Richard Sterban dishes on early life, touring, the Oak Ridge Boys Christmas tour, working with top producers, keeping a promise to President George H.W. Bush and more
Richard Sterban has been the bass singer with the iconic Country and Gospel music quartet the Oak Ridge Boys since 1972. This proved to be a great career move, even though he had been working with Elvis Presley. After countless albums and tour dates, he and the rest of the group are on the road with the Oak Ridge Boys 29th Christmas Tour— a happy blend of holiday cheer and their hits, including the legendary “Elvira” that runs through Dec. 23.
Sterban was actually born in New Jersey and always had a love of music. An amusing fact is that he got his start singing as a soprano in his church’s choir. When his voice changed, he moved into his signature bass range.
He eventually traveled to Memphis and landed a gig touring with the Stamps Quartet who happened to be singing backup for Elvis Presley.
Even though things were going well, Sterban was offered an opportunity to join the Oak Ridge Boys and he took a leap of faith and joined this now iconic group.
The Oak Ridge Boys quartet as it has been since 1973 includes Duane Allen (lead), Joe Bonsall (tenor) and William Lee Golden (baritone).
In 1973, they recorded “Praise the Lord and Pass the Soup,” with a single with Johnny Cash and the Carter Family that put them on the country charts for the first time. In 1981, in their sixth album, Fancy Free, their most widely known hit song “Elvira” was born. It was the number-one country hit, and by July 1981, it reached No. 5 on the pop charts.
In 1982, they recorded their first Christmas album. They continue to create new music and delight old and new fans with their popular tours. They have been inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2000 and the Country Music Hall of Fame. They also have taken home awards from the Academy of Country Music, Dove Awards and Grammys.
Faith, family, music, sports and his home near Nashville, TN are at the apex of Sterban’s life, who is happily married to wife Donna and is the proud papa of five and the grandpa and great-grandpa of even more.
He and his bandmates share a love of God, family, charity, good works and music. They also had a powerful connection with President George H.W. Bush and maintain one with his family and are making good on a promise to sing “Amazing Grace” at the funeral of our 41st Commander-in-Chief who passed away on Nov. 30th at the age of 94.
The Oaks, as they are known by their fans, posted a loving tribute to him on their website. They performed at the funeral in Houston on Thursday, Dec. 6
Richard Sterban the bass singer of the legendary Oak Ridge Boys and all-around-good-guy spoke to Michelle Tompkins for The Hollywood Digest about the Oak Ridge Boys Christmas Tour, his beginnings, his decision to leave working with Elvis Presley for the Oak Ridge Boys, what the Oaks like to do when they aren’t touring, what it is like to work with famous record producer Dave Cobb, his musings on modern music, his favorite sports teams, how the band bonded with President George H. W. Bush and his family, what’s next for them and more.
Michelle Tompkins: Your speaking voice is as cool as I thought it would be.
Richard Sterban: Well, thank you very much. People quite often comment on my speaking voice, and I jokingly tell people that if it wasn’t for this voice, I’d have to get a real job. I’d have to work for a living [laughter].
Richard Sterban Dishes on the Oak Ridge Boys Christmas Tour
Michelle Tompkins: So what’s going on with you, these days?
Richard Sterban: Well, we are getting ready to start our 29th annual Christmas tour. We’ve been rehearsing Christmas music for the last couple of months, and we’ve worked very hard to make the Christmas show a very good show. And I think we’ve accomplished that purpose, and we’re excited now about taking it out around the country.
It’s our 29th annual Christmas tour, and over the years, has become the biggest part of what we do. The biggest part of our year, it really has. I think over the course of the years, we’ve become known for our Christmas music. I’ve heard Joe Bonsall say, in our live concerts when he talks with the group, kind of jokingly, he says, ‘The Oak Ridge Boys now have more Christmas music out than Andy Williams and Kenny Rogers combined [laughter].’ And there may be some truth to that. But Christmas music has become very important to all four Oak Ridge Boys, we do this every year now, and it really is the biggest part of our year.
Michelle Tompkins: How long does the Christmas tour last?
Richard Sterban: Well, you mean as far as the actual runtime of the concert or how long does the tour last? Now I can answer both of those questions.
