By Noreen Kompanik
The Oak Ridge Boys – the legendary group consisting of William Lee Golden, Duane Allen, Joe Bonsall and Richard Sterban – has been performing on stage together for over 50 years. But the fascinating and unique history of this iconic group started in the 1950s. We recently caught up with ORB’s Richard Sterban.
How did you first get involved?
Sterban was in the right place at the right time. “I was on backup with Elvis, performing with the Stamps Quartet. I was in my 20s singing on stage with the greatest star in the world,” he recalls. “I have fabulous memories of those days with Elvis, but I received an unexpected opportunity to join the Oak Ridge Boys and I took it. I’ve never looked back.”
What’s it like singing together for a half century?
“We feel like we’ve never worked a day in our lives, because we love doing what we do,” says bass singer Sterban. “I don’t think there’s a group in the business that has a history like the Oak Ridge Boys. It goes back to the second World War with a performing group originally known as the Georgia Clodhoppers.” The group frequently traveled to Oak Ridge, Tennessee to entertain people working on the development of the nuclear Manhattan Project.
In the 1950s, the “Oak Ridge Quartet” were regular performers at the Ryman Auditorium, the original home of the Grand Ole Opry. After the addition of some younger performers, the group became known as the Oak Ridge Boys. William Lee Golden joined the group in 1965, followed by Duane Allen in 1966. Richard Sterban arrived in 1972 and Joe Bonsall one year later.
Playing the historic Grand Ole Opry must be a thrill!
As inducted members, the group never takes for granted seeing their names on the wall along with other stellar performers. Sterban relates that “on the stage, there is a circle of wood that’s from the old Ryman Auditorium. We make it a point that every time we step on that stage, we touch that circle, for in doing so, we are touching history.”
Sterban also says that when the group goes on stage, fan feedback is what motivates them. They want to do the best job possible, every night, every performance, because their fans deserve it and they love performing for them.
How do you handle being on tour so much?
Living a good life is finding balance and being able to execute that balance between career and family. “Anything that’s worthwhile is worth working for,” says Sterban. “Family is important to the Oak Ridge Boys and we make sure that when we arrange our schedules, that we plan for quality time off with our families.”
Despite their ages and their demanding travel schedules, the group looks and feels healthy and fit. They watch their diets, exercise when they can, and try to get enough rest. Sterban says, if possible, he tries to take a nap before each show as it’s important to go on stage completely rested.
And what about branching out of the music industry?
Though the group has dabbled in other ventures – Duane Allen in producing, and Sterban writing a book “From Elvis to Elvira: My Life on Stage” – what’s most important to the group is being the Oak Ridge Boys. And that will never change.
And the group dynamics? Especially after so long together?
“A special relationship exists between the four of us,” explains Sterban. “We each bring something different to the table. We recognize we are different and we respect that. But we need each other and always pull together as a team. Truth be told, we are true brethren and the best of friends.”
And he adds with a wry chuckle, “Now that we’re older, we get along better than we did when we were younger. We’re too old to let the little things bother us.” Golden is 84, Allen and Sterban are 79, and Bonsall, the baby of the group, is 74.
Is retirement on the horizon?
Sterban adds: “Let me tell you right here, right now. We do not plan to retire. Yes, we have to be realistic as we’re not kids any longer. But as long as the good Lord above allows us to have good health, we’re going to keep on. When it’s time to hang it up, the good Lord will let us know. But that day’s not here yet. We love what we do and we love doing it.”
What advice can you give the younger generations?
“The first thing you need to decide is your calling,” says Sterban. “Find out what it is you’re blessed with, talent wise and that you enjoy, then pursue that. Work at your craft. Do the best that you can every time. This works whether you want to be in the music industry, a carpenter or a ball player. There’s no substitute for hard work. Decide what you want to do,” he adds. Then go for it. Don’t let anything deter you from achieving your goal.”
And any advice for those of us over 50?
“Oh yes,” concludes Sterban, with a deep bass laugh. “Come on in, the water’s fine.”
See the Oak Ridge Boys on March 2 at the Strawberry Festival in Plant City. Tickets start at $52. FLStrawberryFestival.com