When the Oak Ridge Boys roll into Missoula this month, they might arrive in a celebratory mood – 40 years as a group and 30 years since the release of “Elvira,” their smash album.
But while celebrations are a good thing, the Oak Ridge Boys aren’t living in the past. They’ve survived the test of time, and they have big plans for their performance future.
“This is our 40th anniversary tour, but it’s by no means our farewell tour,” said Richard Sterban, the group’s baritone singer. “As long as the good Lord above allows us to have good health, we’ll continue to do it. We’ve been around a long time, and we’re still having fun.”
You can’t discuss the evolution of country music, harmony or Nashville hits without mentioning the Oak Ridge Boys. The group has recorded more than a dozen No. 1 singles and 30 Top 10 hits.
They’ve played for five U.S. presidents dating back to Jimmy Carter, and they’ve recorded with the likes of Paul Simon, George Jones, Johnny Cash, Roy Rogers, Ray Charles and – yes – Billy Ray Cyrus.
“If you’d told any of us 40 years ago that we’d still be doing this 40 years later, and at a high level, we wouldn’t have believed it,” said Sterban. “We love doing what we do. We look forward to getting on stage every night, and we enjoy the creative process.”
The Oak Ridge Boys trace their roots back to the 1940s and the old gospel tradition. By the late 1960s, more than 30 members had come and gone. Sterban joined the Oaks in 1972, followed by tenor Joe Bosnall in 1973.
“I feel like I can do what I do on stage just as good now as I could 20 years ago,” Bonsall said. “I plan to be rocking my tail off out there as long as I’m healthy. The people who come out, who bring their families to see us, deserve everything I’ve got.”
While the group rose in popularity in the gospel music circuit, Sterban said, they’ve pushed into new formats that continue to evolve.
In 1977, Simon asked the group to sing backup for his own hit, “Slip Slidin’ Away.” More recently, the group recorded a cover of “Seven Nation Army” by the White Stripes.
“When we throw those songs at the audience, it’s fun to watch their reaction,” said Bonsall. “We did ‘Seven Nation Army’ in Minnesota a few weeks ago and got a standing ovation. The younger kids in the audience were freaking out.”
As the four key Oaks continue their 40th anniversary tour, Sterban laughs and says it’s easier to name the places they haven’t been than the places they have. The list of stops is long and growing, but the Oak Ridge Boys wouldn’t have it any other way.
“When we come to town, we try to find a nice balance,” said Sterban. “But we realize people want to hear the hits. We’re going to celebrate these 40 years, and we’ll do a lot of those hit songs that made us who we are.”
Those hits include “Elvira,” “Ya’ll Come Back Saloon,” “American Made,” “Fancy Free” and “Bobby Sue,” among others. Sterban said fans will hear plenty of “oom-papa-mow-mows” when they perform Wednesday, Feb. 20, in the University of Montana’s Dennison Theatre.
Fans expect the classics, he said. But concert-goers also will hear something new.
“We want to include some of the new music,” said Sterban. “We’ll include that as well. We have a gospel music background. We like to include that. That certainly celebrates our past. But creating new music has put new life and new energy into the four of us.”