Michelle Tompkins: Both of them would be great. Yes, please.
Richard Sterban: Okay. We’re starting this week, and our last Christmas tour is December the 23rd. Actually, right here in Nashville. We end the Christmas tour at home, but we travel all over the country. I think it’s 34 Christmas shows in 32 cities, over about a five, five and a half week stretch of time, something like that. And then as far as the Christmas show itself, it’s really two shows for the price of one, in a lot of ways. And by that I mean, we come out in the very beginning and for about 45 minutes we do our regular music.
Michelle Tompkins: That was going to be a question of mine later. I’m very glad to hear that.
Richard Sterban: Yeah. Well quite often, when people find out that bringing our Christmas show to town usually the very next question is, even though it’s a Christmas show, will we still hear ‘Elvira’ [laughter]? And so the answer to that question is, yes. You will hear ‘Elvira,’ you will hear me do ‘Giddy up oom poppa omm poppa mow mow’. That is the law. That is going to happen. And not only ‘Elvira,’ but you’re going to hear ‘Thank God For Kids,’ which is one of our most requested songs, ‘Y’all Come Back Saloon.’
We probably will throw in a couple of songs from our latest CD that we’re very excited about. 17th Avenue Revival, produced by Dave Cobb. If we do that, that’ll be on the first part of the show. And I think we do one of those songs even later on in the Christmas portion. But anyway, after 45 minutes of regular Oak Ridge Boys music, including a lot of our hits a short intermission, and then we come back and do a complete Christmas show that covers just about every aspect of Christmas.
We do songs that talk about the romantic side of Christmas. We cover the fun side of Christmas for sure. We sing ‘Jingle Bells,’ we encourage the audience to sing along with us and then Santa Claus comes out and we have a great Santa Clause, we have a lot of fun with him on stage. Santa even goes out into the audience and interacts with the kids. Now, it’s a show that’s definitely kids friendly. So we encourage parents to bring their kids to see the Oak Ridge Boys. After Santa leaves the stage we then do a segment called the rocking chair segment.
And in recent years this has become very popular and very requested, I might add. The four Oak Ridge Boys sit in rocking chairs, Cracker Barrel rocking chairs, I might add. And they just sit in front of the fireplace and each man takes turns talking about childhood Christmas memories and about what Christmas means to us individually. And during that segment, we sing some traditional Christmas songs and Christmas carols. And so it’s a very down-home section or part of the show. And like I say, it’s become very, very popular with our fans and they get to know us just a little bit better to have each man talk individually.
After that, we then close out the concert with a series of songs that talk about the real true meaning of Christmas. And we know what that is, that’s very important to us and we know it’s important to our fans and to our audiences. And that is the birth of Jesus. We talk about that and we sing about that and what that has to do and how important that is in today’s world in which live. So we end the concert on a very serious, sacred note that the whole thing is a total package. A great family show. Regular music in the beginning and then after an intermission a complete Christmas show that covers just about every aspect of Christmas, ending on a very spiritual, sacred note. And so like I say, it’s a complete family show. It’s a great way for families to spend time together around the Christmas season. So we encourage families to come on out and listen to the Oak Ridge Boys and watch the Oak Ridge Boys shine the light on Christmas.
Michelle Tompkins: That sounds like a great show. I look forward to telling people more about it.
Richard Sterban: Well, thank you. And thank you for doing this and helping us promote our Christmas show. When you do something like that you help us and so we appreciate it, we don’t take it lightly. So thank you very much.
Richard Sterban talks about his beginnings and time with Elvis Presley
Michelle Tompkins: Oh, you’re welcome very much. Now let’s go back in time a little bit. You’re actually originally from New Jersey and I think people would be surprised to learn that.
Richard Sterban: Well, I talk about the rocking chair segment and that’s one the things we kind of talk about and make fun of a little bit. The fact that I am from New Jersey [laughter]. You can go anywhere in this country and just mention New Jersey and you’re going to get some kind of a reaction. Either good or bad. And I think in a lot of ways New Jersey’s got a bum rap. I really do. Because I think there’s a lot of things about New Jersey that I love personally. And it’s a great spot to be from. The Jersey seashore is beautiful in the summertime. It really is.
