For a group of men who’ve hit the stage together for 41 years, the Oak Ridge Boys have enjoyed a boys night out or two — or in their case, four decades’ worth.
Luckily for fans, the quartet comprised of Duane Allen, Joe Bonsall, William Lee Golden and Richard Sterban are sharing 14 of their biggest hits on the group’s first-ever live album, Boys Night Out.
Reaching back into their extensive song catalog, they’ve plucked live versions of their most beloved tunes. Ranging from their late ‘70s uprising with songs like “Y’all Come Back Saloon” and “You’re the One,” the CMA and Grammy-winning vocal group also pulls from notable career highlights like “Trying to Love Two Women,” “Make My Life,” “This Crazy Love” and, of course, their distinctive “Elvira,” featuring the unmistakable bass vocals of Sterban’s “oom poppa mow mow.”
“If you look back over our history, the Oak Ridge Boys have a thing,” said Bonsall, the last of the four to officially become an Oak in 1973. “We kind of study the business, but we’ve always done it the Oak Ridge Boys way.”
In fact, they all seem to maintain a rather youthful get-up-and-go enthusiasm, especially when it comes to 65-year-old Bonsall.
“I’m looking out the same windows right here over the top of the microphone,” said the tenor, gesturing to his eyeglasses. “Don’t feel any different to me at all. It feels like the same to me.”
“The energy?” he said. “Still the same.”
And though the group’s vitality began long before he, Allen, Golden or Sterban were at the helm (the quartet’s history dates back to World War II), this sturdy Oak ship has been successfully steered by these same crew members for the last four decades, beginning with Golden in 1965.
In fact, the now long-haired, white-bearded singer asked for his chance to audition for the group when he felt as though the baritone singer at the time wasn’t a good fit. He soon landed the part and quit his job at the local paper mill in Brewton, Ala. The following year, he would recruit the group’s lead vocalist.
“I never dreamed of being the lead singer of the Oak Ridge Boys,” Allen said, while also singing the praises of his predecessor Smitty Gatlin. “I replaced a guy that was one of the most well-known lead singers in the business, and there was no way I could ever sing like him. I just had to sing like me. I couldn’t wear his shoes. I had to find a pair of my own.”
Also looking to fill his own individual ambitions was the handsome and booming bass singer Sterban who joined in 1972. Though grateful for his past career singing with the likes of Elvis Presley, he was hoping for something more.
“I was singing with the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, singing in the biggest stadiums, biggest coliseums around the country,” he said. “But at the same time, I was still just a backup singer and my aspirations — while being with Elvis was pretty exciting — my aspirations were to be more than that.”
Bonsall sealed the quartet’s tenor slot the following year.
“We all loved the Oak Ridge Boys before we joined,” he said. “I think we all realize it’s the Oak Ridge Boys that matter. We all add to it. We all put our individual energies, charm and talent into what is the big picture.”
“I think we enjoy the creative process,” Sterban added. “We enjoy going into the recording studio, creating new music. I think periodically over the years, we’ve kind of reinvented ourselves a little bit. We’ve not changed ourselves. It’s important to know that. But we’ve recorded music that I think is relevant to the current marketplace. It puts new life and energy into us and into our show, and it keeps us going.”
What’s more, fans will have the chance to relive the musical highpoints of one of country music’s longest-running groups with their new album.
“I mean, the ‘Elvira’ days — which I call the ‘heydays’ — they’re some of the most exciting,” Bonsall said, waving his hands with enthusiasm. “We had a whole summer of 1981 where everybody in this country of every age was singing “oom poppa mow mow” with Richard. It pushed us into our own big, gigantic coliseum tour at the time.”
And though the Oak Ridge Boys may no longer be playing coliseum tours these days, they’re still filling theaters, adding tour dates and playing festivals throughout the year and well into 2015.
“The whole family comes out to hear the Oak Ridge Boys,” Bonsall said. “Our audience is a little older now. We’re a little older. After all these years, the four of us singing together, it’s magic, man. It’s magic.”