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Episode 57

Media Path 57 Video Richard Sterban

Episode  57
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Richard Sterban’s deep bass voice and love for gospel music launched him from Camden, New Jersey onto a Vegas stage with Elvis. And he was just getting started. He joined the Oak Ridge Boys and their rocket took off fueled by Elvira, Bobbie Sue, Dream On, Thank God For Kids, Every Day and on on. Richard’s new book is called from Elvis to Elvira. The Oaks are about to celebrate Elvira’s 40th anniversary. (She sounds 29.) and Richard is here to tell us all about it. Plus Fritz and Weezy are recommending Classic Albums on PBS and Elvis on Tour on Hulu and Amazon.

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Louise Palanker (00:05):

Welcome to Media Path. I am Louise Palanker.

Fritz Coleman  (00:07):

And I'm Fritz Coleman.

Louise Palanker (00:08):

Fritz and I have been running media scouting missions for you. We've come back with some data to share on what you may want to watch and read this week. And here's a question that we've been delving into this week. How does a deep base voice and a passion for gospel quartet's launch a boy from Camden, New Jersey into a Vegas stage with Elvis, and then into a legendary singing quartet whose four part chords of magic have poured through juke boxes, stereos, stadiums, palaces, and Air Force One. Richard Sturman of the Oak Ridge Boys will be addressing all of that good stuff in just a few moments. But first, Fritz, what have you found for us?

Fritz Coleman  (00:45):

I can't wait. An interesting life he's had from start to finish. Well, I'm gonna, I'm gonna do an editorial. I'm gonna call an audible here and say, just if you wanna feel good about humanity, if you wanna feel good about your life, just watch the Olympics.

Louise Palanker (00:57):

Not interested. What? No, I'm kidding. I'm kidding.

Fritz Coleman  (01:00):

<laugh>, just for an hour, just watching

Louise Palanker (01:01):

This series. Yeah, I've been

Fritz Coleman  (01:02):

Watching. Gosh. It's, it's aav for your soul, isn't it? It really is. You have to watch the whole thing. Anyway, my, uh, episode this week is on pbs, it's classic albums. Now, this series has been around since 1992 on various platforms like the BBC and I M D B and the Disney Channel. But I think their current run on PBS is gonna give it the greatest exposure in the United States. And I'm glad this show takes an iconic rock album and then drills down into the making of the album, the songwriting, the collaborations, the studio sessions. Now, if you're a fan of the nuts and bolts of music, particularly rock and roll, you're gonna love this series. They interview band members for their personal memories of making the album, the producers of the album, the Rock Journalists who put the album in the context of rock history this Thursday night, July 29th.


They're doing Queens a Night at the Opera. And it's important because it includes what many people feel is Rock's most brilliant recording Bohemian Rhapsody. And then in the next hour, on that same night, I think it starts at nine o'clock in your time zone. After our night at the opera on the 29th will be John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band. And then Friday and Saturday the 30th and 31st of July, they're gonna do Rumors by Fleetwood Mac, one of the greatest selling albums of all time. Now. They produced 45 episodes of this series. The music that highlights various chapters in our lives tends to mean even more when we learn the details of how the music came to be. I love this series.

Louise Palanker (02:34):

Wow. And it's on

Fritz Coleman  (02:35):

Pbs. Pbs, and it was, it's, it's been around for years, but I think PBS is its largest venue so far, which should be kind of

Louise Palanker (02:41):

Good. Okay. I will check that out. Thank you for that. It's a good tip. So I was tipped off to my first pick by my second pick as Media Pass Will have it <laugh>. This is a 1972 documentary that you will find on Hulu and on Amazon called Elvis on Tour. The doc captures Elvis on his 1972 American tour and includes rehearsals, interviews, archival television appearances, and backstage moments. Here you'll find Elvis in his most seventies Vegas infused glory. If you are in it for the Cape, there is plenty of solid Cape action. There is tons and tons of high quality performance footage featuring country gospel r and b and lots of hits. You can see the famous Elvis entourage, big Time Entourage, and you will find our upcoming guests backing up Elvis onstage and in spontaneous backstage gospel gatherings with Elvis. The film is a compelling rush of music and flash and onstage spectacle and backstage intimacy. And you get to see just how quickly and efficiently Elvis leaves the building. <laugh>. This film was Elvis's final motion picture appearance, and it won a Golden Globe for best documentary. Elvis on Tour can be found on Amazon and on Hulu, and I had never seen it. I learned about it in my next pick, which is a fantastic book by our guest, Richard Sturman called From Elvis to Elvira.

Fritz Coleman  (04:01):

It's a great title. It

Louise Palanker (04:02):

Really is. You get the first three letters.

Fritz Coleman  (04:04):

Did you find myself doing Richard's low voice? Just in responding to your

Louise Palanker (04:08):

Question? Yeah, I, I wish I could even attempt it, but, uh, Richard Sterban was a kid from Camden, New Jersey with a keen interest in gospel quartet music. From that start point, you would not imagine that 10 years later he's sharing a stage with Elvis Presley, or that 50 years later, he is about to celebrate the 40th anniversary of, of a song that he and his fellow Oakridge boys sent rocketing up the country and pop charts. Elvira Richard is a warm and compelling storyteller. You are right there with him, as he scrappily pulls his gospel quartet from town to town gets called up to join the famous stamps Quartet, who were then hired to back Elvis. Within the heart of that whirlwind, Richard makes the decision to leave that Surreal Life chapter to join the Oak Ridge Boys, where he proceeds to build a bond, a history, and a body of work with his partners that entertained and enriched the world. I love your book, Richard. I'm a fan and I learned a lot. Please welcome Richard Sterban.

Fritz Coleman  (05:00):

Yay, Richard. How are you? My man? <laugh>,

Louise Palanker (05:04):

You're gonna be outmatched.

Richard Sterban  (05:05):

I'm, what did, you told me you told the whole story already. There's nothing for me.