So I love going there. I had a great childhood. And Christmas music was important to me even as a child. I remember going to hospitals and singing to shut-in people on Christmas Eve. Singing Christmas carols with the youth group from my church. Later on in college, I studied music in Trenton, New Jersey, at Trenton State College.
Then I sang in a group there called The Carolers. The caroling group during the Christmas season, would go from dormitory to dormitory and sing Christmas songs to the other students in the college.
Even though it was a liberal arts school, a lot of the songs we sang back then were the traditional Christmas carols that talk about the birth of Jesus. It was a special experience for me. And there again, I’ve carried that love of singing Christmas music as a young man in New Jersey—even to this very day, on stage with the Oak Ridge Boys. It’s kind of an interesting thing to kind of watch the whole thing progress.
Michelle Tompkins: Now, how did you become a professional musician?
Richard Sterban: Well, that’s a good question. It’s something that I always wanted to do. It goes back to my days in New Jersey. It’s hard to believe when you listen to me talk that at one time I was a boy soprano [laughter]. But the first singing that I ever did was as a boy soprano in church, in Sunday school. I don’t remember the song I sang. I was six years old. That was a long time ago. But I can still remember that experience. I can still picture it in my mind. Me, in front of the congregation in church, singing.
I remember, I tell you, I got this feeling that day that this is what I was meant to do with my life. I was meant to sing in front of people. I’ve been able to follow that calling, follow that dream throughout my life. When I got into junior high school, in seventh grade, I still had a high voice. I was still singing tenor in the glee club. Over the summer between seventh and eighth grade, my voice made a drastic change [laughter]. Oh boy, did it change. I remember going back for my eighth-grade year in junior high school. The choir teacher could not believe the difference, and she ended up putting me in the second bass section, and obviously, I’ve been there ever since [laughter].
Then when I got into college, I helped organize my own group and we started singing, basically singing for a living. And so, I just basically was able from a young child to follow my dream and follow my love of singing in front of people. That’s kind of a reduced version of how it happened.
Michelle Tompkins: How did you come to work with Elvis Presley?
Richard Sterban: Well, that’s a good question. I was singing in my own group called the Keystones and believe it or not, Joe Bonsall was a part of it. He’s our tenor singer in the Oak Ridge Boys. I got a phone call, it was from a guy who was a son-in-law to J. B. Sumner. Now J. B. Sumner is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s lowest bass singer. And he wanted to retire and get off the road. He had a group called the Stamps Quartet, and he wanted to hire me to take his place in the Stamps Quartet. So, I took the job and I moved to Nashville.
I sang in a group called J. B. Sumner and the Stamps Quartet and while I was there with the Stamps Quartet, J.D.’s number got a phone call from Elvis. J.D. is from Memphis, Tennessee. The same place that Elvis is from. And J.D. and Elvis knew each other. So when the group that Elvis had, The Imperials, could not make an engagement that Elvis had scheduled, he had to find a new group. So we called J.D. and the Stamps Quartet, which I was a part of. And so we became Elvis’s backup group.
I’ll never forget the first time I ever met Elvis. I was with the Stamps Quartet, and we were at a rehearsal in Minneapolis, Minnesota. We had to rehearse the songs for the Christmas show. We got to the rehearsal, the site of rehearsal, in a hotel, in a ballroom there in Minneapolis and Elvis’s TCB Band was there. The Sweet Inspirations were there–the ladies that sang with them. We got to hang out with them, got to know them a little bit.
But there was no Elvis. Everyone was wondering, well, where is Elvis? And I found out later on that Elvis enjoyed being fashionably late. And he was that day. But I remember him coming to the rehearsal. We heard a commotion coming down the hall that day. The door opened and in came an entourage of men. In the middle of this group of men, bodyguards basically, was Elvis.
