Richard Sterban’s and Steven Robinson’s 2012 Book “From Elvis To Elvira” My Life On Stage” is an interesting read from someone who has been singing professionally for decades. Sterban is of course known for his time as a member of The Oak Ridge Boys, but his stories early in the book about working with Elvis provides an insight about Elvis that readers may not know.
I got the autographed book at an August 2016 Oak Ridge Boys show to add to my collection (I have Joe Bonsall’s books “From My Perspective” and “On The Road With The Oak Ridge Boys” on my Kindle), and read the book in less than 10 days. The book is just shy under 300 pages, and is full of text, which sometimes is not the case with self published or smaller book companies.
The book starts off with Sterban talking about his early childhood and his love for singing and Gospel Music. One story involves him walking home from a concert in the rain, trying to protect an album he purchased at the merchandise table hoping the cover was not ruined by the time he made it home. He talks about his early influences and his start in the Gospel Music Business. It was his involvement with J.D. Sumner and The Stamps that helped him get the job as a backup group for Elvis (One interesting fact is Sterban states that The Oak Ridge Boys was one of the other bands at the time that was rumored to be up for the gig as well).
One of the more interesting chapters in the book is called “Suite Life,” where Sterban talks about his time with Elvis. He discusses about Elvis’s hatred for singer Bobby Darin, and the time Darin showed up at the hotel Elvis was staying at, and Presley pulled a gun on Darin. Sterban tells a tale of Elvis throwing knives at the TV Speakers when Robert Goulet was on the television. However, the book is not a trashing of Elvis and has some lighthearted stories, including the time Elvis pulled a practical joke on the members of the group via a fake death threat that resulted in a fake shoot out, and the time Elvis had a golf cart race that lead out of Graceland and onto the highway in early morning. Sterban writes that Elvis loved practical jokes, but after his divorce with Priscilla, the all night sing along concerts after shows and the jokes that he was known for became less and less.
By the time Sterban joined The Oaks in 1972, he writes that Duane Allen and William Golden almost sold their publishing rights to the Gospel Songs and went to Johnny Cash to see if Cash would buy them. Instead of buying the only thing the group had left, Cash gave them a loan and allows the group open for them because Cash believed the group would be big. Sterban also details how the Christian Community gave the group backlash, and even walked out on shows when the group adding lights to their stage show, which seems unheard of now days with pyro and spinning drum sets are now added to many Christian Bands’ live shows. Even with the backlash, the group still stood by their faith, which Sterban mentions being a part of a Jimmy Buffett recording session that they almost walked on, but due to their contracted agreement, they recorded the record.
One of the parts I enjoyed most about the book is Sterban’s take on William Golden leaving the band and the Oaks replacing him with guitarist Steve Sanders. He writes that when Golden left, “If we only talked our way through those situations, it would have likely, saved us a lot of heartaches, but we just didn’t do it. Instead we walled ourselves off from each other and allowed perceptions to take us over.”
He also states that “Looking back, more than anything else, we suffered misunderstandings caused by a lack of communication.”
This honesty is rare in books where bands have to deal with member changes and usually becomes a blame game against the member who leaves the band. The reader who has followed the band knows that in the end Golden comes back into the band (and is still touring with him today), which from seeing their live show, one can tell how much respect the members each have for one another after so many years of touring.
The Steve Sanders part of the book intrigued me, because there is not much written about that time period and what happened internally. Sterban writes that “Steve was a talented singer-and a heck of a showman-but he fought the demons of depression and drink. They were equal partners in his troubles, his professional demise, and sadly, his premature death in 1998.”
Sterban also writes that “In the months leading up to Steve departing the group, we could sense the end was near. We knew he wasn’t happy-and we certainly weren’t happy.”
There is more on the Sanders era of the band in the book, not much, but it describes what happened when Sanders left the band, but in an honest way that is not bashing the person , and does not gloss over his contribution to the band which was still making hits after Golden’s departure.
The book is filled with stories of Sterban’s views on each member of The Oaks and their roles in the band, the political figures they have met and performed for throughout the years, his love for baseball, wine, cycling, and beaches. There is a story that involves the press confusing him being with a disco singer as well which is worth the read.
This book is overall a great read for anyone that likes music, whether it’s Country Music, Gospel, or early Rock and Roll. Even though Joe Bonsall seems to be the one member that puts out more books than the others, don’t bypass this one, because it was funny, entertaining and knowledgeable (Now will Duane Allen write one soon? We will have to see).
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Sterban, Richard and Steven Robinson. “From Elvis To Elvira: My Life On Stage.” Richards and Southern Books, 2012.