members, it feels like we are part of this big family. The Grand Ole Opry is country music. To be a part of that is a wonderful thing,” said Sterban.
The other major milestone is the recent announcement the band is to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
The announcement came at a press conference last month in Nashville, and the induction ceremony will take place in October.
“It was kind of like the missing piece in our career,” said Sterban. “The fact that we know that we are going into the Country Hall of Fame is so meaningful for us. It’s a tremendous honour. It’s hard to figure out words on how special this is.”
The honour is a long deserved one.
Sterban joined the group in 1972, when the Oak Ridge Boys were still singing strictly gospel music. Soon after, the group would release a string of hits shooting them to the top of the country charts.
“We made a transition a few years after I joined in 1972. We had a country hit in 1977 with Y’all Come Back Saloon. That’s when we met Jim Halsey, our manager, who is still our manager today. He signed us to a record contact with ABC Records (later absorbed by MCA). Ron Chancey became our producer, recorded Ya’ll Come Back Saloon for us, and produced all our hits.”
Born and raised in New Jersey, Sterban originally moved to Nashville to join J.D. Sumner and the Stamps Quartet, who sang backup for Elvis. Sterban reminisces about that time in his 2012 memoir, From Elvis to Elvira, My Life on Stage.
“It was exciting singing with Elvis. I was basically singing backup in the dark, but I had aspirations,” he said. “One of the most important parts of my book is the major decision I made to leave Elvis, the King of Rock and Roll, and join the Oak Ridge Boys. I was a fan of theirs and thought the group had a great deal of potential. Obviously the decision I made was a good one.”
Arguably most famous for his “oom-pa-pa-oom-pa-pa-mau-mau” bass solo in the Oak Ridge Boys’ song Elvira, which won single of the year at the CMAs in 1981, Sterban says his voice changed to that deep register while he was in junior high school.
“I was singing in a glee club as a tenor and from Grade 7 to 8, my voice made a drastic change. Over my eighth grade year, my choir teacher couldn’t believe the difference.”
That voice still resonates, with the Oak Ridge Boys spending an average 150 days a year on the road. Sterban says the Boys manage their hectic schedule by living a healthy lifestyle.
“The most important thing to keep in mind is to get enough rest. You can’t stay up all night. I sleep in when I can. Also I am careful on how much I talk before a performance. It’s difficult on the voice,” he said.
Sterban and the Boys are spending a few nights out and as they return to Canada to perform their nine-day tour, which takes them from Winnipeg and Thunder Bay to Nanaimo.
Vernon is their only other stop in B.C.
“We’ve played in Canada many times over the years – from the east coast to west coast. They are so kind there and treat us wonderfully well and are respectful of what we do. They are good audiences,” said Sterban.
The touring doesn’t stop as the Boys have a full schedule ahead.
“We’re going to be doing quite a bit of touring this summer – fairs, and country festivals. Summer starts our busy season and then we end the year with our Christmas tour… We’re also known for our Christmas music.”
The Boys will also be bringing their brand, new CD, Rock of Ages, with them on the road.
“It’s a gospel album of old hymns that we grew up with as kids. Anyone who has gone to Sunday school will know these songs.”
Opening for the Oak Ridge Boys in Vernon is five-time B.C. Country Music Association nominee Amanda Thate, who hails from Grand Forks.
Tickets for the June 7 concert, which starts at 7:30 p.m., are available at the Ticket Seller. Call 250-549-7469 or order online at www.ticketseller.ca.