Fritz Coleman  (05:11):

Oh, no, you got great stories. <laugh> Richard, when, when you, the first, you know, from the beginning of this book that you've had an ironic life. Cuz when you think of singers who grew up in fairly strict religious households and then started their singing careers in church, you think of the South, but your family is from Southern New Jersey, Collingwood Heights, Michael Landon went to Collingswood High School as well. It's right across the river from Philly. I felt an emotional connection with you right away, cuz that's where I'm from. But it, it's a different lifestyle than you would expect. And the irony, that's fantastic. Your childhood, uh, was sort of, uh, grown in the first Assembly of God church back in Southern New Jersey. Talk about those early years in your life.

Richard Sterban  (06:00):

Well, you're right. You know, the first singing that I ever did, believe it or not, was as a boy soprano. I know that's hard to believe, <laugh> and I was about six years old, and it was in that very church that you just finished about the Asem first Assembly of God church in Camden, New Jersey. And, uh, uh, like I said, I was about six years old and I was in Sunday school, and I do re uh, I do remember that experience. Uh, I don't remember the song, you know, because it was so long though. But I do remember that experience of me standing in front of the congregation in church and singing. And that day, even as a boy of six years old, I was impressed that that is what I was meant to do with my life. I, I felt like I was meant to be in front of people and sing.


Now I continued to singing with a high voice until I got into junior high school. And, uh, when I was in seventh grade and junior high school, I still had a high voice. I was singing tenor in what we called the Glee Club back then. And, uh, over the summer between seventh grade and eighth grade, my voice made age drastic change. And boy, boy did a change. And when I went back for the eighth grade year, you know, the choir teacher, you know, could not believe the difference. She ended up putting me in the second base section. And obviously I've been there ever since. So

Louise Palanker (07:28):

Was it a full Octa drop?

Richard Sterban  (07:30):

You know, many young boys go through a period of time with their, their voice is squeaky and their, they talk real high than Dan real low. And, but it seemed like to me it almost happened overnight. You know, like I, it, it was almost kinda like I went to bed one one night with a high voice and woke up the next morning with a low voice. It wasn't quite that abrupt, but it kind of seemed that way back then. Uh, like just over, uh, over a couple of month period, over the summer, like July and August, it, it made a drastic change. And in September I was singing bass in the choir in school, so <laugh>. Wow. So I, I don't know that I could even tell you how big of a drop it was, but it was a substantial drop in, in my voice, no question.

Fritz Coleman  (08:12):

Well, what's interesting to me is your life growing up as a child, you, you, you lived a very conservative Christian life where gospel and religious music were all that you were allowed to entertain yourself with. Am I right about that? You weren't allowed to listen to the radio and pop hits or secular hits. You, you, you, you grew up on that kind of music.

Richard Sterban  (08:34):

Well, you're right about that. I grew up in church, I sang in church, and all the music that I had was used to was, was gospel music. Uh, I grew up singing the old hymns, you know, I've taking the hymnal out of every Sunday morning and singing Rock of Asias, you know, and I love to tell the story some of the old hymns of the church. So I grew up, you know, singing those songs and they became a big part of me. And, and, uh, you know, when I got to college, you know, I went to college in Trenton, New Jersey, and I, I went there and to study music. I really wanted to be a music teacher. And my, my guidance counselor at Collinswood High School that she already talked about, he recommended that I go to Trenton State College. So I went there, it's not even called that any longer. It's called the College of New Jersey, or the University of New Jersey at Trenton or something like that. It

Fritz Coleman  (09:25):

Used to be called Trenton

Richard Sterban  (09:26):

Teachers College three. What was that? Now,

Fritz Coleman  (09:28):

I'm sorry. No, I didn't mean to interrupt you. I just remember it being called Trenton State Teachers College. Cuz when I was a kid, some people from where I lived went to school there as well. I remember they, they used to have state teachers colleges in New Year, New Jersey and Pennsylvania and elsewhere. Sorry to interrupt. Go ahead. They

Richard Sterban  (09:43):

Sure. They sure did. And there were, there were several of those state teachers colleges all over the state of New Jersey. And the one that I went to happened to be right there in Trenton. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And, and if you know anything geographically about Trent, it is right across the Delaware River from Bristol, Pennsylvania. And while I was going to school there, I ran into these three other guys that kind of had the same interest in, in Gospel Corte Ted singing that I did. So what we ended up doing was organizing our own group right there, uh, while I was going to college in Trenton. And, uh, we started singing all over the northeastern part of the country. We sang in churches, we sang in revival meetings, we sang in summertime in camp meetings, you know, and, and it, it was kind of an interesting time in my life.


And while I was singing and, and we called the group the Keystone Quartet. And while I was singing in that Keystone Quartet, uh, we worked some concerts with a group called the Faith four Quartet. And believe it or not, Joe Bonzo, who's now the tenor singer and has been for years here in the Oak Ridge Boys, he's, he sings the lead vocal on Elvira, you know, he was in that group. And we started working together. And eventually when there was a me a need for a membership change in our group, I approached Joe and as he would join the Keystone. So he left his, his group, the Faith Four, and joined the Keystone Quartet. And we started singing together before either of us ever became members of the Oak Ridge Boys.

Louise Palanker (11:21):

And that's when you moved to Buffalo?

Richard Sterban  (11:23):

Yeah. Well, yeah, I, we played some dates in Buffalo, New York, and we ran into some people that really kind of took us in and took us under their wing, really tried to help us out and we felt like Buffalo would be a, a good place for us to work out of. So, so, so yes, we did move to Buffalo and, and Joe Bonzo was a part of that group as well.

Louise Palanker (11:43):

Now, you know that I grew up in suburban Buffalo. Fritz was a broadcaster in Buffalo. So do we look vaguely familiar to you, <laugh>? Where did you shop for groceries? <laugh> <laugh>,

Richard Sterban  (11:57):

You know, not even a little bit <laugh>, but I, I actually, I lived in Kenmore, right. New York, if you know where that is. Yeah, of course. And just off of Delaware Avenue, which was one of the main, just one of the main streets that it runs through Buffalo, you know, and it was kind of interesting that you would mention that, uh, there was a, there was a gentleman that was on the radio up there for years. He was called Rambling Lou. Rambling Lou Schrier. And he was, he's a regular on, on a Buffalo Radio station there. And he passed away a few years ago. But just this past weekend we played in a place in, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> at a place called the Music, the, the, the American Music Theater and Rambling Lou's daughter was at the show. So we actually saw her this just a few days ago. So there was a little bit of a connection there, <laugh> between that, you know, the Old Ridge Boys singing in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and Buffalo, New York.