I remember seeing Elvis for the first time. Up to that point in my life, I was an Elvis fan. But I was a casual Elvis fan. When I saw Elvis, and then I met him for the very first time, I went, ‘Wow. I now understand why he is the biggest star in the world.’ And he really was back then. He was the kind of guy that when he walked into the room, he had such charisma. You could feel him almost walk into the room. He came over and hugged all our guys. He welcomed us into his organization. And from that point on, I became a huge Elvis fan. I would have to say that over the course of the years, Elvis has affected me musically. He really has. And as I look back on the times I spent with Elvis, he was the biggest star in the world back then. His tour was the biggest tour in the music business back then. To be a part of it for a while was a very, very exciting thing. It really was. I’m so thankful I had a chance to experience that.
Richard Sterban on being part of the Oak Ridge Boys
Michelle Tompkins: Now how did you join the Oak Ridge Boys?
Richard Sterban: Well, the story continues. I was singing with Elvis. And one day I got another phone call. This time, the phone call was from William Lee Golden of The Oak Ridge Boys. Now, he’s the gentleman in The Oak Ridge Boys with the long beard. Kind of looks like Santa Claus. And he told me that day on the phone that the bass singer in the Oak Ridge Boys was leaving and the Oak Ridge Boys wanted to know if I would be interested in taking the job with the Oak Ridge Boys.
Here I was singing with Elvis, apparently on top of the world, but I had to make a decision. At the same time, I was a big fan of the Oak Ridge Boys. I believe the Oak Ridge Boys had a great deal of potential. And I really wanted to be a part of the group. So I made a decision that day to leave Elvis and to join the Oak Ridge Boys. Back then a lot of people questioned that decision. How could you leave Elvis and join the Oak Ridge Boys? But I believed I was doing the right thing. And I think time has proven that I made a pretty good decision right there. Because that was 46 years ago.
And the last 46 years some great, great things have happened to me personally. And not just me personally but all four of the Oak Ridge Boys.
We have had such a great career. We’ve been very, very blessed. So many great things have happened to us. It all culminated probably three years ago when we were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. What a tremendous honor for the Oak Ridge Boys to be in the Country Music Hall of Fame. It’s difficult to find words sometimes to describe how special it is. Elvis is in the Country Music Hall of Fame. I never thought, back in those days when I was singing with Elvis, that someday that I would be in same Hall of Fame with him that I am with The Oak Ridge Boys.
We are in the Country Music Hall of Fame with Elvis, with Johnny Cash, with Dolly Parton, George Jones. The list goes on and on and on. And it’s such an honor to be a part of that. But from that decision that day, leaving Elvis, I was able to embark on a great career with the Oak Ridge Boys. That decision I made back in those days that people questioned turned out to be a pretty good decision.
Michelle Tompkins: What do you like best about being part of the Oak Ridge Boys?
Richard Sterban: Well, just being in the Oak Ridge Boys. It’s hard to describe what it’s like, to walk on stage with the four Oak Ridge Boys. When the announcer says, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, welcome the legendary Oak Ridge Boys.’ I guess to a point now, in this stage of our lives and we are kind of legends. When they say, ‘The legendary Oak Ridge Boys,’ and we walk on stage, even after all these years, the audience still goes crazy. You can just tell that we have done something right over the course of the years. I feel like our music has made an impact. I feel like our music has touched people’s lives. I feel like our music has made people’s lives better. You can sense that when we walk on stage and people react to us the way they do. So just being an Oak Ridge Boy, in general, is a great thing. I’m so thankful that I made that decision so many years ago.
Michelle Tompkins: How many albums have you recorded?
Richard Sterban: I think we’ve lost track. During the course of our whole history, I’m not sure if any of us could tell you the exact number off-hand, but I know it’s close to 50. We have seven Christmas albums out there alone, just in Christmas music. We’ve done a lot of recording over the course of the years. Our latest CD is the one that we’re so excited about, produced by Dave Cobb. If anyone knows anything about the music scene here in Nashville, they know that Dave Cobb is probably the most in-demand producer here in Nashville. Dave Cobb produced this latest project on the Oak Ridge Boys, 17th Avenue Revival. It’s such a special project, and it’s done very, very well for us. So that’s something that we enjoy.
We love going into the recording studio and recording new music. That creative process is something that keeps us going. We’ve been able to do that over the course of the years many, many, many times. As I mentioned earlier, we do not plan to retire, and we have plans to go back into the studio again in the future. Dave Cobb has already agreed, along with our record label, to do another project. So we’re excited about the prospects of that as well. It’s all premature at this point. I can’t give you an album title or song titles or anything. But we are going to continue to do it. That’s one of the most exciting things to us.
