The Early Years
Rusty was born on January 3, 1959 in Brewton, Alabama, the eldest son of William & Frogene Golden. His given name is "William Lee Golden, Jr.", as he's named for his father, however, shortly after birth, his family began calling him by the nickname of "Rusty". He chose to use the name Rusty in his professional career and he's still called "Rusty" by family and friends. (Note that in some of Rusty's early work, he was credited under the name "William Lee Golden")
When Rusty was born, the stage was already set, so to speak, to prepare him for his future as a songwriter and musician.
Music was a staple in the Golden household, as both of Rusty's parents came from musical families where singing and playing various instruments was an encouraged norm. It’s no surprise to learn that when Rusty was just a few years old, he was already using Charles Chips cans or a round oatmeal box as makeshift drums and pencils as drumsticks, learning how to keep time with music. And by the time he was in 6th grade (about 12), he was already proficiently playing on a professional set of drums given to him by his parents.
Rusty's songwriting career was influenced early on as both his father's mother -- and her father (Rusty's grandmother and great grandfather, respectively), loved poetry (which is essentially "lyrics" without the music). Rusty's paternal grandmother was a prolific poet, even having her poems regularly published in the town's newspaper in the section called "Poet's Corner". Rusty grew up understanding the connection between words (lyrics) and how they flowed with music, and as a youngster, he composed his first song by putting his grandmother's poetry to music.
A Change of Scenery: Nashville
When Rusty was 7 years old, a significant change took place. His father moved the family (Rusty, his mother and his 2 younger brothers Craig and Chris) to Nashville, Tennessee in order to pursue a career in music as a member of the Oak Ridge Boys (ORB). The gospel music influence, which Rusty had known as a small child, now took on a new dimension, as he became more immersed in it as he watched his father perform. Within 6 short years, the ORB would be one of the most popular groups in gospel music. (Later they would go on to cross over into the country and pop genres, sell in excess of 42 million records, become members of the Grand Ole Opry and be inducted into the Country Music Hall Of Fame).
The Rambos, The Tonight Show, and the Vision of a Career in Music
Rusty, who grew up in and around the music industry in Nashville, was already playing drums professionally by age 13, on the weekend and during the summer break, when he was out of school. During this time, he went on the road playing drums behind a hugely popular gospel group called The Rambos, which featured the legendary songwriter Dottie Rambo (who was also a Grammy winning solo artist and multiple Dove award winner). Rusty also played drums for the Oak Ridge Boys in between the Tommy Fairchild / Tony Brown switch. Rusty relates "Mark Ellerbee had come on board to play drums, but for a couple of weekends Mark would move over to the piano, and I played drums."
It was around this time that Rusty went to a concert that would change the course of his life as a musician. On November 12, 1972 Rusty saw Elton John perform at the Municipal Auditorium in Nashville. He was so struck with the performance, that the day after the show Rusty gave his drumsticks to his brother Chris and started teaching himself to play the piano. Rusty's tenacity in teaching himself how to play the piano led him, within 6 short years, to perform on the chart-topping album "Love Is Just a Game" by Larry Gatlin, which scored a #1 hit.
In 1978 while in Los Angeles and in between playing a concert at the legendary Roxy Theater and taping The Tonight Show with Gatlin, Rusty started making plans to write and record his own songs.
By age 20 he was recording at Quadraphonic Studios in Nashville for ABC Records. Although this particular project was never released, it gave Rusty the push to believe that he could have a career in the music business.
Record Deals, THE BOYS BAND and MTV
While shopping his record in Cannes, France during MIDEM (a music business conference) Rusty was asked to seriously consider forming a group. Upon returning to the USA and after a few meetings with some talented friends, THE BOYS BAND was formed. Within two years the group was recording their debut album for Elektra/Asylum Records at CARIBOU RANCH in Nederland, Colorado (among stellar artists to record there were CHICAGO, ELTON JOHN, JOE WALSH, SUPERTRAMP, and EARTH WIND & FIRE).