Louise Palanker (12:51):

Yeah. And you also talk in your book about how some very, uh, cool milestones happened to you at Melody Fair in, in North Tonawanda. That's where you met, uh, Roy Clark, or I can't remember exactly. Something, something big happened there.

Richard Sterban  (13:04):

Well, you're right about that. We, we, we were playing there and we, we worked with Mel Tillis while I remember working with Mel Tillis, and I remember working with Roy Clark, but the most important thing beside those two things is the fact that we met Roy Clark's manager. His name was Jim Halsey, that's where we met him. And, uh, he became the Oakridge Boys manager. He is still our manager today, believe it or not. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> Jim just turned 90 years old, but he is still, he's still managing the Oak Ridge Boys. And we did meet him up there playing, playing in that theater in the round up there, <laugh>

Louise Palanker (13:46):

And Jimmy

Richard Sterban  (13:46):

Dean, just outside of, of Buffalo, you know, <laugh>, he was in North Town. Wanda, if you, if you can remember that name. Oh, yeah,

Fritz Coleman  (13:54):

No, I, I live there. I I,

Louise Palanker (13:56):

It's an Indian

Fritz Coleman  (13:56):

Name in Raintree Island Apartments in Tonawanda, New York for four years, <laugh>. And it's hard to convince people when they hear about the bad winners in Buffalo. What a beautiful place it is to live. The people are great, the restaurants are great. Well,

Louise Palanker (14:09):

What do you have planned for the 40th anniversary?

Richard Sterban  (14:12):

We had big plans this year, you know, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Elvira. We plan to spend this whole year touring and, and going all over the country celebrating the 40th anniversary of Elvira. It is hard to believe that Elvira is 40 years old, uh, but actually in reality, Elvira is older than 40 years old. The song was written by a gentleman named Dallas Frazier. He is our neighbor, believe it or not. He lives not too far from where I'm speaking to you right now. He li he lives in a town called Gallatin, Tennessee, which is right next to Hendersonville, where, where I, we all four Oak Ridge Boys Live and where I'm speaking to you from right now. But, but he wrote the song 17 years before it was ever recorded by the Oak Ridge Boys. Uh, it was re and the song was recorded like 10 times before we ever recorded it. Probably the most well-known version before ours was Kenny Rogers recording Elvira when he was still with a group called The First Edition. First Edition, yeah. And, uh, but, uh, we decided to record lvi and, and, and it's our version, however, that I pe think people recognize and will remember. And we actually had a hit on Elvira in 1981, and that's hard to believe.

Fritz Coleman  (15:32):

And, uh, but you were the one that put it over the top going Pop Pop Papa. It's your version. That's you, man. You own that song. Yeah. That's your song. And Joe's and Joe's lead.

Richard Sterban  (15:44):

Oh, Joe No, quite, you cannot quite, you cannot take Joe's lead vocal away. That is certainly a big part of the song. Uh, but you're right. The I Papa Mamma part is kind of an interesting part of the song. And, uh, I mentioned the Dallas Frazier wrote the song, and there's an interesting story in how he actually wrote Elvira. He was driving home from a recording session one day in Nashville with his producer, and he was driving through East Nashville. He came across a street sign named Elvira Street. And that street is still there today. But he pulled right up to the street sign when he saw Elvira Street. And right on the spot, he wrote Elvira Elvira, my Heart's On Fire for Elvira <laugh>. But as he tells the story now, he then he then wrote the Giddy Up, um, papapa mamma part right there on the spot as well.


And the, the, um, papapa mamma part imitates or mimics the bumps on the road. Elvira Street had a lot of potholes or, or as people say, here in the south chug holes <laugh>. But, but so Thema part imitates the bums on the road. Oh, wow. Now, when Dallas Frazier got home that day, then he added verses about a woman. So the song would make sense, <laugh>. But the original inspiration for LVI came from a street sign. Elvira Street was just located, you know, here in East Nashville and is still there today. Now, when we got into the studio, you mentioned my part on that song, our producer Ron Chancey, he, uh, we, in fact, we called him the Fifth Oak Ridge Boy because he, he, he produced just most of the number one records we had in our career. When we got into the studio, it was his idea for me to do the Giddy Up Papa, Papa Part <laugh>. So I took that line and kind of, I took, I took it and I adapted it to my way of doing things, you know? Mm-hmm. <affirmative> and, uh, <laugh>. And I guess it turned out okay,

Fritz Coleman  (17:56):

<laugh> <laugh>. It's the part everybody looks forward

Richard Sterban  (17:58):

To. You know, it's probably the most well known baseline in the music business. Do

Louise Palanker (18:03):

People walk up to you and sing that?

Richard Sterban  (18:06):

They do. Uh, what I get quite often is people always say, give me a sample that On Papa, on Papa Malmo,

Louise Palanker (18:13):

Part <laugh>, they want you to

Richard Sterban  (18:13):

Sing it. But, you know, you know, the most fun thing for me now, we still do that song. We cannot do a show without Elvira. It is a must, you know, and if you come, ever come to see the Oak Ridge Boys, you are going to hear re vira. And yes, you're gonna hear me do Giddy Up, um, Papa <laugh>. But the biggest, biggest kick I get outta doing that song is when I get to that part, to look out in the audience and see all the men, you know, trying to sing, um, Papa Mile Along with me. I always get a big kick out.

Fritz Coleman  (18:43):

And, you know, th that song was, uh, uh, it was one of the greatest crossover hits of all time, right? Because I don't know if it started on the country charts, but it became a top 40 hit. Did you ever have a record that crossed over like that so easily in your careers after that hit, you know, crossed over to the pop charts?

