For Richard Sterban, it does not feel like 40 years have passed since he got the surprise phone call from William Lee Golden inviting him to join the Oak Ridge Boys.
Because Golden picked up the receiver and let his fingers do the walking that day in 1973, Sterban’s trademark bass tones will be heard Nov. 24 at Star Plaza Theatre when the Oaks’ perform their 34th annual Christmas concert there.
Star Plaza Theatre’s CEO and talent buyer, Charlie Blum, once told this columnist, “The Christmas season doesn’t start in Northwest Indiana until the Oak Ridge Boys show up at Star Plaza.” Many folks in the region share that sentiment.
“The key (to our longevity) is that we still love singing together,” said Sterban of his four decades harmonizing with Golden, Joe Bonsall and Duane Allen. “We still love doing what we do. We look forward to getting on stage and bringing our music to people. We still love the creative process of going into a recording studio and making new music.”
Their anniversary year will culminate with the Oaks’ first ever live album. “We recorded several shows on our 40th Anniversary tour. We’re taking the best performances for a new album, ‘The Boys Night Out,’ coming in early 2014,” said Sterban.
“We may have 40 years behind us, but I can promise we don’t plan to stop any time soon,” he continued. “As long as the good Lord keeps blessing the four of us with good health you’re gonna see us continue doing what we do.”
Sterban was singing background for Elvis Presley as a member of J.D. Sumner & The Stamps Gospel Quartet when the invitation came to become an Oak Ridge Boy. “It really wasn’t a hard decision for me,” said Sterban of leaving the King of Rock 'n Roll’s high profile entourage to hitch his wagon to a vocal group that had not yet cut its first record.
“If I could have jumped through the phone when Golden called me I would have,” said Sterban who details his Presley era in his new biography, “From Elvis to Elvira.” “I was that excited. I’d been a big fan of the Oak Ridge Boys for years.”
Not long after Sterban joined the group began to evolve from an old school gospel quartet (whose roots date back to the 1940s), to a four-part harmony country group with a contemporary sound. The suggestion to “go country” came from legendary country guitar picker Roy Clark. The Oaks’ released their debut LP “Y’All Come Back Saloon” in 1976 and country fans have kept coming back ever since.
Dozens of hit singles, gold and platinum records, sold out concerts, countless awards and accolades, have followed, along with induction into the Grand Ol’ Opry.
“This is our sixth Christmas album,” said Sterban of "Christmastimes-A-Comin", released last November on Gaither Records. The album balances biblical-rooted songs with secular songs, and even a rockin’ new tune about Santa commandeering an 18-wheeler, titled “Peterbilt Sleigh.”
The deeply spiritual Oaks insist on keeping Christ in Christmas. “We don’t sing holiday songs, release holiday albums or do a holiday tour,” said Sterban, dismissing political correctness. “We like to make it clear that we sing Christmas songs, make Christmas albums and have an annual Christmas tour.”
The 4pm November 24 concert at Star Plaza will feature a mix of hits and Christmas tunes. “We couldn’t go on a stage and not sing ‘Elvira,’ ‘American Made,” and ‘Bobby Sue’,” said Sterban. “The first half is all hits then we come back and sing Christmas songs about Santa and snowmen and Baby Jesus. One of my favorite songs is ‘Thank God for Kids’ from our first Christmas album. Only now we sing it for our kids AND our grandkids.”
An Oak Ridge Boys’ Christmas show not only has songs, seasonal decorations, and an appearance by Santa, it even comes with ‘White Christmas’ guarantee courtesy of a snow-making machine.
“It’s an enjoyable family show,” concluded Sterban. “Christmastime is family time and we love seeing whole families singing along with us.”
• Hear more Christmas caroling when Hobart High School’s teen vocal group, Wolffgang, sing live at 6pm on WLPR 89.1 FM – The Lakeshore as guests of “Midwest BEAT with Tom Lounges’ on Tuesday, November 26. Dean Wolff is director of the 12-member female ensemble. Streams it live at: lakeshorepublicmedia.org/radio
• Valparaiso University needs local low brass players — tuba, euphonium, baritone, tenor, and sousaphone horns — of all ages for its annual “TubaChristmas” concert on December 8 at the campus’ Chapel of the Resurrection. Get sheet music to practice and participation information at: tubachristmas.com
The “TubaChristmas” concert (3:15pm) follows the “Julefest” concert (1:00pm) performed by the 100-piece Valparaiso Community/University band. Both are free to attend. More: Call Aimee at (219) 465-7819.