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We are now into the Top 5! Number 5 for me is "Y'all Come Back Saloon" by the Oak Ridge Boys. The song was the first single from the quartet's first country album by the same name in 1977. On my second trip to the Grand Ole Opry is when I heard this song. I purchased it on ITunes at the night I heard them perform. It was also my first time seeing the Oak Ridge Boys. . . I recall sitting on the condo balcony when we got to the Great Smokey Mountains and listening to the song while thinking about life and everything I had going on. I prefer the live recording of the song myself, because it is a better representation of the energy the group brings to the stage. . . The second time I saw them perform was at the end of April in Ohio at the W.D Packard Music Hall. It was an hour and a half show with no intermissions. They know how to put on a great show with nonstop energy. Yet, they can weave the songs during their performance to slow the energy down so as not to exhaust themselves or the crowd. When they started singing "Y'all Come Back Saloon" I got chills and a big smile on my face. I recall tapping my brother on the shoulder telling him it's the song they sang at the Opry last year. . . Give the page a follow to keep up as we count down to Number 1, and come back tomorrow! (Image credit to Vegasnews.com) . #theoakridgeboys #nashville #musiccity #yallcomebacksaloon #countrymusichallofhistory #mytop10 #ryman #rymanauditorium #opry #grandoleopry #wdpackardmusichall #williamleegolden #joebonsall #duaneallen #richardsterban @theoakridgeboys @william_lee_golden
Michelle Tompkins: And your fans call you The Oaks. How do you guys like that?
Richard Sterban: It’s a term that they call us out of affection, out of love for the Oak Ridge Boys. I think that we’re a special group in a lot of ways. In a lot of ways, I think we have been passed down from generation to generation. I think grandparents have passed us down to their parents, and parents down to their kids. Even in this day and age, we have young kids now that listen to the Oak Ridge Boys. We’ve become kind of a household name and kind of an institution. And I think people call us that affectionately. We love it. We take it and accept it that way.
Richard Sterban talks about his hobbies, thoughts on music, Nashville and more
Michelle Tompkins: Well, 160 days on the road sounds kind of rough how do you do it?
Richard Sterban: I think we were able to do because it’s what we love doing. You’re right, we averaged about 150 days a year on the road. This year is no exception, and the last part of the year is always the busiest part of our year. Right now, now that’s Christmas, we’re going to be strained.
I just saw our schedule for next year and we’re closing in already on 100 days for next year and our 30th annual Christmas tour for next year is already taking shape. But it’s what we love doing.
After all of these years, we still look forward every night to taking our music live on stage to our fans and to our audiences, that has not changed over the years. So as long as that continues, we’re going to be out here doing it because we love doing it and we’re still having fun doing it and I think that’s the important thing.
Michelle Tompkins: How do you recharge your batteries in between tour dates?
Richard Sterban: I think everybody in the group is different, everybody does it in a different way. I’m a big baseball fan. I watch baseball every chance I could get. Duane Allen is a big basketball fan, Joe’s a football fan, William Lee Golden loves photography. He takes pictures of landscapes all over the country. That’s one of the advantages of traveling, you can see a lot of this great country of ours that we live in and William Golding has to snap a lot of this countryside on his camera.
So we all have ways to relax.
I think as we get older the most important thing is, we’ve got to take care of ourselves, we’ve got to rest and get a good night sleep. At our ages you cannot stay up all night, you’ve got to get some sleep or you can’t do what you are supposed to do the next day. I think along with hobbies that we participate in, we also have got to take care of ourselves.
Like I said, we don’t plan to retire, we plan to continue doing it as long as possible, as long as the good Lord above will allow us to experience good health, we are going to continue doing this.
Michelle Tompkins: What are your sports teams?
Richard Sterban: Oh, well, I’m primarily a baseball fan, but I love football. I got a big win yesterday Tennessee Titans beating the New England Patriots.