Richard Sterban  (19:03):

Well, that was the first one for sure. And it, it became the biggest record in country music that year, 1981. And it also became one of the largest records in the Total Music business that year. And it was, it was also a number one pop record as well. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Now, a few years later, we were able to follow that up with, with another song that accomplished almost the same thing for us as Elva, but not quite a song called Bobby Sue, uh, right. To the b b Bobby Sue it, uh, it, it was the number one country record, and it made it into the top 10 on the pop charts. So it, it, it, it, it accomplished almost the same thing for us. Wow. You know, that Elvira did,

Louise Palanker (19:47):

Could you talk for a moment about the push pull between straight up gospel and the goal of reaching more people through country music? You met with a ton of angry resistance, and I'm thinking that this might be mostly people who were working really hard to avoid secular music, and you may have seemed like a, a Trojan horse to them at, at a show.

Richard Sterban  (20:05):

Well, you know, we, when I first joined the Oak Ridge Boys, the Oak Ridge Boys were probably one of the very top southern gospel quartets. The group was dominating all the awards, what they call the Dove Awards. And, and, uh, and we, we were riding along feeling pretty good about what we were doing, but we felt like we wanted to accomplish more. We felt like we did not want to be as marginalized as we were. And we, we wanted to reach more people with our music. And I told you, you know, a, a very important thing happened to us, you know, in North Toronto, Wanda, New York. We met Jim Halsey. It was his leadership and his guidance. He talked into, you know, to, uh, trying to sing country music as well as gospel. He said, you guys are an amazing act. He said, but you're three minutes away from being a major, major act in the music business.


And so he got, he, he went to work and he actually signed those to our first recording contract, which was ABC Records, which later became M C A records. He acquired Ron Chancey as our producer. I already mentioned Ron's Za earlier. He became our producer. And we started having hit records with Ron Chaney. And so we were able to, uh, to uh, increase our outreach, you know, and yeah, some people criticized us and people thought we were gonna be, we're being too worldly, you know, by singing country music. They wanted us to stick to strictly gospel music. But it is kind of an interesting thing, you know, once we became successful in country music, all those gospel music fans came back over to our side anyway, so it, so we're turned out, okay. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And one thing, you know, we, during all country music's success that we have had, we have also never turned our back on gospel music. Cause it's, we still love that form of mu music as well. So we, we, we feel honored that we can do both. You know, we are now in the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, as well as the country music Hall of Fame, and they both kind of go hand in hand. They really do.

Fritz Coleman  (22:09):

I, I love your stories, um, because I love the early sufferings in show business, <laugh>. I just relate to that the most. But you have great stories about being on the road as gospel quartet and how competitive that was, but how little you were actually paid. I mean, in your book, you talk about getting maybe a hundred to $200 total for a gig for four guys, for four guys having driven there, you know, in the car. And it really was a meager existence and hard to make a living. And you had a wife and two kids at home at the time.

Richard Sterban  (22:42):

Well, you are correct about that. And it, it was a difficult way to, to, to, to try to have to live. And I, I might, people who are watching, though, I might wanna say that never happened with the Oak Ridge Boys. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, when I joined the Oak Ridge Boys, the Oak Ridge Boys were one of the top groups in southern gospel music and already making a pretty decent living. Those real difficult days were back when I was singing in the group that I helped organize in Trenton, New Jersey, you know, the Keystone Quartet. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, we would work churches, and sometime there was not a hundred dollars in the offering, you know, but we had to spread that out between four guys. So it was a difficult time, no question about it.

Louise Palanker (23:20):

And then all of a sudden you get called up to the stamps. You had to leave Joe not knowing that you would eventually reunite with Joe, but you got called up to the stamps and all of a sudden you're on a stage with Elvis. What, what did that feel like?

Richard Sterban  (23:34):

Well, first of all, that was mind boggling, <laugh>. It really was <laugh>. I was, I happened to be in, in the right place at the right time. I was living in Buffalo, New York at the time. And JD Sumner called me up. He personally did not call me. His son-in-law did. But he, his son-in-law told me that JD Sumner wanted to get off of the road, and he wanted to devote his time to businesses he had on the side. Like he had a publishing company, he had a talent agency and other things he wanted to do on the side. And he wanted to hire a younger bass singer to take his place. So he offered me the job. That involved me, involved me having to move to Nashville. So that's how I got to live here in Nashville. And I was with JD in the stamps probably about six months when jds Sonner got a phone call from Elvis.


Elvis and JD were friends, having both lived in the Memphis, Tennessee area. And Elvis was looking to hire a new backup group. The group he had had a conflict, could not be a part of his tour he was about to take, so he wanted to hire a new backup group, and he hired JD and the stamps. So I happened to be there at the time. So here I, here am a young man in my twenties. All of a sudden I find myself on stage with the biggest star in the world back then, I believe it in my heart, Elvis was the biggest star in the world. Oh, yeah. His tour was the biggest tour in the music business. And to be a part of it was very, very exciting. You know, I have some great memories of the time that I spent with Elvis. I, I got to know Elvis just a little bit, and it was a very, very special time in my life.


And now that a lot of years have passed, and I look back on that, you know, I'm so glad that I was able to experience it because it, because it was a great time in my life, you know? And you mentioned, yo in your intro, Hey, how, how, how much Elvis loved gospel music, you know, as well as he did rock. You know, he was the king of rock and roll, no question. But I really believe deep down inside his favorite music was gospel music. And some of my fondest memories of being with Elvis involved singing gospel songs. One of his favorite things to do when we were on tour was to try to find a piano somewhere. And he would get all the members of the Stamps Quartet that I was a part of to get around the piano with him. And we would sing gospel quartet songs. And he's especially love the Black spirituals. And we would do a lot of that as well. So, so I, so some of my fondest memories of being with Elvis involved actually singing gospel music mm-hmm. <affirmative>, but it was a great time in my life. And as look as I look back on it, I'm so thankful that I was able to experience that. And that was just prior, of course, to joining the Oak Ridge Boys. Right.

Louise Palanker (26:23):

And I think gospel's a, a, a comfort to Elvis, like, that's his home. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, that's where he feels like, is his, like his compass points to, and that, and you guys offered that comfort for him.

Richard Sterban  (26:34):

And, you know, one of the, you know, one of the biggest songs, when I was working with Elvis, I was only with him for about a year and a half, and one of the biggest songs he did every night in his concerts, even in Las Vegas, was How Great Thou Art. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you know, of course he did all of his, his records, you know, uh, which, and, and the women were hollering and screaming, of course. But the highlight, I think of his show every night was when he did How Great Thou Art. And first of all, when he went into the, you could almost hear a pin drop, you know, and then you could tell that he believed in that song so strongly that Yeah. It, it was, I mean, you could feel it, you know, it was, it was a very special time. So he was, while he was the King Rock roll, I really believed deep down inside, he loved gospel music.