The album yielded a Top 40 single and the first music video for MTV produced in Nashville in 1982 (“Runner”). However, because of lack of record label enthusiasm, the group disbanded in 1984. (But you can’t keep a good album down: In October 2016, THE BOYS BAND album was re-released by Warner Brothers Records in Japan, and as of 2022, it is still available on Amazon).
From a Gold Record - to GoldenSpeer - to The GOLDENS
In 1984, Rusty received an RIAA Gold Record for his songwriting contributions on the Oak Ridge Boys album "Bobbie Sue". This recognition encouraged Rusty to quickly begin writing songs with another child of the gospel music industry: Marc Speer, who was a 3rd generation musician (his grandparents and parents founded the legendary SPEER FAMILY).
In 1985, Rusty and Marc founded the group GOLDEN SPEER (which by now included brother Chris Golden on lead vocal) and headed to Muscle Shoals, Alabama where they would record a project for CBS Records. It was produced by Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section alumni Roger Hawkins and David Hood.
Although the label passed on the production team, it did move forward to sign brothers Rusty and Chris under the group name THE GOLDENS. CBS paired Rusty and Chris with producer James Stroud and they were signed to a major record label with CBS/EPIC RECORDS in 1986. Several talented musicians were also involved with The Goldens including Greg Gordon, Don Breland, John Rich, Skip Mitchell, Buster Phillips and John Sturdivant, Jr.
After recording a full-length album in Nashville and Los Angeles, the label released 2 singles before leaving the album "on the shelf". CBS recorded a commercial spot for Rusty and his brother, and you can still see it on the Goldens Vault YouTube Channel.
Thankfully, because the group had built a loyal following it wasn't hard for Rusty and Chris to negotiate another major label record deal -- this time with CAPITOL/SBK Records. They then released another album titled "Rush For Gold" in 1990. This album produced three charting singles and videos: “Take Me Back To The Country”, “Keep The Faith”, and “Long Gone”. Rusty and his brother were successful and had extensive TV exposure including several live performances on TNN (The Nashville Network) and a rigorous concert schedule. However, the group was still considered a “mid-level” act in a “high-level” business. Capitol Records dropped the group from its roster, which by that time included an up and coming artist named Garth Brooks.
(But like the earlier resurgence of interest in THE BOYS BAND music, there was also a resurgence of appreciation for THE GOLDENS sound, and the 'Rush For Gold' album was re-released several major digital platforms in 2020).
Success as a Song Writer
Rusty, who had enjoyed being a staff writer with Warner/Chappell and EMI in the 80’s, decided to concentrate on his songwriting by signing with PolyGram Music. This was a successful move, and he would go on to have songs recorded by various artists including soul / R&B sensation Barry White and The Oak Ridge Boys.
Over the years, Rusty has been blessed to write songs with some of the music industry's top song-writers including "Nashville troubador" Jimbeau Hinson, who Rusty credits with being his first songwriting mentor. Other top writers include songwriter Hall of Fame inductee Jeffrey Steele, Jerry Salley (Country Music Songwriter of the Year winner), Dianne Willkinson (the first woman honored with a nomination for SGMA Songwriter of the Year), and Jim McBride (who authored "Chatahoochie" for Alan Jackson). Rusty has also been honored to have some of his songs recorded in other languages. (Rusty continues to enjoy nearly a 5-decade career collaborating with prominent songwriters, including the prolific Jimbeau Hinson, who passed away in 2022).
It was during this fruitful time that Rusty was also working as a musician on tour and recording with various artists, including Songwriter Hall of Fame member, Jeffrey Steele, with whom Rusty worked for 9 years.