I’m a baseball fan and for 30 years I was a part owner of the Triple-A baseball team that we had here in Nashville called the Nashville Sounds. And so, I’m a big Nashville Sounds fan, obviously, even to this very day even though I am no longer an owner, but I still follow the team and I thoroughly supportive of our Nashville Sounds.
Now, we just signed a new working agreement with the Texas Rangers. So, I will be following the Texas Rangers, but I love baseball and I love minor league baseball and I love college baseball.
I’m a huge Vanderbilt baseball fan and we have games right here in Nashville. Vandy’s has a great baseball program and so I’m a big Vanderbilt baseball fan as well, so I love college baseball, as well as major league baseball and minor league baseball.
And I told you Duane’s a big basketball fan. Duane is also a baseball fan. He had a big time the last year during the World Series. He’s a huge Red Sox fan. He was so happy when the Red Sox won the World Series.
Michelle Tompkins: Now it seems like there are very few quartets in country music right now. Why is that?
Richard Sterban: I don’t know that I know the answer to that. We came along after the Statler Brothers. We have to give the Statler Brothers credit. They kind of blazed the trail. They were the first local group in country music that actually had a bass singer, and had that four-part harmony. So they kind of opened the door for us. And then we came along and we carried that banner for many, many, many, many years.
Now there are some very good groups in country music that are very, very successful, but not that many quartets. I agree with you. I don’t know that I know the answer to that. I think things kind of go in cycles. The pendulum swings and things change. I could think of one group that’s out there that we work with quite often, Dailey and Vincent. They’re a bluegrass, country gospel kind of group, and they have a very good bass singer. They do a lot of the four-part harmony, and they’re pretty good.
I think the a Capella group called Home Free—they’re a bunch of young guys with a bass singer and they sing four-part harmony. There are some groups out there, just not as many, maybe, as there used to be. I think over the course of the years that changes, and that will probably change someday as well.
Michelle Tompkins: How do you think your music contrasts with kind of the more rock ballads in country music today?
Richard Sterban: I think now we’re really considered classic country, and I don’t think that that’s necessarily a bad thing, because I remember when we first came on the scene years ago, we were accused back then of not being country enough. But now, compared to what’s happening today, we’re classic country. And when I listen to today’s country music, I don’t think it sounds very country to me, to be very honest with you, but once again, I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.
A lot of new young kids have come into our business and they’ve made our business a bigger and better business. I think they’ve taken the bar and they’ve raised it several levels, and our business is bigger than it’s ever been before. I think that today’s music—country music in a lot of ways has become today’s pop music. I think that as a result of that, we have acquired a lot of new young country music fans, and that bodes well for the future of country music. You’ve heard the expression: a rising tide raises old ships. I think that that’s true in country music.
The fact that our business is bigger and better than its ever been before, I think that even classic country acts like the Oak Ridge Boys, because we’re still out here going strong and doing our thing. But I love what a lot of these young kids are doing. I tip my cap off to them. In our heyday, we filled arenas. Today, these young kids are filling stadiums. It’s mind-boggling to see what they’re doing. Overall, it’s a good thing.
And the Oak Ridge Boys, we tip our caps to all these young kids out there that are doing a great job and representing our business in a very good way.
Michelle Tompkins: And what would you like to say about your personal life?
Richard Sterban: We are all family men. You mentioned earlier that we are a group that works a lot. We play 150 days a year on the road, and when you add travel times in, we’re gone from home quite a bit of the year. And then even days that we’re home, we spend time in the recording studio. I spend a lot of my time, like today, doing phone interviews. So we spend a lot of time away from our families. Our families have to make sacrifices. We’re all blessed that we have families that are willing to do that.
My wife is a very special person. She’s willing to put up with me being gone. My daughters, my sons are the same way. And even grandkids now—not only am I a grandfather, I am now a great-grandfather. Three of the Oak Ridge Boys are great-grandfathers.
Even though we are very busy at this time of the year – and our Christmas tour is the biggest thing that we do every year; from Thanksgiving until Christmas we are gone every year – we always make it a point to be home for Christmas Eve and for Christmas Day because that is important because that’s family time. And we always make sure that we’re home to spend Christmas with our families because we think that is very, very important.
