The Oak Ridge Boys to perform mix of old favorites, new hits at fair

<p>Left to right: Joe Bonsall, Duane Allen, William Lee Golden and Richard Sterban, all members of the gospel country singing group The Oak Ridge Boys, perform live in concert.</p>

The Umatilla County Fair will feature a variety of popular entertainment this year, but none have enjoyed success for as long as The Oak Ridge Boys.

The Oak Ridge Boys, who will be performing at 9 p.m. Wednesday at the Umatilla County Fair, will perform a variety of songs from throughout their storied career, as well as a few new ones.

The group’s bass singer, Richard Sterban, who is known for his “oom-pa-pa-oom-pa-pa-mau-mau” part in the song “Elvira,” said audience members can expect to hear all of their popular favorites, a selection of gospel tunes, as well as some new songs recently released on the group’s latest album “Boys Night Out.”

“When we come to town, you can expect to hear songs from that CD and a lot of hit music,” he said. “We also know people want to hear those songs that are familiar. We have a gospel music background, and so we’ll probably throw in a gospel song or two. We are very patriotic guys. We love the freedoms that we experience.”

Sterban said they will also pay tribute to the nation’s military by singing a song about the veterans and U.S. troops.

“It will be a great night of good country music and good family entertainment,” he said. “It is what we love doing. We love touring, we love taking our music live to our fans, and hopefully that will be evident when we come to Hermiston, Oregon. We are looking forward to coming to town.”

Sterban said he has been a member of The Oak Ridge Boys for 41 years now, originally getting his start with the group after making a name for himself as one of several back-up singers for the King of Rock and Roll: Elvis Presley.

Sterban said, at the time, he was a member of J.D. Sumner and the Stamps Quartet, and they toured with Elvis for two years, singing back up for the King.

“It was a great experience for me, especially to be a part of the biggest tour,” he said. “That was something that was pretty special. Not too many people can say that. I sang with the King of Rock and Roll and will never forget the first time I met him.”

Sterban said the group was in Minneapolis rehearsing and waiting for Elvis to arrive early in 1970 before he met him for the first time.

“Everybody was wondering where Elvis was, but Elvis enjoyed being fashionably late,” he said. “All of the sudden, we heard a commotion, and he walked into the room with his entourage. We all went ‘wow.’ I now realized why this guy was the biggest guy in every room. When he walked into the room, you could feel him. He had this presence.”

Sterban said it was pretty special to sing with Elvis, but one day he got a phone call that would change his life forever for the better.

“Oak Ridge called me up,” he said. “The bass-tenor was leaving, and they offered me the opportunity. I was a big fan of the group. Even though I was singing with the King of Rock and Roll, I didn’t want to let this opportunity slide. It was a very important and a major decision.”

He said he is glad he joined the group because, since then, The Oak Ridge Boys have won Grammy awards and recorded one of the biggest singles to ever grace the country gospel music stage, “Elvira.”

“We’ve been going strong now for 41 years,” he said. “We have been very fortunate to have 23 No. 1 records, 50 chart records.”

Sterban said when they were recording “Elvira,” it just felt good when they put it together, but they didn’t realize how big of a hit it was going to become.

“We looked at each other and started listening to it and said, ‘Wow, this could very well be the song that we have been looking for.’ I still remember the look that day on the musicians’ faces. When recording it, it felt like a hit. It felt really good, but I don’t think we realized when we recorded it how special it was going to be until the first time we performed it. The first time we performed it was in Spokane, Wash. The people just went crazy, and we had thrown it out there right in the middle of the show. They kept asking for encores.”

Sterban credits the group’s enduring relevance and popularity to its ability to juggle traditional favorites, gospel music and new and modern songs. He said the fact they love what they do is also a large part of why they are still performing.

“Having fun doing it is a big part of our longevity,” he said. “We are fortunate to go into the studio and record from time to time. We love doing what we do. It has not gotten old. We do not plan to retire anytime soon. As you know, we are not the young kids on the block anymore, but we are still keeping good. As long as the good Lord above keeps blessing us with good health, you are going to see us touring and up on stage performing.”

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