If they’d known they’d still be at it 41 years later, perhaps the Oak Ridge Boys should have called themselves the Oak Ridge Men.
But longtime Oak Ridge Boys bass singer Richard Sterban said they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I think I like it. There’s the Beach Boys – they still call themselves boys. That name ‘the Oak Ridge Boys’ has become a marquee,” he told The Bee. “We’d never want to change that. Even though we’re older men; I turned 71 last week. Hard to believe, but I don’t think there’s any way we’d ever change that name. It’s an institution.”
The men have sung their four-part harmonies to sell-out crowds since 1971. They return to Modesto’s Gallo Center for the Arts for another sold-out show Monday.
The country quartet of Joe Bonsall, Duane Allen, William Lee Golden and Sterban has become one of the most distinctive groups in country music over the decades. With hits including “Elvira,” “Thank God for Kids,” “Bobbie Sue,” “Y’all Come Back Saloon,” the group has scored 12 gold, three platinum and one double-platinum album over the years. The singers’ shelves include Grammy, Dove, ACM and CMA awards, and in 2008, the Oak Ridge Boys also took home the Academy of Country Music Pioneer Award.
Despite all those accolades, the group still can experience some firsts. In April, it released its first live album, “Boys Night Out.” Sterban talked about the new release, which was recorded over 11 shows at the Riverside Casino in Nevada, and more in a phone interview from his Tennessee home this week.
Your new album, “Boys Night Out,” is the first live album you’ve done. Why a live album now?
Well, it was something we’ve wanted to do for a long time. But it seemed like a different opportunity came up and presented itself. Either a Christmas album, a gospel album, an album of new country songs; something always came up and we always put it on the back burner. Fans have been saying, “Your studio albums are great, but in person, you’re so much more exciting.” We decided we’d capture the excitement of a live stage show.
Earlier this year, the lineup celebrated its 41st anniversary together. How have you been able to keep the group together over the years?
I think there are several reasons. First of all, we love what we do. After all these years, we love getting up on stage and taking the music live to our fans. The most important thing is we’re still having fun doing this. The key to our future is our health. We’re all feeling good, at our age. As long as we continue having good health, we’ll continue.
Over the years, we’ve become the best of friends. When we were younger, we got on each other; with time, we’ve mellowed. I think all of us think we’re too old to let anything bother us. We have the utmost respect for each other. We respect each other as men and as talents. We realized a long time ago we need each other.
Singing together so long, how have your voices changed? Have the harmonies gotten stronger, more challenging?
I hesitate to brag on us, but I will. I think we’re singing better now than when we were younger. Something about four-part harmonies get better when you get older, it gets richer. Our harmonies are better than ever been before. If you listen to “Boys Night Out,” I think that’s evident.
You’ve branched out of strictly country into gospel, patriotic and even holiday music over the years. Why expand your repertoire like that?
We pride ourselves in the fact we can do a lot of different genres. We actually sang on a Dixieland album with the Dukes of Dixieland. We like to do a lot of different things. I think we’re still primarily a country group and the bulk of the show when we come to town will be the hits. We are very, very patriotic guys and love to do songs that honor our country, troops and veterans. I think the most important thing that we do is family-oriented. On every show of ours, every album of our music, it is for grandma and grandpa, but even young kids. Our show and albums are kid-friendly.
Gospel is, of course, where the group started out as the Oak Ridge Quartet in the 1950s. Do those roots still inspire you today?
You know, we’re on (record label) Cleopatra, but also still on Spring Hill Records, and we’re going to record an album of all hymns, familiar songs, for them. Songs that everybody who has ever gone to church will recognize. That’s what we’ll do. “Amazing Grace” and the list goes on and on. We go into the studio in July and it will be a fall release.
I think you can tell, even when you listen to our secular music and country music, there are gospel roots there. We still have that gospel sound. That’s part of our appeal. We still have that feel to our voices. That is what has separated us from a lot of other acts in country music.