Oak Ridge Boys to ‘Shine the Light on Christmas’ at the DeJoria Center
Richard Sterban’s favorite Christmas memory is driving around with his parents, brother and sister to look at the neighborhoods decked out with lights in the Oak Ridge Boys bass vocalist’s North Jersey hometown of Fairview.
“Every year this town would have a Christmas light contest and prizes would be awarded to the best-decorated house,” Sterban said. “Everybody who lived in Fairview got into this contest, and they would put lights up everywhere possible. As a result, the town became aglow with lights. It was just incredible.”
Sterban, along with bandmates Joe Bonsall, Duane Allen and William Lee Golden, will talk tradition during what he dubs the “rocking chair segment” at the Oak Ridge Boys’ DeJoria Center show scheduled for Friday, Dec. 14, as part of their “Shine the Light on Christmas” tour.
“The four Oak Ridge Boys sit in Cracker Barrel rocking chairs in front of a fireplace and take turns talking about what Christmas means to us individually,” he said of the mid-concert discussion. “It’s a great, down-home part of the show. It gives the audience a chance to get to know each Oak Ridge Boy a little better.”
Sterban said driving around with his family to see the Christmas lights in Fairfield showed him one of the meanings of the holiday.
“It was a chance for our family to be together,” he said. “I believe through that experience we grew closer together.”
The segment comes during the second half of the concert, according to Sterban.
“In a lot of ways (the concert is) a real bargain, because it’s almost like two shows for the price of one,” he said.
During the first half of the show, the singers are set to come out and perform the hits — “Thank God for Kids,” “Y’all Come Back Saloon,” and, of course, their million-dollar single, “Elvira.”
“It’s funny, because when we tell people we’re doing our Christmas show, the first question we hear after that is ‘Are you guys going to sing ‘Elvira?’” Sterban said with a laugh. “You will hear me sing ‘oom pa pa mow mow’ and all of that.”
After the intermission, the singers and their band will continue the Christmas portion of the show, complete with Santa Claus.
“He’ll go out into the audience and interact with the audience, especially the kids,” Sterban said. “This is a great family show that will wrap up with songs about the true meaning of Christmas.”
This year’s trip marks the Oak Ridge Boys’ 29th Christmas tour.
“The show has become the biggest part of our year, and I know we’re going to be slammed almost every day until Christmas,” Sterban said. “That’s a good problem, because we love doing what we do.”
Sterban’s road to the Oak Ridge Boys began in 1963, when he started singing professionally, but it was his time singing with J.D. Sumner in the Stamps Quartet that prepared him .the Oak Ridge Boys’ success.
“For a year and half when I was with the Stamps Quartet, we sang with the King — Elvis,” Sterban said. “Being a part of that was very exciting to say the least.”
Sterban got to know Presley personally and according to Sterban, the tours were the biggest in the business at the time.
“It was also a learning experience,” he said. “I was able to see how Elvis conducted himself — he was a true professional.”The tours also prepared Sterban for what he would experience as an Oak Ridge Boy; part of a group that was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2015.
“We would go all over the country with Elvis and perform packed out arenas,” he said. “Then a few years later, I would return with the Oak Ridge Boys to those very same arenas and they would be just as packed out.”
In March the Oak Ridge Boys released “17th Avenue Revival,” a gospel-influenced album that Sterban said brings his career full circle.
“Some of my fondest memories of working with Elvis involved gospel music,” he said. “Even though he was the king of rock ‘n’ roll, I believe his favorite music was gospel music and spirituals.”
During the of hours of his tours, Presley would find a piano and expect the singers to gather around it and sing gospel quartet songs, according to Sterban.
When the Oak Ridge Boys decided to release “17th Avenue Revival,” they wanted to work with producer Dave Cobb, who produced their 2009 album, ‘The Boys Are Back.”
“Dave took us down some roads of music back then that we had never traveled before, and we thought it would be fun to work with him again,” Sterban said.
Before the recording sessions for “17th Avenue Revival,” Cobb, who is known for his work with contemporary acts Chris Stapleton, Zac Brown Band and Jason Isbell, met with the Oak Ridge Boys.
Over lunch, Cobb told the quartet to think of what connects the careers of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Ray Charles – music legends who first made their voices heard in church.
“David wanted this project to capture that feeling of going to the old-time revival meeting,” Sterbain said. “And he knows something about that because his mother is a Pentecostal preacher.”
While the album isn’t composed of only gospel songs — some of the tunes were so old that Cobb had to look them up at the Smithsonian music archive — it has the gospel and rockabilly feel, Sterban said.
“If Elvis was still alive he would have loved this project,” he said. “It ties the whole thing for me personally, and we’re going to add some of those songs into the concert.”
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