Michelle Tompkins: How many kids and grandkids and great-grandkids do you have?
Richard Sterban: Well, I’ve got five kids. I’ve got three grown sons. I’ve got two daughters. Then I’ve got five grandkids. Years ago, unfortunately, I had a grandson that was killed in an automobile accident, but I have five grandkids. And now, believe it or not, I have two great-granddaughters. I don’t see them very much. They live in Florida now. But they’re the cutest little things you’ll ever see [laughter]. And I hope that I live long enough to maybe see a few more great-grandkids along the way [laughter].
Michelle Tompkins: What do you like best about living in Nashville?
Richard Sterban: Well, Nashville’s become a cool city. It really has. We all live in a place called Hendersonville, Tennessee, which is a suburb of Nashville. Nashville has grown so much that Hendersonville now actually feels like it’s become part of Nashville because it’s such a growing area. But Nashville has so much to offer now.
There are so many things to do here. We now are one of the best restaurant destinations in the country, believe it or not. We have some of the finest restaurants. Some of the best chefs in the whole country and even in the world have gravitated to Nashville here.
We have major league sports teams. We have, once again, the Grand Ole Opry, which is one of the most special things that there is. I’m proud to say the Oak Ridge Boys are part of memories of the Grand Ole Opry. And then I’ll spin that off again, as the Country Music Hall of Fame, what a special place, where the Oak Ridge Boys are a part of that. So, all of that goes into making up what is today’s Nashville. It’s a very special town. It’s a very special place. It’s a great place to live. All of us are excited about being residents of Nashville because it is a great place.
Michelle Tompkins: And you’ve already mentioned baseball, but beyond that, what do you like to do for fun?
Richard Sterban: Well, I like to go to the islands. I’m a beach person [laughter]. And I already have planned my vacation for after the Christmas tour. We do have a time of the year where we have a little downtime. It is right after Christmas and the holidays. My wife and I, we’re going to the Cayman Islands and I’m going to go down there and sit on the beach. I’d be listening to some good music, watching the sunset, and pretty much do nothing [laughter], with my feet in the warm sand. It’s something that I love doing. My wife and I do it every year.
I’m looking forward to doing that here in just a little over a month. That’s what I love doing to get away. I also love the New Jersey seashore. And in the summertime, if we ever get any time, I go to the beach up in New Jersey. To me, when I go there, it kind of takes me back to my childhood.
Michelle Tompkins: Now, what are you reading, watching, or listening to these days?
Richard Sterban: Well, I like to listen to what’s happening in today’s country music. I’m listening to that. I don’t read a lot of books. Joe Bonsall does like reading. Joe reads books all the time. I follow the news; I follow what’s happening. I read periodicals. Getting back to baseball again, but I subscribe to Baseball America. I read that from cover to cover. And I listen to what’s happening in today’s country music. I love Chris Stapleton for example. I listen to his music. He’s produced by Dave Cobb. The same gentleman that produces the Oak Ridge Boys now. And he makes great music.
I love listening to that kind of country music that kind of blends maybe old-time rock and roll with what’s happening in today’s country music. It makes for a great mixture; a great sound.
The Zac Brown Band, they do a little bit of that as well. Dave Cobb has produced them as well. So that’s the kind of country music I like to listen to.
Richard Sterban talks about the Oak Ridge Boys and their special relationship with the Bush Family
Michelle Tompkins: How did you meet President George H. W. Bush?
Richard Sterban: We first met President Bush at the White House in 1982. We had been booked to do the Congressional Bar B Que for President Ronald Reagan. We were doing soundcheck and here came George H.W. Bush running toward the stage for the White House. He said, ‘I’m a huge country music fan and you’re my favorite group. Is there any way you can do some songs for me?’ Bush had to leave for a trip to Africa, but couldn’t start his trip before he saw us sing.
Bush requested some little-known album cuts which we gladly played for him. This proved to us that he really knew our music and was a fan. After we sang some songs for him, he gave us some vice-presidential t-shirts.
This was the start of our relationship with George H.W. Bush. We would sing for him often. We’d fly to Kennebunkport with our wives and stay a few days at their home during their summer visits in Maine. Those were some of the best times of our lives.
