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Oak Ridge Boys come to town Saturday night

Submitted photo by Jeff Sciortino — The Oak Ridge Boys, pictured, from left, William Lee Golden, Duane Allen, Joe Bonsall and Richard Sterban, will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Natchez Convention Center.

NATCHEZ — After 40 years touring with the Oak Ridge Boys, bass singer Richard Sterban is well adjusted to life on the road.

“Being on the road is really what we do — it’s our life,” Sterban said.

The singer said when he joined the group, he couldn’t have imagined he would be touring with them as long as he has or that they would become quite as big as they are.

“Forty years later, we’re still going, and I think the main reason is because we still love what we’re doing,” Sterban said.

“We enjoy getting up on stage and performing live. It’s what we do.”

Saturday, Miss-Lou residents will have a chance to catch the group doing what they do at 8 p.m. at the Natchez Convention Center.

Those who aren’t familiar with Sterban’s name will probably be familiar with his belly-deep vocals in one of the group’s biggest hits, “Elvira.”

For a refresher — “Giddy up, a oom papa oom papa mow mow” — that’s Sterban.

The single, which was released in 1981, debuted on the Billboard Country chart on April 4. By September, the record had earned the No. 1 position on both the country and pop radio charts.

The four-part harmonies and upbeat songs of the Oak Ridge Boys have produced more than a dozen national No. 1 singles and over 30 Top 10 hits.

Other hits include, “Bobbie Sue,” “Dream On,” “American Made,” “I Guess It Never Hurts To Hurt Sometimes,” “Fancy Free” and “Gonna Take A Lot Of River.”

Sterban and the other group members, Duane Allen, William Lee Golden and Joe Bonsall, spend more time on their bus than in hotels on tour.

On the bus, they sleep in their own bunks, listen to music and watch satellite TV, he said.

“We have a baseball package, sports packages and all the movie (channels),” Sterban said. “(Bus life) is a lot better than it used to be.”

Sterban said the history of the Oak Ridge Boys goes back to 1940, before he or any of the other current members were Oak Ridge Boys themselves.

“It’s a fascinating history,” Sterban said.

The group, originally called the Georgia Clodhoppers, a gospel group, often entertained the U.S. Government employees working on the development of the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb in Oak Ridge, Tenn.

“For security reasons, it was top secret stuff,” Sterban said, adding that the group was sequestered in Oak Ridge during their visits.

Because of their frequent visits, the group eventually became known as the Oak Ridge Quartet.

That group sang together until the 1950s and was later reorganized and called the Oak Ridge Boys to avoid confusion.

Golden, recognizable for his long, white beard, joined the group in 1965, and lead singer Allen joined a year later.

Sterban joined in 1972, and Bonsall joined in 1973.

Before he was an Oak Ridge Boy, Sterban sang backup for Elvis Presley as a member of the Stamps Quartet.

“It was before (Presley) gained weight, and he was (performing) at stadiums and arenas,” Sterban said.

Sterban said he sang in the recording of Presley’s hit “Burning Love”

“I had a chance to be a part of, really, the biggest tour in the music business back then,” Sterban said.

“It was really kind of a cool thing.”

After years of being identified as a gospel group, the Oak Ridge Boys steered themselves toward the country market.

“Periodically we’ve reinvented ourselves, and I think it’s (made us) kind of relevant to current market place,” Sterban said.

Sterban said the groups ability to reinvent their style has helped them retain the group’s staying power in the music industry.

In the group’s latest project, they teamed up with Cracker Barrell Old Country Store and released a CD in September, which is sold exclusively through the restaurant chain.

As the existence of music stores that sell CDs has dwindled, the Cracker Barrell partnership makes sense, Sterban said.

“(You can) go to the restaurant and see pretty much the same people you would see at an Oak Ridge Boys concert,” he said.

Sterban said casino goers also tend to be the Oak Ridge Boys target audience, so he expects the same thing to happen with the Isle of Capri.

“(Casino goers) are our customers.”

Sterban, a Hendersonville, Tenn., resident, said he looks forward to coming back to Mississippi, and the Miss-Lou in particular.

“(We’re excited), since we don’t play in the state of Mississippi very often, at least not often enough,” Sterban said.

He said Saturday’s performance will deliver a good mix of old hits, including “Elvira,” some new stuff, patriotic numbers and songs that dig back to their gospel roots.

“We have a lot of friends and fans in the state of Mississippi, and it’s going to be good to come back together.”

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