When I answered the telephone this afternoon I think I shocked Richard Sterban… “Mark Elliott?” I had to inform him when I said that I was indeed the one that he was scheduled to have this phone interview with. He, with his “oom poppa, mow mow” tone and sweet, Southern charm, apologized for the misunderstanding. We both chuckled. What a way to kick off what was sure to be an excellent phone conversation. I sat back and listened to him share with me some very fond stories about life as an Oak Ridge Boy, touring, recording, collaborations, philanthropy, retirement and everything in between.
Richard Sterban, or Rich as some call him, is currently on tour with the rest of award-winning The Oak Ridge Boys – Duane Allen, Joe Bonsall and William Lee Golden. It is quite a special time of year to catch them in the action! The Boys have embarked on their 28th AnnualCelebrate Christmas Tour [you can view their tour dates here]. The Christmas music is derived from the seven bestselling Christmas albums that the Boys have released over their 4 decades + of hard work. Richard says “it’s a big part of what we do.” He describes that it as “a total package; almost two shows for the price of one. We come out in beginning and give you all our hits that you’re looking for, including “Elvira”, “Bobbie Sue”, and “Thank God For Kids”, for about 45 minutes.” After that segment, there’s a brief intermission, and it turns “completely Christmas!”
Richard goes on to elaborate that they “cover just about every aspect of Christmas; from fun, to romantic, and Santa himself makes an appearance! He even goes into the audience to interact with the kids!” It’s truly a family affair. After that, the ‘Rocking Chair’ segment, that the Boys started doing about 5 or 6 years ago, will commence. Duane, Richard, Joe, and William all sit in rocking chairs (provided by Cracker Barrel) in front of a fireplace and each member takes turns talking. Sharing things like childhood memories and bloopers, singing songs; the audience really gets to know the Boys during this intimate time.
They end the concert in an important way, “on a very spiritual note – talking about the true meaning of Christmas”. The Oak Ridge Boys encourage families to come and spend time together and enjoy the show together. It is apparent that once you’ve seen The Oak Ridge Boys Christmas show you’ll want to make it a family tradition.
At the concert, there will be, as always, merchandise available to purchase. I couldn’t think of a better way to get some items, “shirts, caps, music, books…” for the ORB lover in your life! Richard Sterban will even have his book: “From Elvis to Elvira: My Life on Stage” for sale at the show.
I know Splice readers are interested to find out what the Boys plans are right after the Christmas Celebration tour. Richard’s answer – “a little time off. Family is very important. We want to make sure that we are all home for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to spend time with our families. But, before you know it, New Year’s Eve will be here and we’ll be right back at it!”
What’s next for the Oak Ridge Boys?
“We are excited! We have a new project coming out in March 2018, a new album! It’s all done, all recorded”. When pried for more details, Richard remained tight-lipped. The record label, RCA Studios Nashville, wants to hold out for the big announcement. But what he was able to reveal was that they worked with the uber-talented, young producer: Dave Cobb; “Shooter Jennings introduced us to Cobb”. Dave has worked with some of the “hottest around, including the Zac Brown Band, Chris Stapleton and many more”. The Boys had previously worked with Dave when they produced “The Boys are Back”. That album “gained a lot of attention”; so of course they were up for working with the likes of Dave Cobb again without hesitation.
“What is the name of the album going to be?” “I can’t say just yet.” “Okay, well can you tell me anything more about it?” “It was laid down in one of the most historic buildings on Music Row, in Nashville, Tennessee. There are going to be 8 songs and it has a retro-gospel vibe to it”. He went on to describe how he was feeling while cutting the tracks and their influences – “we went back to the good ole days of Rock n Roll – Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, that era”. Well, that is intriguing! I for one am EXCITED to get my hands on this within the next few months!
To get off the subject of that, before I snooped any more, I moved the conversation onto collaborations past, present and future. “We have toured with many wonderful fellow artists, performed with many more over the years. We often fondly reminisce the days spent with Johnny Cash, Kenny Rogers, too. We just recently attended Kenny’s last concert, it was whos who! It was a wonderful event”. Last year we worked with Blake Shelton on a project that Blake was positive would be perfect for the Boys! Together we recorded the song “Doin’ It to Country Songs”. Earlier this year he released a video by the same name – “he put out single and video; and it’s not your run of the mill video, it’s animated! You must see it!” “Blake got in touch again just before the CMT Music Awards; CMT had requested they all perform it on the show. Without reluctance, they did just that.
The Boys have also worked with Home Free– Richard explains “they’re young guys, a cappella group. They are really talented. We all went into the studio together and laid down a great version of “Elvira”. Then they asked us if we’d like to also do a video with them. Certainly; it is a compliment to us when the young guys look up to us”.
I choked back the tears as I described my unique reason for being in the age bracket that I am and still have a passion for ‘Classic country’. I explained to Richard how my mother, whom sadly passed away in 2006, was a passionate fan of The Oak Ridge Boys. I explained how we were/are both fans of the affinity of Johnny Cash, Conway Twitty, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Alabama, and of course – The Oak Ridge Boys, otherwise referred to as ‘Legends’, in my book. He responded with charismatic condolences and went on to say– “I don’t have a problem with today’s new country music. When I look at today’s music I can tell why we don’t quite fit in. Young, new artists have raised the bar. But, as a result, The Boys have acquired a lot of new, younger fans, as well as the devoted [older] generation” fan base.
Does your family tour with you?
“Not for the most part. We have a large entourage between the four of us. If we play close, yes, they’ll come out.
How do you travel?
We travel by bus as much as we can – it’s our favorite way to travel, and we get the most rest. We don’t like to fly for the most part, unless necessary. We strive to arrange our schedules so that all dates are manageable by bus.”
Do you ever get tired of each other?
“We have a special relationship, the four of us. We are truly best friends. Each guy is different; each one brings something different to the table. We have learned over the years to respect the differences. We realized a long time ago that we need each other, we pulled together, it’s a brotherhood; a true brotherhood. We get along better now that we’re older than we did when we first started this. A contributing factor is that we don’t let the little things bother us”.
Philanthropy – In what ways do the Oak Ridge Boys give back?
“Our good friend, Miranda Lambert, she does a lot of work with the animal rescues, [MuttNation] a lot that were displaced by the recent hurricanes. William Lee, him and his wife adopted one of her pets. Miranda drove her bus to him and delivered the dog personally!”
The point of the interview we’re all anxiously awaiting the answer to: Retirement.
“Are you planning on retiring any time soon?”
The short answer: “no”. Long answer – “one of the main reasons we’ve been around – we love doing what we’re doing! We look forward to taking our music live on stage; we’re all still having fun. As long as that continues, we’ll continue.” It’s obvious by his tone of voice alone that each member is still as enthusiastic about this as they were in the beginning. “We’re all still experiencing reasonably good health. But, we realize that nothing lasts forever, realistically”.
Being Mr. Sterban 7th or so interview today, I knew it was time to bid farewell. As much as I could and would love to chat with him for hours on end, he has a very busy schedule to tend to. I thanked him for the delightful mid-afternoon conversation and in turn, I was thanked. He elaborated with “thank you for doing this, promoting our Christmas show, we truly appreciate you”. But, truly, “it was my pleasure, Mr. Sterban. I am really looking forward to providing exceptional coverage to your Celebrate Christmas tour stop at FireKeepers Casino in Battle Creek, Michigan next Thursday. And I am confident our fans are looking forward to it as well!”
Senior Photojournalist: Mary Elliott