William Lee Golden, baritone vocalist for the legendary Oak Ridge Boys turns 82 today. The silver-bearded mountain man has been entertaining the masses in one medium or another for over fifty years. We’re going to take a look back at his beginnings and some of the milestones in his career.
William Lee Golden’s Beginnings
William Lee Golden grew up in rural south Alabama. By the time he was seven years old, Golden was performing on his grandfather’s radio show. During these early years, Golden’s love for singing and harmony truly flourished.
In his teens, William Lee Golden found himself drawn to gospel, pop, country, and doo-wop quartets. At 26, Golden made a decision that would change his life forever: he signed on with The Oak Ridge Boys. At the time, they were a gospel group. They would transition into country music a little over a decade later.
The Oak Rids Boys Top the Country Chart
In 1977, The Oak Ridge Boys released their first album “Y’all Come Back Saloon.” This album produced four singles. “You’re the One,” “I’ll Be True to You,” “Easy,” and the title track of the album all sold well. It was “I’ll Be True to You” that gave them their first number-one country song.
With this release, William Lee Golden and The Oak Ridge Boys were on their way to stardom. This would be the first of many hit songs for the group.
In 1981, the Oak Ridge Boys released their hit album “Fancy Free.” The album went to number one on the country chart. The group’s biggest hit, “Elvira” was on this album. It was their fourth number-one country hit and their biggest pop hit as well. The song broke the top-five on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It has become one of the group’s signature songs.
“Elvira” was certified double platinum. “Elvira” and the iconic Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers duet “Islands in the Stream” were the only country songs to perform this well for years to come.
Things were looking great for the Oak Ridge Boys. However, the group and William Lee Golden were not far from making some drastic changes.
William Lee Golden Releases His First Solo Album
William Lee Golden left the group in 1987. The group didn’t like the fact that he stopped cutting his hair and shaving. They also weren’t fond of the idea of Golden releasing solo albums. The mountain man stuck to his guns kept the beard and left the band. However, Golden stayed on the record label, He released the first of two solo albums “American Vagabond” in 1986.
While neither of the singles from the album performed all that well, the solo venture gave William Lee Golden the chance to look and perform the way he wanted. The album garnered generally positive reviews from critics. It also allowed fans to hear his voice by itself.
Return to The Oak Ridge Boys And Opry Induction
William Lee Golden reunited with The Oak Ridge Boys in 1999. They would go on to release several more albums together and in 2011, Little Jimmie Dickens announced that The Oak Ridge Boys would be the newest members of the Grand Ole Opry.
During a performance on Opry Friday Nights, Little Jimmie Dickens stepped onto the stage. He was wearing a black rhinestone suit, a white cowboy hat, and a long white costume beard. Everyone had a good laugh at his caricature of William Lee Golden. Then, Dickens said, “All my life, I have wanted to be a little bitty Oak Ridge Boy. Whether you know it or not, come August sixth, I will be the newest member of the Oak Ridge Boys. And at that time, you will become the newest members of the Grand Ole Opry.”
After letting the moment sink in for a moment, the group performed their signature hit “Elvira”
William Lee Golden’s Other Ventures
Besides being a platinum-selling country artist, William Lee Golden is also a painter and photographer. If you visit the Golden Gallery on his website, you can check out his paintings. His photography is also available to view on the site.
William Lee Golden has had a long career. He has had his ups and downs but, in the end, he lives and performs the way he wants. Whether he is solo or with a legendary vocal group, Golden brings something special to the table.
As a mildly related bonus, I wanted to share with you one of my favorite Oak Ridge Boys tunes. It’s a highly underrated cut from the early seventies called “Dig a Little Deeper in the Well.” Not only is it a great tune but it also packs a good message. It’s a song about striving for the best and not taking less than you’re worth. A fitting tune for Golden on his birthday.