Sept. 11--In the early 1970s, bass singer Richard Sterban was living the good life in music. Legendary bass singer J.D. Sumner had hired him to take his place in the Stamps Quartet, and six months after he got that gig, Elvis Presley brought on the Stamps as his male backing vocalists.
"To actually sing with the 'King of rock 'n' roll,' that was almost mind-boggling," Sterban recalled. "You can't beat that. I was part of the biggest tour in the music business."
But after 18 months with Elvis and the Stamps, another call came his way. The Oak Ridge Boys, a gospel quartet looking to go country, was looking for a bass singer. Sterban saw real promise in the Oak Ridge Boys, an act that had also been in the running for the Presley gig.
"It turned out to be a decision that really changed my life," St erban, 70, said. "I was singing with Elvis, but then I ended up joining the Oak Ridge Boys, going on to bigger and better things ."
It is his booming, lower register vocal in 1981 that made the "oom-pa-pa-mow-mow" lines nearly ubiquitous on the Oaks' cover of the mid-1960s song "Elvira." Along with "Bobbie Sue" and "American Made," St erban and the rest of the quartet crossed over into the American popular mainstream.
This year, the band is celebrating four decades of hits with a compilation album called "Faith, Family and Freedom" -- "that's really what the Oak Ridge Boys are all about," St erban said of the title -- and a national tour.
The band -- St erban, Duane Allen, Joe Bonsall and William Lee Golden -- stops in Dublin for two shows on Saturday at New River Community College.
"And now here we are, 40 years later," St erban said by phone from his home in Hendersonville, Tenn. "I've had an amazing ride throughout my life. I've been very blessed."
Bringing the hits
That compilation disc features songs from across the spectrum of what the Oaks have recorded -- "Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight," "Thank God for Kids," "American Made," "G.I. Joe and Lillie," and, of course, "Elvira," along with gospel numbers "Amazing Grace" and "How Great Thou Art," and "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Sterban said that folks who come to the band's Saturday shows can expect to hear a fair sampling of it all.
"People expect to hear those hits, especially 'Elvira,'?" he said. "We think our fans expect to hear some gospel from us ... and patriotic music, too.
"Family entertainment is really what we are all about. ... There's something on our show for grandma and grandpa, and everything in-between."
Reaching young fans
St erban said that he and the rest of the quartet realize that they don't fit in with the modern country music format these days, but he said that the format's changes have been good for country, and for the band.
"We have a lot of very talented young people that have come into country music," he said. "And they've raised the bar several levels. They've made country music bigger, better than it's ever been before."
He said that his teenage daughter and her friends turn their radio dials to country stations.
"They consider that the hip music," he said. "When the business gets bigger and better, it's better for all of us, it really is, even though we don't quite fit in anymore."
St erban remembered when his band was the one playing the big halls, to thousands of fans.
"Years ago, when we had 'Elvira' and 'Bobbie Sue,' we had the young kids singing along with us. But we had to cross over from country into pop for that to happen.
"The kids in country today, they don't have to cross over, because country has become ... the pop music of today. I don't have a problem with that."
That's not to say that the Oak Ridge Boys have given up trying. They recently released a CD, "Back Home Again," produced by Ben Isaacs of the bluegrass/gospel group The Isaacs. It's a more acoustic album, and St erban said that it has brought the band some new and younger fans.
"We love what we do, and we still love the creative process," he said. "We'll play some of that new music. We won't get carried away with it when we come to town, because we still believe people want to hear the hits. But we're going to do some of that new music, because that puts new life and new energy into our show."
(c)2013 The Roanoke Times (Roanoke, Va.)
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