Success, however, wasn’t immediate for the combo. There were lean times for the Oaks — at one point, they wondered if the group would survive. They received some much needed help from a certain Man in Black.
Johnny Cash put the Oak Ridge Boys on the concert bill with him and, according to Sterban, “paid us more money than we were worth.”
“He actually gave us more than the contracts specified,” Sterban said. “He knew we were struggling along and he wanted to try to help us.”
More important than Cash’s financial help were his words of encouragement, according to Sterban. He recalled Cash calling a meeting with the Oak Ridge Boys when they were playing with him in Las Vegas.
“He said, ‘I can tell your heads are hanging, but there’s something very special about the four of you guys,’” Sterban said. “‘I can sense it, you guys can sense it. If you give up at this point, you’ll never realize your dream. You’ve got to find a way to stay together, and then everyone is going to realize it as well that you guys are very special.’”
Cash promised the Oaks that if they could do that, good things would start happening for them.
“We walked out of that meeting with our heads held high,” Sterban said. And soon enough, the Oaks would be standing taller, career-wise.
The Oak Ridge Boys met Jim Halsey, who found them gigs and a record deal; Halsey is the Oaks’ manager to this day. Producer Ron Chancey also came on board and found hit songs for the singers.
A few years after the Oak Ridge Boys’ pivotal conference with Cash, the group won its first CMA Vocal Group of the Year award. Cash was hosting the ceremony, and the Oaks ran up to him when the win was announced.