With more than 40 years on the American music scene, there’s not too many places the Oak Ridge Boys haven’t been.
The country gospel band returns Sunday to the Clearwater River Casino outside Lewiston on tour for its 26th annual Christmas Show. The first half the show features the band’s hits, including the famous “Elvira,” while the second half highlights Christmas music, band members’ holiday memories and a visit from Santa.
“It’s a complete family show, it really is,” said member Richard Sterban, whose bass solo “Oom poppa mau mau” helped make “Elvira” a hit.
For the band, 2015 was momentous. The group won its 10th Gospel Music Association Dove Award for Country Song of the Year for “Sweet Jesus,” a single with Merle Haggard. In October they were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. In a phone interview Sterban, 72, talked to Inland 360 about that experience and the band’s longevity.
Inland 360: The Oak Ridge Boys have a longer history than most people realize.
The band dates back to World War II and started as Wally Fowler and the Georgia Clodhoppers. These guys would go entertain the people sequestered in Oak Ridge (Tenn.) at the atomic energy place, the Manhattan Project. They actually developed parts for the atomic bomb. They enriched uranium there; it was top secret so they could not leave. The Clodhoppers would go on a regular basis and entertain these people. Going to Oak Ridge all the time they became known as the Oak Ridge Quartet. … They disbanded and reorganized and the younger guys changed the name to the Oak Ridge Boys. … Our foursome has been together for 42 years. It’s pretty mind-boggling we’ve been able to experience this kind of longevity.
Inland 360: You have a connection to Elvis?
For a year and a half I sang with Elvis as a member of J.D. Sumner and the Stamps Quartet. It was an amazing experience. Here I was, a young guy standing on stage on the biggest tour in the music business. His tour was the biggest. To be a part of that was very, very, very exciting. It prepared me for my career. Later I went to the same arenas packed and sold out for the Oakridge Boys.
I was singing with the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll when I got a call from the Oak Ridge Boys. Their bass singer was leaving. I was a backup singer; my aspirations were beyond that. I was a fan of the Oak Ridge Boys. I took the job. History has proven I made a pretty good decision. A lot of people questioned that decision.
Inland 360: The band was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame this year. What was that like?
It’s almost difficult to find words to describe how special that was. When you look at the hall of fame – the building, the rotunda – all around the walls are plaques of people who have already been enshrined. To now be a part of that family is beyond words. It’s humbling. … I certainly never dreamed that when I was just a young guy standing and singing ‘umms’ and ‘ahhs’ behind Elvis that I would be in the same Country Music Hall of Fame with him.
Inland 360: Why keep touring after all these years?
It’s pretty simple, it’s because we love doing what we do. Even after all these years we look forward every night to taking our music live to our fans and we’re still having fun doing it. We do not plan to retire. If you enjoy doing something why stop doing it? I think the good Lord above will let us know when it’s time to quit. For our ages, we’re in pretty good health.
Who: The Oak Ridge Boys
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Where: Clearwater River Casino, outside Lewiston
Cost: $25-$75, ticketswest.com, (800) 325-SEAT