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John Lamb, Published May 12 2013

Oak Ridge Boys to bring 40 years of success to Fargo Theatre

FARGO – As a group, The Oak Ridge Boys have been around since the 1940s. The most popular lineup – Duane Allen, Joe Bonsall, William Lee Golden and Richard Sterban – is celebrating 40 years together, and doing the same thing they’ve done every year: tour and record.

The vocal quartet plays the Fargo Theatre on Tuesday night, one of the roughly 150 dates they will play this year. They’re also scheduled to release two more albums this year, their fourth and fifth in two years.

“We’re busy boys. We’re working hard,” says Sterban, the iconic bass who gave the group’s huge crossover hit “Elvira” the “oom poppa, mow mow.”

Sterban called from his home in the Nashville, Tenn., suburb of Hendersonville on a rare day off. Rather than enjoying his free time, he was mourning the loss of his friend George Jones and preparing for that night’s visitation and the memorial service the next day, for which The Oak Ridge Boys would perform.

With more than 40 years in the music industry, Sterban shared his recollections from performing with Elvis to getting career advice from Johnny Cash to recording 17 No. 1 hits with his fellow Boys.

On the group’s durability

This is our 40th anniversary, and I think one of the reasons we’ve been able to stay around is that we periodically go into the recording studio and make new, fresh music and just kind of reinvent ourselves a little bit with music that’s relevant to the current market place. And I think we’ve acquired some new, younger fans as a result, and that’s something that contributes to our longevity.

On recording the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” for 2009’s “The Boys Are Back”

On that album we worked with a young fella named David Cobb, who is not even a country producer – doesn’t even live in Nashville. He took us down some roads musically we would never have travelled. It was his idea to do the White Stripes thing.

He said, “Fellas, just trust me on this. This will be a good song for you. We don’t want to do this like the White Stripes. We want to do this like the Oak Ridge Boys. We want you to stay true to who you are.”

The song got us more attention than anything we’ve done in years. … When we do that song in the show, it tears the crowd apart. It’s a great song for the show. If you listen to it, you can tell in the studio I was having a lot of fun. That’s probably the most fun I’ve had in a recording studio singing a song.

On “Elvira”

The song is just a happy song. It makes people want to sing along and want to smile. You can tell that day in the studio everyone was having fun, musicians were smiling. You could just tell it was going to be a hit song. And it ended up being our biggest hit, our signature song.

On his decision in 1972 to leave Elvis as a backup singer and join the Oak Ridge Boys

It was the major decision in my life. Here I was singing with Elvis, singing with the King of Rock ’n’ Roll and then the Oak Ridge Boys called and offered me a job. For me the decision wasn’t difficult. I was a huge fan. Each one of us was a fan of the group before we became members. I really jumped at the chance.

I really felt like I was making the right decision, and I think history will show I made a pretty good decision. Not only did I have a chance in my life to sing with Elvis, but I was able to go on to bigger and better things with the Oak Ridge Boys. I’ve been very fortunate in my life.

On George Jones

George Jones, and it’s been said so many times in the last several days since his death, he’s the greatest country voice ever. Very few people will dispute that. George Jones passing was a huge, huge loss to country music. As far as the four Oak Ridge Boys are concerned, not only was it a huge loss to our industry, not only did we lose an icon, we lost a great friend.

Years ago we sang on a record with him called “The Same Old Me,” and it was great experience to be in the studio, George Jones and Oak Ridge Boys together. It was one of the most exciting things we ever experienced. The four of us tried so hard to please him, because he was the king of country music, and I think the record came off really well. We’ve been playing the song in our show the last couple of days just to play tribute to him.

We have a tough thing coming up. Tonight is his visitation. Tomorrow morning is the memorial service, and the Oak Ridge Boys are singing one of his favorite hymns, “Farther Along.” It’s going to be a difficult thing to do, but it’s something we wouldn’t miss for anything either.

What he learned from Johnny Cash

I can honestly say that I don’t think there would be an Oak Ridge Boys today without Johnny Cash.

Johnny Cash made us a part of his show when we were a struggling act and always paid us more than what the agreed contract was.

One time we were playing in Las Vegas with him and he called us up to his suite in the Las Vegas Hilton, the same place I played with Elvis, by the way. He could tell we were discouraged. After our engagement with him, we had no other dates booked. We didn’t know what we were going to do, how we were going to survive. We were even contemplating having to break up because we didn’t know how we would continue.

More important than the extra money he paid us were the words of encouragement. He told us, “Fellas, there’s something very special about the four of you. But I can also tell your heads are hanging. I can tell you, if you give up now, the world will never know how special you are. Trust me on this. If you can find a way to stay together, I will promise you that good things are about to happen.”

We walked out of that room, and instead of our heads hanging low, our heads were up high, and we all said, “Wow, if Johnny Cash says we’re going to make it, we’ll make it.”

When we were presented our first (Country Music Award for Vocal Group of the Year in 1978), when we ran up on stage, we didn’t even go to the presenters to accept our award, we ran over to Johnny Cash, who was hosting the show, and hugged him. He said, “Fellas, I told you so.”


If you go

What: The Oak Ridge Boys

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday (no opener)

Where: Fargo Theatre, 314 Broadway

Info: Tickets are $52.50; additional fees may apply. www.jadepresents.com. (866) 300-8300.


Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533