Beginning in 1994, and for 15 years, Rusty coordinated and hosted the popular annual SONGS ON THE BEACH showcase in Gulf Shores, Alabama, which took place in conjunction with the legendary Frank Brown International Songwriters Festival. This 2 week retreat for songwriters was held each November, and highlighted several times in BILLBOARD magazine. The retreat featured nightly performances, allowing for songwriters to showcase their newest work. The time allowed songwriters to connect with and collaborate with each other, leveraging their creative synergies which led to many coming away with completed hit songs.
A Close Call & Success in Returning to His Gospel Roots
Rusty, who has always been a man of deep Christian faith, has often publicly spoken about his faith, both on television as well as social media. One such public affirmation was: "Until the Lord calls me away from this world to the next, I want to make it clear that I believe in Jesus Christ as the true Lord and Savior. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God, was sacrificed on the cross, died for our sings, and rose again. HE loves us."
During this period of intense creative activity, Rusty experienced a serious health crisis which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. On October 5, 2002, after returning from performing at a private party for FORTUNE magazine at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, he decided to check himself into the hospital after what he said was "feeling something different going on inside my body". Within 3 days he would receive a life-saving quadruple heart bypass at St. Thomas hospital in Nashville.
It was during his recuperation at his mother’s
home, that Rusty, who had always been a man of faith and who had publicly testified about his faith on numerous occasions, allowed God to use the
quiet time to work in his heart. He started pondering his future, and
reflecting on how his past got him where he was....or wasn't. (One such affirmation on social media was:
Rusty relied on God's leading and decided to write a gospel song. It was called “John in the Jordan”, referring to John the Baptist in the Bible. Rusty said of this period: "Musically, it was a return to everything I grew up on". His song 'John in the Jordan' became a very successful #1 record, and the album on which it appeared went on to win a Dove Award for Southern Gospel Album of the Year at the 39th GMA Dove Awards. Rusty soon found that artists in the gospel genre wanted to hear more from him.
Gospel music impresario and pioneer Bill Gaither would be one of the major champions behind Rusty's songwriting career. Speaking of Rusty, Gaither said, "As one of the promising young writers in our field. Rusty Golden undoubtedly has a bright future ahead of him. I'm very excited about his ideas and I believe the sky is the limit for him."
Rusty wrote two songs during this period which were featured on 2 Grammy nominated albums. One was the “Ephesians One” album, recorded by Karen Peck and New River, and included Rusty's co-written "Song of the Year" hit "I Want To Thank You".
Rusty also had the idea for what became his fourth Gospel #1 hit, titled "Between 12 and 33" which he wrote with fellow songwriter Jim McBride.
Wearing Another Music Industry Hat: Producer
In addition to song writing, singing, recording and playing, Rusty also used his skills as a music producer. In 2010, Rusty was hired by country rocker Tre' Michaels to produce his debut album titled "Freewheelin'". Rusty put together an all-star rhythm section for the project, including musicians from such iconic bands as Lynyrd Skynyrd, Whitesnake, Kid Rock, Tesla, Chicago, and Elton John.
Branching Out: Solo Albums
Rusty has always loved being inspired, writing and recording new music. In 2015 and over the next 3 years, Rusty released two critically acclaimed solo projects: 'ANGELS', a Christian faith-based album of songs, and the recovery-themed album called 'SOBER', which caught the attention of Billboard magazine’s Deborah Evans Price who wrote: "The most compelling music always comes from real life and Rusty Golden has long had a gift for distilling experience into insightful, poignant songs. Sung with passion and conviction, these songs are among the best work this gifted singer/songwriter has ever delivered. Spend some time with this album. You'll be richer for the experience."
In October 2018, Rusty then released another EP titled 'CONFESSIONS' which consisted of 5 songs around the theme of love.
Continued Success - Returning to His Family Roots
In March 2020, as the Covid pandemic swept the globe, Rusty, who was performing in the Middle East, managed to catch one of the last flights back to the US just before the travel lockdown went into effect. Fortunately, Rusty was able to return home to be with his family during the pandemic, and this turned out to be a blessing in disguise in several ways.
