Music Q&A: Richard Sterban, The Oak Ridge Boys
Considering big-name groups rarely stay together more than 10 years, it’s an achievement that the members of the Oak Ridge Boys celebrate their 40th anniversary this year.
The anniversary tour stops in Grand Junction for a show at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 22, at the Avalon Theatre, 645 Main St.
Reserved seating cost $52.50 for all ages. Tickets are available at local City Market stores, Back Porch Music, by phone at 866-464-2626 or 243-TIXS and online at ticketswest.com.
Known for its four-part harmonies, the Oak Ridge Boys has recorded dozens of country hits and received numerous awards, including the 1982 Grammy for Best Vocal Performance by a Country Group or Duo for the song “Elvira.”
In a recent phone interview, bass singer Richard Sterban talked about writing a book, performing with Elvis and how the Oak Ridge Boys has lasted 40 years and counting.
Melinda Mawdsley: I’m looking at a copy of your book, “From Elvis to Elvira,” released in 2012. When did you find time to write this?
Richard Sterban: It took me a while, a good year and a half, anyway. Prior to joining the Oak Ridge Boys, I had a chance to perform with Elvis. People had been asking me what it was like working with Elvis. I spent a lot of time talking about it, so I decided I should probably write this down. I do not pretend to be a writer. (Steven Robinson) wrote the book. Because he knows me so well, he wrote it like it was me talking. We interviewed other people who were around during that time and tried to get the story as accurate as we possibly could. If you are an Elvis fan, I think you’ll find the book very, very fascinating. If you are an Oak Ridge Boys fan, you’ll find the book very, very fascinating. I was very fortunate to sing with the King of rock ‘n’ roll, but I talk about how I made a major, major decision to leave the King and join the Oak Ridge Boys and go on to bigger and better things. That’s what the book is about. It’s really a chance, I think, for Oak Ridge Boys fans to get to know me.
Mawdsley: I better ask for my co-worker who’s obsessed with Elvis, what was he like as a person and performer?
Sterban: He was one of a kind, no question about it. After I met him, I realized “This man is special. He possesses a charisma and magnitude that is bigger than life.” He was certainly very, very special and probably one of the most talented singers you’ll ever hear. Listen to Elvis records and how good they are. Realize there wasn’t the technology recording-wise there is today. In the book, I talk about being in recording studios with Elvis. He sang through songs once or twice, and they had to get it. You realize how good he was and a very special person to say the least.
Mawdsley: Was it easy or difficult to chronicle your entire life in one book?
Sterban: The most difficult thing about writing this book was I had to spend a lot of time talking about myself. I’m a very private person, and it’s difficult to open up and talk about myself. I tried to give people the real me, so to speak, and that was probably the most difficult thing. Out of the Oak Ridge Boys, I’m probably the least known of the four because I’m the quietest of us four.
Mawdsley: How in the world have you guys stayed together and made it work for 40 years?
Sterban: First of all, it is unusual. No question. If you asked any of one of the four of us (when we started), if 40 years later we’d still be doing this, I don’t think we’d (say yes.)... One of the real keys is we love doing what we do. We still enjoy doing this and look forward to getting on stage every night and taking our music to fans and audiences. That’s very important. I also think a major factor is we enjoy being the Oak Ridge Boys and the creative process of creating new music and going into the studio. New music puts energy into the four of us. That helps keep us going and puts new energy into the show. I think the hits are very, very important. When we come to town, we’ll certainly be doing, “Elvira.” It’s the law. But new music also is important, and we’ll include new music in the show.
Mawdsley: What about the Oak Ridge Boys’ future?
Sterban: We’re still going strong. That’s the thing of it. We don’t plan to make this our farewell tour by any means. We are excited about celebrating 40 years together and still looking forward to doing it for years to come. As the long as the good Lord blesses us with good health, we’ll continue to do it.
Mawdsley: Last question. After 40 years together, what’s the craziest/best/worst tour story?
Sterban: I don’t know about crazy, but of all the performances we’ve done, I think performing at the White House was the most special. I remember the first time we performed there (between 1976–78). It was in the afternoon, and we were on the lawn of the White House and doing a sound check. I remember the feeling, looking around, and thinking, “This is not your normal, every day show.” It was probably a feeling I received that day that I’ll never forget. As a result of the success we’ve had, we’ve been able to sing for six presidents. We’ve sung for every president since Jimmy Carter, with the exception of the current president. We’d sing for him if he’d invite us.