- 'People accused us of not being country enough.'
Richard Sterban, bass vocalist in the Oak Ridge Boys, can't help but see the irony when he compares today's mainstream country music with the music the Oak Ridge Boys continue to make more than four decades into their career.
"People accused us back then of not being country enough," says Sterban. "Now we're too country in today's country, if that makes sense."
And while he doesn't hear much in the genre today that sounds country to him, Sterban's actually fine with that.
"I can understand why we're not on those award shows anymore; we really do not fit there," he says. "But I don't have a problem with it, because these young people who have come into our business have raised the bar several levels. They've made the business bigger and better than it's ever been before, and I can't argue with that."
Today's country radio may not have a place for the Oak Ridge Boys, but that isn't stopping these newly inducted members of the Country Music Hall of Fame from touring, recording and reaching fans old and new. They've also racked up more than a dozen Grammy and Dove awards.
In fact, the past four years have been some of the busiest in the career of the vocal quartet, which finds Sterban alongside lead vocalist Duane Allen, tenor Joe Bonsall and baritone William Lee Golden. In fall 2014, the Oaks released their first-ever live album, Boys Night Out, and Cracker Barrel restaurants are now carrying the group's latest gospel release, Rock of Ages. Their second gospel album this decade, it features the group's updated versions of classic hymns.
The Oak Ridge Boys' legacy, in fact, began with the Oak Ridge Quartet, which started out in the 1940s as a gospel group. But the singers who were on board by the time Sterban joined up in 1972 were setting their sights on moving from gospel to country.
The potential that Sterban saw in the Oak Ridge Boys back then was enough to lure him away from his gig with the gospel group J.D. Sumner & The Stamps. At the time, The Stamps were also serving as a backup vocal group for none other than Elvis Presley.
"He was on top of things when I was there," says the singer. "He was still 'The King.' He was packing out arenas and stadiums. It was a pretty amazing thing to be a part of."
Sterban has felt the same way about the Oak Ridge Boys. After a few tough years, the group finally broke through in 1977 with the hit single, "Y'all Come Back Saloon," then charted with others such as "Elvira," which crossed over to become a Top 5 pop hit.
He says the band finally found the right time for Rock of Ages in 2013, during a run of concerts in Laughlin, Nevada. It's since become a tradition for the group.
"We do 11 shows in seven days, which makes for a long week," he says. "It's a lot of work, and we change the show around every day."
Mixing up the repertoire, at least, isn't a challenge. "We have a wealth of material to choose from."