For many fans, the Oak Ridge Boys have little if nothing left to prove. The quartet has persevered since its inception in the early 1970s, with 23 No. 1 records in the music charts, four Grammy awards and multiple honors in country and gospel music.
So what, then, prompted the Boys to record a cover of the popular rock band The White Stripes’ song, “Seven Nation Army” on their latest album?
“One of the reasons we’re still around is the fact that we still enjoy doing what we’re doing and we enjoy reinventing ourselves from time to time,” Richard Sterban, bass singer for the band, said.
The Oak Ridge Boys will roll into Kalispell on Aug. 17 for a concert at the Northwest Montana Fair, and they’ll be bringing plenty of soul, Sterban promised.
The show will begin with one of their latest releases, “The Boys are Back,” off of their newest album with the same name. Written by popular country singer and songwriter Shooter Jennings, the song exemplifies the Oaks’ latest evolution, Sterban said.
“It’s what we are excited about right now,” Sterban said. “It brings new energy and excitement into our group.”
Jennings played an integral role in the Oaks latest album. Before writing “The Boys are Back,” Jennings called the Oaks to see if they would sing on his song, “Slow Train.”
The Boys already knew Shooter Jennings, Sterban said, because his father, Waylon Jennings, used to bring him by the studio when he was a little boy. Sterban and the Boys agreed to record “Slow Train,” eventually singing it at a popular Nashville nightclub with Jennings and his band.
“The place was packed, but with kids,” Sterban said. “Well, kids compared to us; it was a much younger audience.”
The Boys were pleasantly surprised, then, when the young crowd embraced them wholeheartedly, even singing along to every word of one of their earliest hits, “Elvira.”
It was that night the Boys decided to hook up with Jennings’ producer, David Cobbs, and expand their music to include this younger crowd.
“We put ourselves in David Cobbs’ hands and said, ‘Take us, we’re willing to make some changes,’” Sterban said.
And change they did, in terms of musical genre and recording experiences. The latest album touches on rock and roll, country, rhythm and blues and, of course, gospel.
“We wanted to record an American songbook,” Sterban said. “A lot of variety and music that would show all the various sides of the Oak Ridge Boys.”
The Boys began as a gospel quartet in 1973 and were intent on paying homage to their roots in a fresh way, he said.
So, for “The Boys are Back,” Cobbs searched the Smithsonian Institute for the oldest spiritual song he could find, Sterban said. The result was “God’s Gonna Easy My Troublin’ Mind,” a song so old there was no copyright, Sterban said.
It’s a track recorded with no frills, as it would be when it originated, Sterban said.
At their foundation, the Boys are a pure vocal group. The latest album may have taken them in a few new directions, but it does not signal an integral shift in the group’s personality, Sterban asserted.
Take the band’s cover of “Seven Nation Army.” The Boys replaced most of the instrumentals with vocals, taking a popular contemporary song and making it their own, he pointed out.
As another example, Sterban noted the song, “Mama’s Table,” from country singer Jamey Johnson. It’s about family, which is an important part of the band’s foundation as well.
“It talks about family and family values and that’s what we’re all about,” Sterban said. “The good things in life – family and long lasting relationships.”
The Oak Ridge Boys pride themselves in making each concert family friendly while being able to play virtually anywhere. They can shift from a casino one night to a festival, such as the hipster gathering South by Southwest in Austin, Tex., the next. Last weekend they sang gospel in a church, Sterban said.
“We pride ourselves in adapting to all these different circumstances,” Sterban said.
The Boys are also famous for their Christmas concerts, and they are already starting to practice their holiday tunes, Sterban said. On Aug. 17, the Flathead can expect new songs peppering the old hits and a fun family night out, Sterban said.
“A fair – that is really the Oak Ridge Boys’ audience,” Sterban said.
For tickets to the Oak Ridge Boys’ Aug. 17 concert, visit www.nwmtfair.com. Tickets are also available at the Northwest Montana Fairgrounds and by phone with a credit card at 758-5810. For more information on the band, visit www.oakridgeboys.com.
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