Fritz Coleman  (27:18):

And, and you guys, you and Elvis, um, um, had parallel, um, enthusiasms when you were younger about the Blackwood Brothers. You both grew up loving their style and loving their music. Right.

Richard Sterban  (27:34):

There's no question about it. One of the, one of the first Gospel court Ted Records I ever owned was by the Blackwood Brothers. And JD Sumner was singing bass on that record. Mm-hmm. And I'll never forget playing that record. And I was so fascinated with that bass voice. It, it was something that, that was really, really very, very, very special. You know, and something I'll never forget. And, and I think, you know, the fact that Elvis and JD were friends is a very important thing. Because when JD Sumner was a member of the Blackwood Brothers, they sang Elvis' mother's funeral, which was there in Memphis, you know, Tennessee. And because of that, Elvis had a very special, special place in his heart for JD Sumner. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So I think that is a factor. And, and how I ended up singing with Elvis myself.

Louise Palanker (28:26):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And then in turn, you guys have performed at some, in some very powerful, beautiful, meaningful moments at, at, at some funerals, including those of, uh, June Carter and, and Johnny Cash.

Richard Sterban  (28:37):

Well, there's no question about it. I think one of the most difficult things we've ever had to do, you know, was, was the same at June Carter's funeral. And I'll, I'll explain to you why it was a difficult thing. Uh, Johnny Cash was still alive back then, and I could, we could spend hours, you know, we've already talked about influential Elvis was to me personally, but Johnny Cash was very influe influential in the, then the success of the Oakridge Boys. And I don't think there would be an Oakridge Boys today, if it was not for Johnny Cash. He was a special person. Uh, but, uh, at June Carter's funeral, Johnny Cash was sitting right in front of her coffin there in the front of the church. And I'll never forget, we got up on the stage and we started to sing. Uh, I, I, I think it was farther along an old hymn that, that, that Johnny Cash loved.


And while we were singing it, immediately, Johnny Cash reached for the tissues, and he was crying. And we were standing there right in front of him, trying to keep it together. Oh boy. So, <laugh>. So it really was one of the most difficult things I've ever had to do, you know, and I think all, all the Oak Ridge boys would say it was a tremendous honor, but at the same time, a very difficult thing. No question about it. The only thing that would even come close to that is just a few years ago when we were honored to sing at the funeral President Bush, that that was also a very difficult thing to do.

Louise Palanker (30:01):

And he was a very important person in your lives. President

Richard Sterban  (30:04):

H 30, there's no question about it. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And there, there's a great story, if I have time to tell it. You did. Uh, we, we first met George Bush many years ago when he was the Vice President of the United States. Ronald Reagan obviously was the president, and, and George Bush was the Vice president. Ronald Reagan invited the Oak Ridge Boys to sing on the lawn of the White House at the Congressional barbecue. It's something they do pretty much every year, where all members of Congress come, put their political differences aside and just sit on the, on the, on the lawn of the White House and have a time of fellowship and, and eat barbecue and listen to some good entertainment. And in the case of <laugh> of Ronald Reagan, it was always country music, cuz he loved it. But anyway, he, he hired the Oakridge boys invited us to sing there on the lawn of the White House.


I remember that day, that afternoon, we were doing a soundcheck, a rehearsal on the stage that had set up on the lawn of the White House. While we were doing the soundcheck, this tall gentleman came walking across the lawn of the White House. And by the way, while we were doing the soundtrack, you could kind of look around and you see the White House, you see the beautiful green grass and all the tall buildings there in Washington. And you knew, first of all, this was not going to be a normal day <laugh>. And it, it ended up not being, but while we were doing the sound, while we were doing the sound check, like I said, this tall gentleman came walking across the lawn. He came up on the stage, he introduced himself as Vice President George Bush. He did not have to do that <laugh>. We recognized him immediately. <laugh>.


But he proceeded, he proceeded to tell us right there that he told us, fellas, I'm a big fan that I cannot be at the show tonight. He says, I've got to fly somewhere on some official vice presidential business. He says, but I am a big fan, I promise you, would you guys be willing to do me a couple of songs right here, right now? And we said, sure, Mr. Vice President <laugh>, what would you like to hear? And and I think we realized that when he, when he answered us, I, we realized he was telling us the truth. He was a big fan. He started naming album Cuts, <laugh>. He started naming what the kids call today, deep Cuts, <laugh>, not songs that were hits or singles. So he, we were convinced that he did know our music, that he was familiar with our music. So there on the spot that afternoon on the lawn of the White House, we proceeded to give Vice President Bush a mini concert <laugh> that afternoon.


We established a friendship. We established a friendship with him that lasted until he passed away. That the whole time he was in the White House as president of the United States. We sang for him on several occasions. We got to know Barbara Bush as well. They were two of the most wonderful people you will ever want to meet, put up politics aside. It has nothing to do with politics. They were just very wonderful people. And we got to become very good friends with them. And, uh, even after they left the White House, we would sing for them. Quite often. We would go and, and <laugh>, being from the Northeast, you may not be aware of this place as well. We would go on many summertimes to Kenny Bunk, port Maine, where they, they have a summer home there. And we would, we would hang out for two or three days, uh, go fishing with President Bush.


And we would always give him many concerts in his living room. And of course he would invite the neighbors over, you know, he, that, that he had to do that. And, but every time we performed for him, he always requested his favorite song. And that was Amazing Grace. That was by far his favorite song that him And, uh, not too long before he passed away, he asked us if we would sing Amazing Grace at his funeral. And we said, Mr. President, you can count on us. Oh, regardless, whoever we are, we will be there. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Wow. We had no idea that we were gonna be in Spokane, Washington <laugh>, believe it or not, we were doing our Christmas tour and we were in Spokane, Washington. We did a Christmas show, which lasted about two and a half hours after the show, went directly to the airport, got on private jet that was donated to us by a very dear friend who we will forever be indebted to.


