“It’s pretty wild that dad is 83 and now he’s got a side hustle,” Chris Golden tells Billboard of in advance of this Friday’s (March 25) release of Golden Classics, a three-volume, genre-spanning set anchored by longtime Oak Ridge Boy William Lee Golden.
“It was so much fun going into the studio with my family and close friends to record these albums,” says William Lee, a member of both the Country and Gospel Music Halls of Fame. “It was important for us to record songs that impacted our lives and get away from the negative and hate that seems to be everywhere these days.”
Golden Classics, out on William Lee’s own Dava label, comprises three albums featuring William Lee, sons Chris, Craig and Rusty, grandchildren Elizabeth, Rebekah and Elijah (Chris’ children) and acclaimed bass singer Aaron McCune. Old Country Church includes such gospel classics as “It’s Suppertime,” “Power in the Blood,” “Softly and Tenderly” and “Why Me, Lord?” Country Accents features such country standards as Johnny Cash’s “I Still Miss Someone,” Hank Locklin’s “Send Me the Pillow That You Dream” and Ray Price’s “For the Good Times.” Southern Accents includes William Lee’s moving rendition of The Beatles’ “The Long and Winding Road,” Chris’ thoughtful take on Tom Petty’s “Southern Accent” and Rusty’s revved up version of Bob Seger’s “Hollywood Nights.” The Goldens’ spin on The Eagles’ “Take it Easy” is the project’s current single and is instantly available with pre-orders.
“I raised my boys to love all types of music and it really shows in each song,” William Lee says. “My sons are extremely talented and have had success on their own as solo artists and songwriters. My grandson Elijah and granddaughter Elizabeth were both included on several songs throughout the project. You can truly feel the family dynamic throughout all three CDs, which is something you rarely hear these days.”
On Southern Accents Elijah, a freshman at Brown University, takes lead on the Oak Ridge Boys classic “Elvira,” premiering here. “He did bring a youthful interpretation to a classic song and he put his own spin on it,” Chris says proudly. “He brought more of that blue-eyed soul to it.”
Craig, who sports long hair and a beard like his dad, shies away from the spotlight, but makes his recording debut singing Gregg Allman’s “Multi-Colored Lady.” Chris and Rusty are both veteran performers. They previously released albums on Epic and Capitol as the duo The Goldens and have had successful solo careers. Awarded songwriter of the year by the Southern Gospel Music Assn., Rusty has recorded three solo albums and penned five No. 1 Southern Gospel hits. Among his many accolades, Chris was 2019’s Inspirational Country Music Awards Entertainer of the Year and has released eight solo albums and notched six No. 1 Southern Gospel hits.
Golden, his sons, granddaughter Elizabeth, McCune and an ace backing band previewed the albums with a sold-out show on St. Patrick’s Day at Nashville’s 3rd & Lindsley. Rusty admits performing with his family was an emotional experience. “In any child’s life, you start thinking about your parent’s age and it’s like, ‘Will that be the last time I’m ever on the stage with my dad?’ And it might not be him that goes,” Rusty says. “Every day is a blessing and if I’m blessed to make music with my family, that’s a double scoop of blessing.”
Chris agrees. “I’m a proud son and a proud father,” he says of the three generations of Goldens on stage, “and grateful to be in the middle to have a front row seat to watch both of them.”
Recording the three albums during the pandemic was a healing process for the Golden family. “We went in the studio within three weeks of burying our mother,” Chris says of William Lee’s first wife Frogene. (The couple divorced in 1975.) “It was a sad time for all of us. In the last year that mom was alive, dad would come over and see her. He realized what great friends they were and it affected him greatly too. . . Dad has always preached that music has a healing power and it took our minds off a lot of things that we’d been going through. It was a great time to go in and focus on music and things that bring great joy. We hope it translates to the listener and brings them the same joy it brought us when we were making it.”
Though William Lee and his sons have worked together over the years, these albums mark their first time all together in the studio. “Back in the day we recorded separately,” Chris says of previous projects. “We toured together, but we never made records.”
In recording the trilogy, the Goldens worked with producers Michael Sykes, Ben Isaacs and Buddy Cannon, and recruited McCune, who regularly performs with bluegrass duo Dailey & Vincent, to lend bass vocals. “Rusty’s pet name for him is Richard Bourbon,” Chris laughs, referencing longtime Oak Ridge Boys bass singer Richard Sterban. “Dad’s been standing next to a bass singer for 55 years. And Aaron is a beast, and he is like a brother. He was a one-taker on almost everything he did.”
McCune met William Lee 12 years ago during a stint with the Oaks, filling in for Sterban. “Me and Golden hit it off instantly and have been friends ever since,” he says. “This is the first album [where] I’ve been involved with every step, from picking out songs, to the arrangements, to being there for the track recordings, all the way to the vocal recordings and the mixing. It’s Golden’s baby, but we all feel like it’s our baby too, because we were so involved.”
Nostalgia is a big part of the project’s appeal. A recent Atlantic article claimed old songs make up 70% of the U.S. music market. But for William Lee, the albums were a labor of love and a nod to his Brewton, Ala. roots. “Old Country Church” was the theme of his grandfather’s Sunday morning radio show. “It was important for me to take my family journey to recreate these songs to recreate these songs with our own influences and expressions,” says William Lee, whose memoir Behind the Beard was published last year. “These are songs that have been meaningful throughout the years and were created by people we love and respect. By making the music, we came together as a family like never before with these recordings. I hope others can experience this feeling as well.”
The clan is hoping to do more live shows together, but will need to work around William Lee’s busy schedule with the Oaks. They say there is also the possibility of returning to the studio. “Hopefully, we’ll get to do this again,” Rusty says. “What’s better than doing something you love to do and getting to do it with your family?”