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Oak Ridge Boys tip caps to Johnny Cash

The Oak Ridge Boys are, from left, Joe Bonsall, Duane Allen, William Lee Golden and Richard Sterban.
The Oak Ridge Boys are, from left, Joe Bonsall, Duane Allen, William Lee Golden and Richard Sterban. Oak Ridge Boys

If it weren’t for Johnny Cash, the Oak Ridge Boys might never have become a force in country music, at least according to the group’s bassist, Richard Sterban.

“Johnny was a very special person,” Sterban says from his home in Nashville. “He would have us on his tour in the early days and always paid us more. One night he called us and invited us to his room where he said he could tell we were hungry and discouraged. We didn’t know if we had a future. He told us to hold our heads up high and we thought if Johnny Cash thought we could make it, then we could make it. Soon after came ‘Y’all Come Back Saloon’ and we took off.”

The Oak Ridge Boys play Saturday night, Sept. 3, at Thunder Valley, opening for Wynonna and The Big Noise.

Sterban began as a boy soprano, then his voice went to tenor in middle school, finally becoming bass, a very famous bass as it turns out, his being the voice singing the famous “oom pa pa mow mow” on “Elvira.”

“In the beginning, I was singing with the Stamps Quartet, performing with Elvis. It was then I was contacted by the Oak Ridge Boys to join them and there was very little hesitation on my part, even though it meant leaving Elvis and everybody thought I was crazy. I did the right thing.”

Last year, the Oak Ridge Boys were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, “the biggest thing that ever happened to us,” said Sterban, who has written his story, “From Elvis to Elvira: My Life on Stage.” (6:30 p.m.; $39.75-$169.75;

“Originally, believe it or not, (the group was) called the Georgia Clodhoppers, a name that really needed to be changed. Then they signed up to sing for the people working in Oak Ridge, pretty much in seclusion, on the Manhattan Project. That led to the change. were primarily gospel then and we sing a lot of gospel now.”

Labor Day in Reno-Sparks always means ribs with the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off, last year named the nation’s Number One Best BBQ Festival in the Nation by USA Today, beating out even Memphis. Many agree, so many that last year’s fest served more than 241,000 pounds of ribs.

The festival runs from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday through on Sunday, Sept. 2-4; and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 5. Twenty-three cookers will compete and free entertainment will run throughout, topped off by Vertical Horizon on Friday, Jessie James Decker on Saturday, Eddie Money (all at 7 p.m.) on Sunday, and the Original Wailers on Monday (3 p.m.)

Because of extensive construction in Victorian Square, the Sparks location of the festival, the best way to access is to take a shuttle, one of which runs from the Iron Horse Shopping Center on Prater Way in Sparks, the other from the Reno-Sparks Convention Center on South Virginia in Reno. They run throughout the event and are free.