We flew to Houston, got there just in time to go to the church or go to the hotel, get a quick shower, then go to the church there, we, we met George W. Bush and Jeb Bush, members of the Bush family, they thanked us for being there. Our good friend Reba, she was there as well, cuz she sang at the funeral. But we sang at the funeral and then, which was a very emotional experience to say the least. After the funeral went directly back to the airport, got on the private jet again, and flew back to a place called Kennewick, Washington. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> and did another Christmas show that night. Wow. We, we did all of that in just a little over 24 hours with no sleep <laugh>. Oh my gosh. And we did not miss a date in the process. Oh. But the most important thing by far. We kept promised the President Bush. He always taught us to do the, and that was the right thing to do. Certainly. That's

Fritz Coleman  (35:35):

Amazing. I, before we get too far away from what you brought up, I really think one of the most touching parts of the book, Richard, was you describing how supportive Johnny Cash was of you. You used a great line in there. He hired you and he paid you more than you were worth. But also he would give you guys pep talks when you were down about yourself. Talk about that relationship with Johnny Cash.

Richard Sterban  (35:58):

I'd love to talk about Johnny Cash. As I said earlier in the interview, I do not believe there would be an Oak Ridge Boys today, if it was not for Johnny Cash. He was a special person to the Oak Ridge Boys, not just the Oak Ridge boys. He, he was so good to a lot of young artists, but as, especially the Oak Ridge boys, he and his wonderful wife, June Carter, that kind of took us under their wing, so to speak. And it really helped us out in our early struggling days. John and Cash actually booked us on some of his shows. And I w what I said earlier is, is absolutely correct. He always paid us more than then. We were really worth to be very honest with you. Whenever you work, work a date, you sign a contract, he would always pay us more than the contract amount.


Uh, and kind of give, he always kind of gave us a tip, if you would mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And, but that's the kind of person he was. He was always very special. And I remember working with him in Las Vegas, believe it or not, the same theater or a casino that I played when I sang with Elvis Las Vegas Hilton. But, uh, we were working there and after that engagement with, with uh, Johnny Cash, we had no other dates booked. We did not know how we were going to continue as the, our group. We didn't know exactly what we were gonna do. We were kind of very discouraged. And Johnny Cash could sense that we were discouraged. And I remember he called us all up and he said, fellows, I can tell you your heads are hanging. He says, I want to talk to you guys. He said, come to my room.


So all four of us, one afternoon, the out in Las Vegas, we went up to Johnny Cash's room and he said, fellas, I can tell, you know, you, you, your heads are hanging, you're discouraged. He said, but I also can tell there's something very special about you guys. He said, there's, there's magic, um, some here between the four of you. He said, so what I want you guys to do, he said, I want you to find a way to stay together. He said, if you give up now, no one else will ever know how special you guys are. He says, I know it. You guys know it. He said, but no one else knows it. So we want, I want you to stay together. And if you do, he says, I promise you, good things will start happening too. He said, I will do my best to help you as much as I can financially.


Which he did always gave us extra money. He said, but you are still gonna have to try to find a way yourself to stay together. And, and to kind of make this long story short, obviously we did find a way to stay together mm-hmm. <affirmative>, but I remember that day walking out of Johnny Cash's room, instead of our heads hanging, we, our heads were up high. We all lookeded each other and we said, wow. If Johnny Cash thinks we can make it, we are going to make it. And sure enough, shortly thereafter that we, as I talked earlier, we met Jim Halsey, who became our manager. He signed us to our first recording contract. We acquired Ron Chancy as our producer. We started having his records. And just a few years later, after that meeting with Johnny Cash, we won our first c m a award for the vocal group, for Vocal Group of the Year from, from the Country Music Association.


And I remember that day when they announced our name running up on stage. And instead of going to the podium on the left side of the stage to accept our award, we ran to the right hand side of the stage where Johnny Cash was standing because he was hosting the show. And we all hugged his neck. And I'll never forget, he said, in that big booming voice of his, he said, see fellas, I told you so <laugh>. So he was right. And so, so I think more than Hi more, more than his financial help, which we certainly needed his words of encouragement, really th th those words really helped us get through a difficult time in our lives. Have

Louise Palanker (39:56):

You, have you passed that on to a, any, any, any group coming up that you really saw their potential before they were out, out of their discouraging period? Cause I know it takes at least 10 years of slogging it out before you start to really make ends meet. Right? Yeah.

Richard Sterban  (40:11):

We've, we've had an, we had an interesting experience here this last couple of years. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, there's a, there's a group out there, they're an acapella group. You may or may not have heard 'em, they're called home Free. Yes. They're a great bunch of young guys, and they give us credit for inspiring them to want to do what they do. They are a real credit to our business. And a few years ago, they decided to, uh, since they're big fans of ours, they decided to record Elvira of all songs, <laugh>. And they called us up and they said, uh, would you guys be willing to sing on Elvira together with us? We say, sure. You know, we were always glad to help a young up and, and coming artist. Sure. We would be glad to do it. So I remember that day going to the studio and all day long, just hanging out with those four, the four older guys hanging out with four young guys.


And we had such a great time. And we had so much fun recording Elvira. And they, they have a, a young bass singer named Tim. He, I remember we had like a friendly bass singing competition between the two of us, kind of bouncing back and forth with a mile mouse. And it was a lot of fun. It really was just a few weeks later, they called us up again and they said they were gonna shoot a video on the song. They asked us then, would you guys be willing to shoot the video with us? We said, sure. We'd be glad to. And once again, we spent all day in the studio shooting a video with those guys. You gotta know them even a little bit better. And, uh, you know, they give us a lot of, lot of credit for inspiring them to want to do what it is that they do. And like I said, they're a real credit, uh, you know, and and an inspiration in our business now. So, you know, we've had a lot of time, a lot of fun getting to know them.

