William Lee Golden
Behind The Beard
“When you write your life story, and you decide to bare everything, it’s kind of scary. It feels a lot like getting naked…in front of the entire world. Now that I’ve committed to it, there is one thing going through my mind…if I was going to get naked in front of everyone, I probably shouldn’t have waited until I was 82 years old!” – William Lee Golden
William Lee is the most recognizable face of the Oak Ridge Boys to many people. When people think of the Oaks, they think of that guy sporting the waist length hair and hillbilly beard. William’s new autobiography “Behind the Beard” is an amusing, poignant and brutally honest memoir, told in his own words. William Lee's words, which I have to say I had the pleasure of hearing during our interview, flow freely with passion, compassion, honestly, with hard earned wisdom and faith from this octogenarian.
Th Oaks themselves are one of the most distinctive and recognizable sounds in the music industry. Their four-part harmonies and upbeat songs have spawned dozens of Country hits and a Number One Pop smash, earned them Grammy, Dove, CMA, and ACM awards and garnered a host of other industry and fan accolades. Every time they step before an audience, the Oaks bring four decades of charted singles, and 50 years of tradition, to a stage show widely acknowledged as among the most exciting anywhere. And surprisingly each member remains as enthusiastic about the process as they have ever been, including the man behind the beard, William Lee Golden.
Golden’s story began as the son of a farmer in rural south Alabama. Surrounded by music, he started singing at the age of seven and began performing regularly on his grandfather’s weekly radio show along with his sister, Lanette. During this time his love of harmony came alive for Golden and by his teenage years he had grown to appreciate Country Gospel, Doo-Wop, and Pop quartets. And, sure enough, it wasn’t long before he was joining up with The Oak Ridge Boys.
Back home Brewton, Alabama could’ve imagined all that Golden would accomplish with The Oak Ridge Boys when he joined the band in 1965. In 1975, The Oak Ridge Boys switched from Gospel to Country music. During an interview, Golden said the reason why was because, “We had reached the height of Gospel success.”
In 1986, Golden recorded the album, titled, ”American Vagabond,” as a solo artist. Two singles, “You Can’t Take It With You” and “Love Is the Only Way Out,” appeared on the Country charts.
After 22 years with the group, Golden left The Oak Ridge Boys in 1987. Actually, he was voted out of the group, as the other members wanted to change the band’s image. There was a whole lot of speculation on other or the real reason, such as his appearance, Golden stopped cutting his hair and beard, his growing popularity, musical differences, being the only one of the four asked by MCA Records to record a solo album, promoting himself more than the group, ect. . You will have to read "Behind the Beard" to find out Golden's personal perspective on this issue.
He was the longest tenured member when he was fired, by letter, the actual letter now belongs in The Country Music Hall Of Fame. Golden was not only the heart and face of The Oak Ridge Boys, he was the Chairman Of The Board of their business empire. He in fact had hired the other three. It was under his vision that they went from being a popular Gospel group to the top of the Country and Pop charts.
After they forced him out of the group, William Lee traveled and performed with his sons, Chris and Rusty as the Goldens. In 1996, after the singer who replaced Golden committed suicide, the choice was made to reunite with William Lee Golden, forgive each other, and put the past behind. For the Oak Ridge Boys their continued phenomenal success ensued with Golden happily back in the fold, touring, making new music and providing generations of music fans with their exciting live performances to the present day.
In 1997, William Lee Golden also received the Alabama Music Hall of Fame Life Work Award for Performing Achievement.
The personal side of life was, well lets say interesting, as Golden has been married four times. Golden married his present wife Simone De Staley, whom he refers to as "the love of his life", on August 29, 2015, in a ceremony that took place in Nashville with close friends and fellow Oak Ridge Boys Joe Bonsall, Richard Sterban, and Duane Allen, surrounding the couple. The happy couple continue to live in Hendersonville, Tennessee.
Golden has four sons Rusty, Chris, Craig and Solomon. Solomon his youngest is the only child of his not presently involved in the music industry, he resides in Austin Texan and William Lee is proud of him impacting lives as an EMT. Golden also has six grandchildren and two great- grandchildren and through his marriage to Simone, a step-daughter Megan and another grandchild.
Along with the launch of his autobiography, William Lee is involved in several other projects during the COVID 19 shutdown. Not one to stay idle and looking at the down time during the pandemic as an opportunity to have time to complete other projects. The recent release of The Oak Ridge Boys’ new album ‘Front Porch Singin’, the group's fourth collaboration with Grammy-winning producer Dave Cobb is one of the projects.
William Lee also continued to work with his sons Rusty, Chris and now Craig ( who just recently joined his brothers as he was previously too shy to share his great voice), recording and performing as ‘The Goldens'. During the COVID shutdown and they worked on three new albums, "Southern Accent", "Country Roads" a traditional Country album, and a Gospel album with music that resonates to the very soul of Golden, as it has from the beginning of his music career. Proud of all his children his son Chris has excelled in his music career releasing eight solo albums, five videos, garnering six No. 1 Gospel singles, two top five, and winning several awards including 2019 Entertainer of the Year at the Inspirational Country Music Awards and 2019 Country Gospel Artist of the Year from AGM.
Golden’s no one-dimensional artist either. He’s found considerable further success with his paintings and his newest visual medium, photography, where he often focuses on landscape portraits and scenes. Many of his favorite shots can be found on Golden’s official Facebook and Instagram pages.
Fans and Country music lovers will want to dive into Golden's autobiography, aptly named ‘Behind the Beard’. The story takes readers on an exclusive in depth look into William Lee’s vision of turning a Gospel group into one of the biggest acts in Country music history and stories of 50 years on the road with The Oak Ridge Boys. Golden also delves deeper into personal hardships he faced throughout his life. William Lee spews the real reason he was away from the group for nine years, divulges such personal incidents like his first wife’s one-of-a-kind reaction when she learned he had been unfaithful, and how the “Prodigal Son'' returned to the Oaks. Of course he will answer burning questions about his iconic beard like, when and why he started growing it, and if he will ever cut it, with answers that might surprise you!
Golden's fellow bandmembers of the Oaks could not be more supportive of Golden's autobiography, stating:
“I know William has a lot of stories he wants to tell in this book, and I support him 100 percent. He has a lot of fans who want to read about the interesting life he has led.” – Duane Allen
“I am honored to be a part of William’s book, and I look forward to reading it. Imagine that…I’m with the guy almost every day of the year, and I’m still looking forward to finding out things that I don’t know about the man.” - Richard Sterban, and
“William Lee Golden is a lot of different things to a lot of different people. But he is a person who knows who he is. He has dedicated his life to helping people. William is a man of integrity and honesty, and you will read his very honest words in this book,” shares Jim Halsey, Manager of The Oak Ridge Boys.
Fans will want to obtain their copy of ‘Behind the Beard,’ which includes over 200 rare, never seen photos from William Lee’s personal collection, read about his past, and learn about his vision for the future for his family, musically, artistically and certainly for The Oak Ridge Boys.
These days, William Lee Golden is all about balance. Balancing his work with The Oak Ridge Boys and his life at home with wife Simone, the love of his life, as he enters the middle part of his fifth decade with the iconic group. Loving and embracing his life he is full of gratitude and passion for the rich life that God has so generously endowed, William Lee Golden, the man "Behind the Beard".
By Deborah Gibson