In the world of country music, the words "Oom Papa Mow Mow" might be recognized as some of the most legendary bass notes in the format's history. Of course, those lyrics were immortalized by Richard Sterban in the Oak Ridge Boys' 1981 recording of "Elvira," which became the group's signature song.
"I remember the day that our producer, Ron Chancey, played the demo for us," Sterban recalled. "It was Dallas Frazier's version. We looked at each other and said 'We think this is the song we've been looking for. To this day, I remember the look was on everybody's faces in the studio. They all were having so much fun, and smiling. I remember Jimmy Capps was playing rhythm guitar, and he had such a grin on his face. I remember Ron telling me 'You need to sing that Ooom Papa Mow Mow part,' and on Dallas' version, as well as the one by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition, the line was one there, but not as predominant. He said 'Take it and make it your own."
Needless to say, Sterban did that and then some. His four decades with the Oaks - as well as his career prior to joining the group is well documented in his new autobiography, "From Elvis To Elvira," co-written with Steven Robinson.
"I'm excited about this new venture," Sterban tells Billboard. "I've never thought about writing a book before. This is my first attempt at this, so hopefully it will do well."
He said he decided to write a book partly because of all the questions people have had about his career. "I've been an Oak Ridge Boy for forty years, and prior to that, I was with JD Sumner and the Stamps. For the last two years of that time, I worked with Elvis. Ever since I joined the Oak Ridge Boys, people have continuously asked me about Elvis and what he was like. Over the years, I got to thinking that maybe I should write some of this stuff down."
He notes that's ironic that he made his mark in southern gospel and country music, given his birthplace. "New Jersey is not a hotbed for southern quartet-style gospel music. As far as that goes, especially when I grew up, it wasn't a hotbed for country music. So, the fact I made my fact singing those two styles is unusual. I've been very fortunate to make a living doing both. When I was a young fellow, my aunt gave to me as a birthday present a record by the Blackwood Brothers quartet. JD Sumner was the bass singer on that record. I listened to that four part harmony, as well as the bass singer. It just captured my imagination."
Early on in his career, he sang in several groups, including the Keystones - where he met Joe Bonsall long before they came together as members of the Oak Ridge Boys. Going to work with Sumner and the Stamps was a huge honor for the singer, who recalls his first meeting with Elvis.
"That was an amazing experience. We were in Minneapolis. It was our very first tour together, and we were scheduled to have a rehearsal. We were in the hotel - the Stamps, the Sweet Inspirations, and the TCB Band. We heard this commotion outside the door of people talking, and sure enough, it was Elvis. He comes walking in the room, and I thought 'Wow, I think I understand why he is the biggest star in the entire world.' He went over and hugged JD, then JD started to introduce us. Elvis said 'You don't have to introduce us. I know all of these guys."
Sterban worked with the Stamps for a couple of years, until he got word that Noel Fox, the current bass singer for the Oaks, was leaving. That was 1972, and he's been an Oak Ridge Boy ever since, and he doesn't see an end to that in the foreseeable future, as the group still has the same excitement and energy as always.
"We are a very unique group. If you look at the four of us, we are so different from each other - like night from day. But, there's something magical and special about us as a foursome. I think we realize we need each other, and we are a true team. We still look forward to getting on stage every night and taking our music to the audiences. I think that's very important."
The group has just released a new holiday disc, "Christmas Time's A Coming," via Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, with widespread release on September 25 via Spring House.