Louise Palanker (42:02):

<laugh>, that's cool to know that you've had that influence on young artists. And I know you have like a thousand fold now. I know that you have a lot of interest, like in your book, I, I'm gonna just list, you've got a lot of really keen interests, which include music, baseball, weather, wine, the beach, bicycling, fashion. Did you know, Richard, that you are in the presence of a man who was, uh, the Los Angeles weather man for 39 years here in Los Angeles on, on, on K N B C. So if you two wanna just chat weather for a few minutes and nerd out, I will just

Fritz Coleman  (42:36):

Oh yeah. Be right. We'll blow people out of this podcast so fast. <laugh>, I did the weather for N B C in Los Angeles for 40 years, Richard. So I was interested to learn that you're a weather enthusiast. Although down there in Hendersonville you get some real weather. I was wondering, when we learned that you were from Hendersonville, were you near any of that river flooding that happened down there that was really catastrophic a couple years ago?

Richard Sterban  (43:01):

Oh, there's no doubt about it. We had some serious flooding here in Nashville and, you know, being a weather channel junkie as I am <laugh>, you know, I, over the years I got to to be a, a big fan, Jim Cantor, and I know you know who I'm talking about mm-hmm. <affirmative> Yeah. On the Weather Channel. And there's a running joke among people who are fans of the Weather Channel that if you turn the Weather channel on and you see Jim Cantor there and he is in your hometown, <laugh>, you better be, you better, you better be very careful. <laugh>

Fritz Coleman  (43:30):

Things are noted. So

Louise Palanker (43:30):

Well start packing.

Fritz Coleman  (43:32):

I know he is the one that started the whole thing of putting the weather guy outside and seeing how close to death they can make him come for the ratings

Richard Sterban  (43:40):

<laugh>. Well, I, you know, I remember him being sta standing here right by the, the, the flooding river in downtown Nashville. And that was not a pleasant thing. So, so in that, that case, Jim Cantor being here was good day.

Louise Palanker (43:55):

Pretty scary. Pretty scary. Now you talk in your book about reinvention, how you built a sustainable career by retaining your core while remaining fluid and being open to change. This is difficult enough for a solo act, but how do you make group decisions about new and unique opportunities?

Richard Sterban  (44:13):

Well, you know, we, we try to operate our group in a very democratic way. You know, each man's opinion is very important. And very rarely will we do something, whether it's business wise or musical wise as far as, you know, the, the material recording. Unless all four of us agree, if one, we, because we've, we've learned from experience, if just one guy does not like what we're doing, it's gonna affect the project or the business decision that we're making. So we've learned over the course of the years to, uh, to, uh, you know, make sure that each guy is happy with whatever we're doing. You know, each guy in our group is different. Each guy in our group didn't bring something to the table. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Uh, and, but I think that's a big part of the appeal of our group. And, and I think w we learned a long time ago to respect that difference between the four of us. And I think we also realized a long time ago that we need each other. So we pull together as a team, we're, we are a true brotherhood and I, and we've become the very best of friends over the course of the years. So I think that friendship, that special relationship that exists between the four of us is, is, is very, very important to the success of the Oak Ridge Boys. And I think it's a key factor in, in our longevity that we've been able to experience.

Fritz Coleman  (45:35):

You, you mentioned, um, a few minutes ago that you guys had done a gig somewhere recently. Are you starting to open up a little bit post pandemic bookings picking up for you? How are things looking?

Richard Sterban  (45:47):

The answer to your question is yes, we are working dates. Again. We had a great experience about six weeks ago. As you probably know, we are members of the Grand Ole Opry. And we, over the course of the years, we have played the Opry several times. We became members of the Opry in 2011. During the, during the pandemic. We played the Grand Ole Opry several times with no audience, no house audience at all. And that was a strange situation. I, you know, I, I think we realized doing that how important an audience is a live audience is to a show. We were booked about six weeks ago on the first Opry Show, where they allowed 100% capacity. And I'll never forget the feeling the Oak Ridge Boys had when we walked out on the stage and we saw that full House of people. Boy, what a great feeling that was.


And I think we realized that night that, you know, I think we're turning the corner on this thing and things are going to be getting better. We have played several dates since then, and we've had some great crowds. People are coming out to see us in large numbers. And, uh, you know, I think people are ready to get out. People are ready to hear live music again. That makes us feel very, very good. Uh, from now, from the 1st of August through the end of the year, we are gonna be very, very, very busy. We're gonna be traveling all over the country, celebrating 40 years of Elvira and taking our brand to country music to people all over. And we're very excited about the chance to be able to do that again. So yes, we we're, we're performing again, and we're very excited about it.

Fritz Coleman  (47:32):

You know, I listened to, uh, those Opry shows on Sirius xm, channel 59 Willie's Roadhouse, where they broadcast live at the Grand Ole Opry. And at first you're thinking, how are they gonna do this with no audience, but the intimacy of it and, and the, the rich quality of the voices. There were some great shows, your shows, Vince Gil did it a couple of times. There was a real intimacy. It was like just you and the music. And I guess they were so happy with the way that ended up sounding. Uh, the rumor is they're gonna put out albums, live recordings of those pandemic sessions at the Grand Ole Opry, and I bet they're gonna sell very well.

Richard Sterban  (48:13):

You, you're probably right. You know, the Grand Ole Opry is a special place. There's no two ways about it. When you walk through the door of that building, you can feel history. It's very, very special. And, you know, and now, you know, and we played the, the Opry Many Signs before we were members and we always enjoyed playing the Opry. Uh, but now when we walk through the door as members and we look on the wall and we see our name on, in, in bronze there on that plaque next to all the other artists, and it really makes us feel like we're family. Like we belong there. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So what is a spatial place? And, uh, on the center of the stage at the Grand Ole Opry house, they have a circle, and it's a circle from the old floor of the old Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville, the original Grand Ole Opry. And every time the Oak Ridge Boys play the Grand Ole Opry, the four of us make sure that we stand in that circle because it's a very special place. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Cause there's so much history in that building. Mm-hmm.

Fritz Coleman  (49:13):


Louise Palanker (49:14):

May it be unbroken. Hey, I don't quite understand why it took until 2011 for you guys to become members.

Richard Sterban  (49:21):

You know, that question has been asked many times and we we're not so sure why it took so long ourselves, you know. But I think the most important thing is that it did happen, you know, the timeline, you know, you can question the timeline, but that's not the most important thing. We're, we're, we're, we're thankful now that we are members because it is a very special thing. And then just a few years later, uh, we then became members of the Country Music Hall of Fame. And what a special place that is as well. I mean, it's beyond words to describe how special it is, you know, to be a member of the country music. And so, and, and the Opry and the, and the, and the Hall of Fame, they kind of go hand in hand. They really do. And, and I'll remember how we found out that we were gonna be members of the Hall of Fame.


