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Q&A: The Oak Ridge Boys

The Oak Ridge Boys, who crossed over from gospel music into country and on into pop in the mid-1970s, have returned to their roots with an album Elvis would be proud of: 17th Avenue Revival.

Donna Leahey
June 28, 2018

With a distinctive four-part harmony and four decades of hits and awards, The Oak Ridge Boys are still going strong. Performing and touring aren’t enough for these boys; they’re still creating new music and exploring new sounds in their latest album, 17th Avenue Revival. The Oaks, as they’re known, have 12 gold, three platinum, and one double platinum album along with one double platinum single and more than a dozen national No. 1 singles and over 30 Top 10 hits. The lineup has remained steady since 1973. That’s 45 years of making country music their own.

In 1972, Richard Sterban brought his powerhouse of a bass voice to the group, eventually driving the doo-whop of their best-known hit, “Elvira.”

Q. The Oak Ridge Boys were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2015. What did that mean to you?

Sterban. It was a tremendous honor. Probably the greatest thing that has ever happened to us and it’s still difficult to find the words to describe how special it was.

Q. Tell us about your latest album, 17th Avenue Revival.

A. It’s the thing we’re most excited about right now. 17th Avenue Revival was produced by Dave Cobb, who is probably the hottest guy in Nashville right now as far as making music and producing records. With him lending his name to this project, that alone gives the project a lot of credibility. We were honored to work with him.

Q. What was the inspiration?

A. After we were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, we talked amongst ourselves; we felt like we wanted to do something special to commemorate it. We knew we wanted to work with Dave Cobb. We worked with him about 10 years ago on a project called The Boys Are Back. He took us down some roads musically that we had never traveled before. It was a critically acclaimed project.

So, we got in touch with Dave Cobb and he says, “Sure, I feel like we’re family. I’ll be glad to work with you guys anytime.”

He wanted us to think of Elvis, Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and some of the other old rock ‘n’ roll guys. What made us love what they did? The first singing they ever did was in church. It was gospel music. We all grew up singing in church as well. It isn’t an all gospel project, but we wanted to recapture that feeling of an old-time revival meeting. It turned out better than we anticipated.

Richard Sterban
‍Richard Sterban

Q. What’s the significance of the title?

A. It was Dave Cobb’s idea to title the project 17th Avenue Revival. And the title has a couple of meanings. A lot of the music on this project is really touching a lot of people. So, it represents a revival of the soul, of the spirit.

But it also has to do with the revival of that old recording studio that we recorded the project in: RCA Studio A — right on 17th Avenue South in the heart of Music Row in Nashville. It’s probably the most historic recording studio in Nashville. Elvis recorded there, Dolly Parton recorded there, Hank Williams, the list goes on and on. Chet Atkins created the Nashville sound right there in that studio. . There’s no question about that. One of the things that made me want to be a singer was Elvis. There was something about his music; it was very special. For me personally, the fact that he always had a quartet appealed to me personally.

Q. Is this tour promoting 17th Avenue Revival?

A. Well, it kind of is. We’re a group that works a lot. We average about 150 days a year on the road, and this year is no exception. We’re touring behind this album right now. When we come to Tulsa, we’re still going to do our hit songs that people expect to hear. You can count on the fact that we’re going to do “Elvira.” All our hits that we’ve had over the years, we’re going to squeeze as many of them into the show as possible. We may even throw in a few patriotic songs to honor our country and our troops and our veterans.

Q. The Oak Ridge Boys have a connection to Tulsa through your manager, Jim Halsey.

A. There probably would not be an Oak Ridge Boys without Jim Halsey and his leadership and guidance. I remember several years ago we were kind of a struggling act, looking for a direction. We worked a couple of dates opening for Roy Clark, who Jim Halsey was managing at the time, and he heard us. He got together with us after the show and he said, “You guys are three minutes away from becoming a major act in our business.” He felt like he could help us.

We entered into an agreement with Jim. And you know, to this very day, we have never signed a management contract with him at all. It’s strictly a handshake agreement. About 45 years now, and we’re still going strong.

Jim is very special to us. He’s guided our paths almost every step of the way. Jim is, I think, 87 years old. He’s still doing it in a big-time way. He’s still in his office every day working hard and directing the path and guiding the way of The Oak Ridge Boys. He’s certainly our leader and we wouldn’t be where we are without him.

Q. Before joining The Oak Ridge Boys in 1973, you were part of the quartet backing Elvis Presley.

A. It’s kind of amazing. Here’s a man who’s been dead for over 40 years and people still want to know about him. It tells you he was very special.

Q. You’ve talked before about his gospel roots resonating with you. Did his rock ‘n’ roll resonate with you as well?

A. There’s no question about that. One of the things that made me want to be a singer was Elvis. There was something about his music; it was very special. For me personally, the fact that he always had a quartet appealed to me personally.

But I really believe, as much as he loved rock ‘n’ roll, he loved gospel even better. His favorite thing was to sing gospel songs. Some of my favorite memories of being with Elvis involved singing gospel with him. It seemed like every day we were on tour, he would want to find a piano and we would gather around and we’d sing gospel quartets. He loved the black spirituals especially. I know Elvis would love this new project, 17th Avenue Revival, because it’s really the kind of music that he loved. It’s right up his alley.

The Oak Ridge Boys
Paradise Cove | River Spirit Casino Resort
8330 Riverside Parkway | Tulsa
July 26: 8 p.m.
Must be 21 or older to attend