Oak Ridge Boys

Oak Ridge Boys

A stage musical based on the country group's story is also in development

Though the Oak Ridge Boys have been a force to be reckoned with on the musical scene since Wally Fowler formed the group in Knoxville in the mid-1940s, it has been the lineup of William Lee Golden, Duane Allen, Richard Sterban, and Joe Bonsall that has made the group a household name. With the latter being the most recent to join the group in 1973, the legendary vocal quartet are taking to the road -- and the seas -- to celebrate their 40th anniversary together this year.

"We've started out the year really rockin, so it's going very good," Bonsall told Billboard backstage at the Grand Ole Opry recently. "We've got a cruise coming up, and several Opry performances coming up. We are booking the year up big. In fact, our Christmas tour is already booked. Richard tore his Achilles tendon, and I think it's going to take him some time to get over it, but we're ready to celebrate with a full year of music."

Part of that year will consist of a career first for the Oaks -- a cruise. Beginning February 28, the group will be taking part in a four-night Caribbean cruise that will see the group in concert each night -- albeit with somewhat of a different wrinkle, says Allen. "All the shows on the cruise are going to be made up of requests. The ones that we are getting are pretty phenomenal. So, we'll have songs that people won't have heard for forty or more years -- including us."

Allen did say that some of those "deep catalog" gems might stay in the set list throughout 2013. "I' sure plenty of those songs will wind up in our show throughout the year. That's the way that it is when we relearn something. That's how we usually do things. When we do that, we discover why we cut it in the first place -- because it's a great song. Once we've done that, they are on call, or 'in the bullpen,' and we can call them out at anytime."

What does William Lee Golden – a member of the Oaks since 1964 – think about the request format? "Well, some we haven't sang for a long time, I may have to relearn some of them," he said with his trademark dry wit. "We're just excited to still be around, and to be together. Everyone is healthy – with the exception of an accident that Richard had. It's a recent one that he had, that has kind of put a wrinkle in his ability  to run, ride his bicycle, and jump off of high platforms. He's been jumping off the stage, so it hinders his ability to jump off into the crowd," Golden joked. Though Sterban did have to take a few dates off, he is back performing with the group, bringing the Opry crowd to its' feet with his "Oom Papa Mow Mow" line from their 1981 blockbuster hit "Elvira."

Sterban, who celebrated his 40th year as an Oak last year, says time has flown by since he made the move from The Stamps Quartet. "You look back and you think ‘It's been forty years? It's a little hard to believe. If you had asked anyone of us that we'd still be doing this, and doing it as the level we are, I don't think we would have believed it. We're still having fun, and that's the key to our future. As long as the Good Lord above keeps blessing us with good health, you're going to see us out there doing it."

Longtime manager Jim Halsey confirmed to Billboard that dates for the 40th Anniversary Tour were still being added, and that there were plans for a television special to air later in 2013 on PBS. There is also the development of a stage musical based on their story, as well. Halsey, who has been associated with the group since 1974. "I'm very honored to have been associated with them for that long, and we've always tried to do things that were the least expected for them to do. They are like no other act out there."

Bonsall hinted about how digging back into the group's rich musical well might even influence a future recording project. "I realized that we've got a lot of great songs that no one has ever heard much of on our albums that are gems. It would be cool to go back over all our old albums, and pick out one here and there, and re-record them. I don't know what you would call it, but I think it could be pretty cool."