We were actually playing at the Grand Ole Opry after we finished one of our songs. We, we listened to the Applause, you know, that, that people always applause very well with the opera. But then the applause kept going on, it continued, and we couldn't figure out why <laugh>. And we looked around and Little, little Jimmy Dickens came out on the stage who is a long member, longtime member of, of, of the grand old Opry. He was dressed as William Lee Golden <laugh>. He had his big cowboy hat on. He had dark sunglasses. He had a long fake gray beard <laugh>. And he came out there, and I think Joe said, uh, little Jimmy, you looked like you could be one of the Oak Ridge boys tonight. He said, well, I'll tell you what fellas, I'm gonna, not only am I gonna be one of the Oak Ridge boys, but you guys are about to become the newest members of the Grand Old Opry. That hit us totally by surprise. And we looked at each other. I don't think any of it was very emotional. I don't think it was a dry eye in the group. Cause it's, it really is a very special place. Nice.

Louise Palanker (51:12):

Oh, that's just wonderful. You know, you talk about Deep Cuts. I don't know if this is Deep Cut or not, but my favorite song by The Oaks is, uh, it's called Come on In. You did the Best That You Can Do. And I just play that song when I need to be kind of lifted. And it, the lyrics are beautiful and it's just like, do you know which song I'm talking about?

Richard Sterban  (51:33):

I, I certainly know the song you're talking about. And I think, you know, I think that's a, that's a perfect example. Come on in. You the best You Could Do. God Think it's the perfect example of a typical Oak Ridge Boy song. Yeah. Over the course of the years, we have always tried to sing about good things in life. We tried to sing about wholesome positive things in life. And I think that's a perfect example of that. You know, we, we've shied away from, uh, cheating songs and getting drunk and that sort of thing, and tried to sing about long-lasting relationships of relationship with the, with the Good Lord above and good wholesome things. And we try to encourage people along the way and help people with our music along the way. I think we've been able to do that. And I think the song that you're talking about is a perfect example of that, that kind of a song that the Oak Ridge Boys like to record.

Louise Palanker (52:22):

Yeah. I just love it and I love your music and I've, I've just been a fan all my life. It's a just a, it's such an honor to talk to you. And I, I just wanna thank you so much for being with us. I'm gonna read our closing credits. Is there anything else that you

Richard Sterban  (52:34):

Is, let me briefly mention one thing that we didn't cover. I just so happened to have in my hands. I, I guess you can't say it cause video. Okay. New album. But, uh, we just came out, we just came out with a new album. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, it's called Front Porch Singing <laugh>. And, uh, one of the good things that happened during the pandemic was that we were able to go into the recording studio and record a new album. Uh, we are now being produced by Dave Cobb. If that name rings a bell, it's because Dave Cobb is one of the hottest guys in Nashville right now. He's very, very much in demand. And he's produced four projects on the Oak Ridge Boys during the pandemic, even the recording studios were shut down. And, and then they opened up. And, and, and Dave Cobb, our producer, called us and he said, I, I'm ready to record.


You know, we had planned to record earlier in the year, but we're off cause of the pandemic. But Dave Cobb said he was ready to record and said, what I want to do is I want a killing of fast, kind of just gathering on a front porch in a very informal, unstructured way. And just four guys gathering and just harmonizing and singing together. And we were able to do that with Dave Gavi. He's a master at capturing feelings like that. He's a master at taking old songs, making them sound new and fresh. And, uh, we were able to do that with Dave Cobb. We found some great old songs, familiar songs that people can sing along to. We found some great gospel songs that we grew up singing from the time we were little kids in church and in Sunday school. And then Dave Cobb has a relationship with some of the new young songwriters here in Nashville. We, we, we've recorded a couple of brand new country songs written especially for the project as well. But it turned out very well. It's very inspirational, it's very uplifting in nature. It's the kind of music we need, really need to hear right now. And I think it's important to note that it's called Fun Porch singing, not singing with g singing there is a, is a difference. And, and we're very proud of the way it turned out. And it, it, I think it's, it's a must listen for Oak Ridge Boys fans.

Louise Palanker (54:53):

Oh, absolutely. I'm getting it right now. As soon as we get off here. Thank you so much, Richard, for being with us. We really,

Fritz Coleman  (54:58):

Really thank you, Richard. A great conversation.

Louise Palanker (55:01):

Here come the closing credits. We would love for you to join us online on Instagram and Twitter, where we are at Media Path Pod. Thanks

Richard Sterban  (55:06):

To both. Thanks to both of you.

Louise Palanker (55:08):

Bye. Thank you. And on Facebook, where we are, media Path podcast, you can find full episodes with all kinds of bonus visual content on our YouTube channel Media Path podcast. We would love to know what media you've been enjoying. You can contact us at our social media or email us at media path podcast We wanna thank our wonderful guest, Richard Sturman. Our team includes Dean of Friedman, Francesco Demond, John Maddox, Sharon Beo, bill Fiac, Thomas Hubble, Alex Gilroy, and you. Our theme music is by me and John Maddox. I am Louise p Planker here with Fritz Coleman. And we will see you along the media path.

Fritz Coleman  (55:42):

And if you enjoyed this episode of Media Path, it would help us a lot. If you would help us be more discoverable by potential new listeners, if you leave us a quick review, do it on Apple Podcast. And if you're new here and this is your first time with us, please check out our back catalog. You may even find us binge worthy. Binge worthy. That's my Richard Voice. <laugh>, uh, recent episodes include, you know, Diane Warren, bill Muey, all kinds of people who are stalwarts in their industry, like Bill Medley and, and Richard Sterban. Were, were, were so honored to have all of them. Gary Puckett the Castles. Going back to the very beginning, you'll hear some exciting and exclusive interviews with Henry Winkler and Keith Morrison. Thank you for spending this hour with us and we would be overjoyed if you took a moment to share your thoughts with us or recommend us to a friend. Be safe.

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