Legendary Oak Ridge Boys performing at WaterView Friday

Published 7:25 pm Wednesday, February 20, 2019

They’re best known by one song, “Elvira,” but when the Oak Ridge Boys take the stage at the WaterView Casino at 8 p.m. Friday, they will be continuing a musical tradition that goes back more than 60 years.

The members of the group originally formed during World War II as the Oak Ridge Quartet from Knoxville, Tennessee, have changed over the years, but the gospel roots and the four-part harmony that has long been the hallmark of the Oak Ridge Boys are still there.

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And all of the present members have one thing in common.

“All of us were fans of the group before any of us became part of the group,” said Richard Sterban, the group’s bass singer, who joined the Oak Ridge Boys in 1973.

Leaving Elvis

Sterban was a member of the Stamps Quartet, which performed with Elvis Presley.

“It was a pretty exciting time for me, to say the least,” he said. “Back then, Elvis was the biggest star in the world, his tour was the biggest tour in music back then, and to be a part of it was very, very exiting.”

Then he got a call from the Oak Ridge Boys’ William Lee Golden with an invitation to sing bass for the group. He left Elvis.

“A lot of people questioned my decision, but I really believed I was doing the right thing, and I think time and history has proven that I made a pretty good decision back then.

“In the last 46 years of my life, now, very good things have happened, not to just me personally, but to all four of the Oak Ridge Boys.

“We’ve had a very good career, we’ve been very blessed. So many good things have happened to us, and it probably all culminated about 31/2 years ago when we were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. That was a very special thing.”

The group is also a member of the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.

The Man in Black

Over the years, the group has performed with artists like George Jones, Brenda Lee, Johnny Cash, Roy Rogers, Billy Ray Cyrus, Bill Monroe and Ray Charles, and Sterban credits Cash with helping the Oak Ridge Boys gain the popularity they have today.

“I don’t think there would be an Oak Ridge Boys today if it were not for Johnny Cash,” he said. “Johnny Cash came into our lives and to our career during a period of time when we really, really needed some help. He was a mentor for us in a lot of ways.

“His words of encouragement really helped us in our struggling days. Every time we worked with him, he paid us more than the contract called for. He always gave us more, but more than that, it was his words of encouragement. The same for his wife, June Carter, they both took us under their wing.”

The group soon had a record contract and several years later won its first Country Music Award for vocal group of the year.

The Oak Ridge Boys’ move to secular music was something they wanted to do, Sterban said.

“We were very happy singing gospel music, but we wanted to increase our outreach, and we thought that to be able to do that, we had to make some changes. Our manager told us we were a good group, but were three minutes away from being a major act. He meant a hit record. He directed our steps.”

The breakthrough hit

The group began having hit records, Sterban said, “And for about 15 years there, everything we released went to the top of the country music charts and we were able to establish a very good career.

“We’ve been very blessed throughout the years and we’ve been able to experience some very good things.”

One of those good things is “Elvira.”

“To this very day, if it is not the largest, it is one of the largest selling single records to ever be recorded in Nashville, and it’s something we’re very proud of,” Sterban said.

“It propelled us to another level, and Elvira was not only a No. 1 country record, it was a No. 1 pop record, a crossover, and it really made us a household name and yes, we’ve been there ever since. Elvira has a very special place in our hearts.”

Sterban said none of the Oak Ridge Boys plans to retire, and have released a new album, “17th Avenue Revival,” a mix of gospel and country tunes, adding another album is in the works.

“The good Lord above will let us know when it’s time. Right now, all four of the Oak Ridge Boys are in pretty good health, and as long as the good Lord above allows it to be in good health, we’re going to continue to do what we do, because it’s what we love doing.

“We love singing as the Oak Ridge Boys. We’ve been able to experience a lot of longevity in our career; we really love what we’re doing.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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