Michelle Tompkins: How did your bond with him and his family grow?
Richard Sterban: During the winter months when he was back in Houston, we would often get together with him and Barbara when we in town. We play the Grand 1894 Opera House in nearby Galveston every January. They took in our show there several times.
We sang “Amazing Grace” for Bush during his presidential inauguration, at the White House and at the family home in Maine. He requested that we sing it at his funeral. There’s no way we wouldn’t do it.
Michelle Tompkins: And you are honoring that request?
Richard Sterban: Long before his death, President Bush had requested that we sing “Amazing Grace” at his funeral. We have been in talks with the family for the past few months. A call came in about three weeks ago that his condition had deteriorated.
President Bush always taught us to do the right thing. It is a tremendous honor to sing for it again for him at his funeral. There is no way we wouldn’t be there for him.
We have a show tonight in Spokane this evening. Afterwards, we are taking a private jet to Houston. Following the service, we will fly back to Kennewick, WA for our Christmas show there tomorrow night.
I’d also like to say that President Bush was a big fan of country music. His passion for our music made it bigger.
Michelle Tompkins: And is there any charity work you’d like to mention?
Richard Sterban: Well, for years we’ve had our own charities. We try to do charitable work as much as we possibly can. Whenever we get a lot of requests, to sign interviews, to work charitable events. Heck, we never turn any of them down. We try to be as charitable as we possibly can. I think all the Oak Ridge Boys, we were all raised in Chrisitan homes, we were taught right from wrong. We also were taught that you’re supposed to help people out that are not as fortunate as you are. We try to do that in our personal lives. I don’t have a specific charity that I can tell you right now.
Richard Sterban connecting with fans and what’s next for himself and the Oak Ridge Boys
Michelle Tompkins: So how do you like people to connect with you? Do you have social media handles?
Richard Sterban: Well, I think there are several ways. Now I’ll tell you the easiest way, and the way that most fans connect with us is through social media. Duane Allen is on Facebook with the Oak Ridge Boys every day. And you can stay up with what’s happening with the Oak Ridge Boys by following Duane on Facebook.
Joe Bonsall does Twitter for the Oak Ridge Boys. He’s very active on Twitter. You can follow and stay up with the Oak Ridge Boys on Twitter by following @oakridgeboys. And Joe Bonsall does that. That’s kind of his area. He takes that job pretty seriously. He really does.
I am not so much a technical person. I spend a lot of time talking on the telephone to radio stations, newspapers and online outlets. But probably the best source of information for what’s happening with the Oak Ridge Boys is oakridgeboys.com. Anything that you want you want to know about the Oak Ridge Boys, what’s happening with the Oak Ridge Boys, our schedule, pictures, our history, our merchandise, you can find that and acquire it on oakridgeboys.com. We’ve won several awards for our website. It’s a great source of information for anything Oak Ridge Boys.
Michelle Tompkins: What is something you’d like people to know about you?
Richard Sterban: Well, about me, personally, or about the group? You know, I hate to talk about myself a whole lot. You know, sometimes you can’t avoid that. But I think the Oak Ridge Boys—I think we want to be remembered as an act that affected people with our music. I think you can affect people in a good way or in a bad way. Especially when you become famous and become well-known. So, we choose to affect people in a good way, a positive way.
We want to be remembered as an act that touched people’s lives with our music. Not only a group that made a contribution to the music industry, but more important than that, music that touched people’s lives; affected people, made people’s lives better. And if we can be remembered as a group that our music actually helped people, that’s the way we want to be remembered.
I feel like when we get, in this day and age, with social media, we get a lot of responses from people, almost immediate, instant responses. You know, our music is touching people’s lives and touching people’s hearts. And that’s what we want to do, and that’s how we want to be remembered.
Michelle Tompkins: Is there anything else you’d like to add? Perhaps a message for your fans?
Richard Sterban: The Oak Ridge Boys love what we do, and we don’t plan to retire any time soon, as I’ve said. So, if you see that we’re coming to your area, come out and see the Oak Ridge Boys. You will not be disappointed. We will do our best to have a great time and to entertain you and give you your money’s worth.
Richard Sterban and the Oak Ridge Boys may be found here.