Book Review: Richard Sterban – From Elvis To Elvira

Quartet-Man, one of our regular readers, submits today’s book review.

From Elvis to Elvira is an interesting read that covers Oak Ridge Boys’ bass singer, Richard Sterban’s life, hobbies, interests and vast career: which consists of time with the Keystone Quartet, the Eastman Quartet, the Stamps Quartet (which includes time with Elvis Presley), and for the past nearly 40 years, The Oak Ridge Boys. There is some overlap with other books, but Sterban is true to his word in not retelling a lot of what has been told before elsewhere.

After briefly talking about his birth, family and life, Richard tells about discovering gospel music and influences such as J.D. Sumner and the Couriers (who helped him a lot). He covers meeting the Oaks and how William Lee and Duane helped the Keystones to become better. He shares about Bonsall being hired as a lead singer in the Keystones, how they lost tenors fairly often which made them swap parts and sing as a trio, and Joe’s eventual switch to tenor.

For southern gospel fans, Richard talks about getting the call to join the Stamps Quartet, traveling with them, and notifying J.D. he was leaving. He goes into his not being satisfied with his role in the Stamps and why he took what many at the time would consider several steps down to join the Oaks. He talks about two sides of J.D. (selfish and generous, fun and difficult, and trying to live right to not always living right). Sterban shares how he auditioned for the bass part of the Imperials which was something I had tried for decades to reconcile with what I knew of his and the Imperials’ histories. Another interesting tidbit was his talking about changing from singing bass in an Armond Morales smooth tone to a more George Younce pointed one.

Christians should enjoy reading a bit about Sterban’s faith, his feeling called to sing full-time after prayer, his struggles with temptation, and not always living like he knew he should. Although not a “tell all book” he talks about the time on the Stamps’ bus not always being as squeaky clean as some might have believed (some of which has previously been alluded to by others including Sumner himself). He mentions the Oaks being hired to sing on a record during their lean years only to find out that the lyrics weren’t what they wanted to sing. He talks about the safeguards put in place after that so they would never be put in a situation like that again. He gives one example of their requesting a lyric change on their first country album and talks about their move from gospel to country.

Elvis fans and Stamps fans should find the coverage of the time with Elvis to be of interest. He discloses what Elvis asked him privately the last time he saw him and what happened to the TCB necklace Elvis had given him. He covers time spent singing with, recording with, filming with, talking with, and hanging out with Elvis as well as a joke Elvis played on the Stamps that could have turned catastrophic.

For the Oaks’ country fans he mentions a few things probably unknown to those who weren’t active on their message board at particular times. These include a hidden message on one song, a secret vocalist on another, and a little behind the scenes info of the Oaks changing producers and record labels. He looks back in hindsight on the split with Golden and discusses Steve Sanders’ departure, as well as Golden’s return. I also enjoyed a little view of their time in the studio and how Bonsall found the right sound for his lead vocals on “I Guess It Never Hurts To Hurt Sometimes”.

For those who love humor, Sterban talks about practical jokes (including one on Ted Koppel that backfired), Bonsall imitating a presidential candidate (which I don’t believe was intended as a joke but was caught on TV while the candidate was being interviewed), and something Bonsall said to Sterban’s wife in reference to an “almost” handshake she had with Billy Graham.

Other items of interest are Sterban taking voice lessons, vocal struggles he has had and things he does to help, his briefly considering retirement, issues with confidence as a singer, and difficulties singing at funerals.

On the negative side, there are some typos and inaccuracies. A few I recall are: an incorrect year given of William Lee Golden on the bus (Golden wasn’t back yet during the date given), the year given as 1995 for the photo shoot for the Step On Out album (which was released in 1985). Two other inaccuracies are his two lowest recorded notes being correctly identified, but each incorrectly named a half step too high, and his saying he had no leads during the Jimmy Bowen produced years when he actually did after the first album. However, the book is pretty thorough and informative. I am really happy that there were some details given.

In order to keep this review from giving too much away or becoming even longer that it already is, I have left out quite a bit. I really enjoyed this book, pre-ordered it, and changed my plans the day it arrived in order to read it (which I completed in one day). I enjoyed getting to know one of the quietest members of the Oaks better and have a few questions answered. This was a very enjoyable read and is a valued addition to my library.

The book is available for purchase at

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Category Book Review, Reviews

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  1. Reply August 20, 14:12 #1 yankeegospelgirl

    Hey, I wanted to say that I enjoyed this review and while I probably won’t go out and buy the book, it was interesting to learn all these little details. The ORB sure went places! I think it’s a little funny considering that (lowers voice to barely audible whisper) I don’t think they’re really ALL that. Don’t tell Kyle. :D

    It’s sad to hear Sterban confirm what’s been said about J. D. and the Stamps. Now I haven’t yet watched the video that’s been going around about J. D.’s conversion, but am I right in thinking that he himself came to recognize that he hadn’t lived like he should, and that led him to seek the Lord in earnest?

    • Reply August 20, 14:44 quartet-man

      YGG, thanks for the comments, YGG, but don’t go dissing the Oaks. ;) Then again, since we disagree on Phelps. English, Funderburk, which version of the Cathedrals was the best etc. I guess it is to be expected. :p Maybe some day I will need to expose you to some of their stuff you probably haven’t heard. Then we’ll see if you change your tune. :p

      I just watched the video about J.D. a couple of days ago. Yeah, it seems he did. As I commented on the thread about the video, J.D. was according to Sterban, moved while doing the Three Nails play and when Sterban joined had stopped the behavior for a while and tried to live right. It didn’t stick that time, but it sounds like according to the video, stuff I saw from J.D. towards the end, and I believe some stuff in his re-write of his book that he did get things in order of which I am glad.

      There are many things in the book that I didn’t touch here and even many I did lacked the details as I don’t want to post things from the book more than necessary. The book is certainly worth buying and reading for Oaks fans, but also fans of the Stamps, Elvis and those with an interest in the industry then and some of the groups at least get a mention.

      I really appreciated seeing Richard’s faith intertwined in the book. It isn’t like the Oaks keep it a secret, but it is still cool to see it different times throughout his career when mentioned here.

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