First, his return allowed him to spend a last few precious months with his mother, who was battling pancreatic cancer. His mother Frogene lost her yearlong battle with the disease in July 2020.
Second, he was able to live with his mother and brothers all under one roof – something they had not done together since his youth, and this brought them all closer together.
Third, Rusty joined his father William, in implementing a vision for a family band. Together, they began discussing and working on what was informally called, “the family project”. The pandemic didn’t slow Rusty down, as from 2020 – 2021, he, along with his father, his brother Chris recorded 34 songs under the band name which acknowledged the musical talent and history of Rusty, his brother Chris, and their father: "William Lee Golden and THE GOLDENS". They were also joined by brother Craig, nieces Elizabeth and Rebekah, and nephew Elijah on some songs, making the group a true 3-generation family band.
In November 2021, Rusty along with the new band, returned to Rusty's hometown of Brewton, Alabama to perform at the "Porch Fest" concert, organized by the Greater Brewton Area Chamber of Commerce. The concert took place on historic Belleville Avenue. The band opened the festivities at the grand estate home of 605 Belleville Avenue, which sits on 4+ acres taking up a city block and was built in 1903 by timber baron W.W. Downing. During the concert, Rusty, his father, brothers, and niece were given a great honor: they were presented with a Proclamation and Key to the City by Brewton Mayor, Yank Lovelace, for their long-standing positive impact on the town. Said Mayor Lovelace, "The Golden Family is part of the fabric of our community, and we are forever grateful for the contributions made that help make this the greatest community in the world."
Busy, Thankful, and the Hits Keep Coming
The year 2022 marked a significant milestone for Rusty: 50 YEARS in the PROFESSIONAL MUSIC INDUSTRY! It was also a busy year for Rusty and the 3-generation band. "William Lee Golden and THE GOLDENS" released their 34 songs on a 3-album set which covered 3 genres in March: Southern Rock, Gospel and Country classics. The group began touring in Tennessee, Georgia, and Kentucky and then made their debut as a group at the Grand Ole Opry in July, making it the 6th time Rusty had performed on the legendary boards.
By October, the new venture, less than a year old publicly, had already proven itself a success as the band was nominated for several independent music awards. They were then recognized with the “Fan Favourite” Award at the 8th annual Josie Music Awards in Nashville.
The same month, Rusty’s song “It’s a God Thing” (co-writer Jerry Salley and recorded by Chris Golden) was listed by SGN Scoops as number # 1 in the Top 40 Christian Country list. And Cashbox Magazine recognized the song as # 1 on the Christian Country top 100 chart.
A Heart for Others
Even with Rusty's laser-focus on utilizing his talents to the full, he doesn't just focus on himself -- rather, he continues to have a heart and passion for helping others. In addition to highlighting the talents of others on his social media, he feels strongly about using his musical talent in ways that give back to others and his community. In 2022 alone, he performed at 4 not-for-profit events to support worthy causes, help others, and honor those artists lost too soon:
Musician of the Year
Rusty has had a busy 2023. In March, the band was nominated for "Favorite Crossover Artist" in the Christian Voice Magazine's 2023 Gospel Music Fan Awards. Their 9 other fellow nominees include stellar artists such as Dolly Parton, Reba McEntire, and T Graham Brown. By May, they had won! They then scooped up another award at the JMA's held at the Grand Ole Opry in October, with Rusty also individually winning Musician of the Year (Piano/Keys).
A Look Ahead
Rusty is already focused on a busy 2024. The band's tour schedule is heating up. As usual, Rusty has several irons in the fire, including promoting "the family project" and playing and touring with "William Lee Golden and The Goldens", promoting releases of several music videos scheduled to premier in the next few months, and writing songs. Rusty continues to enjoy using his decades of experience in all aspects of music: from recording, songwriting, playing (4 instruments!) and singing, to production and promotion, and he invites everyone to join him for this exciting ride on what he affectionately calls "The Golden Express".
Photograph by Michael Jenkins Photography