Friday, January 27, 2012
Retro SGM Radio: Rusty Golden Comes Full Circle
“John in the Jordan”, the latest hit from Ernie Haase and Signature Sound, represents not only a watermark for the co-writing team of Rusty Golden and Jerry Salley, but a light in the window of ‘home’ for Rusty himself. Rusty Golden, son of William Lee Golden of the Oak Ridge Boys, has come full circle, back to the home of Southern Gospel.
“I was raised around the whole Southern Gospel thing. My Dad joined the Oaks when I was five and a half years old, so I really did grow up around it; even found myself playing drums with Buck, Dottie and Reba, “The Rambos”. When I was 12 years old, I was out on the road with them,” begins Rusty. The story of this congenial, laid-back musician is varied and interesting. He shared it with SGM Radio on the day he learned that “John in the Jordan” was a number #1 Southern Gospel hit.
“I started on drums and played with the Rambos. When I was with them, Dottie and all of the Rambos played guitar, so I started to learn guitar by watching them. They would teach me chords and during that summer when I was 13, I learned all of that so I could play along.” Rusty Goodman taught young Rusty Golden how to play the drums, and Rusty continued his musical education by teaching himself keyboards by ear along with Elton John LP’s. During this whole time, Rusty was also crafting the art of songwriting.
“My grandmother was my first influence,” says Rusty. “She was the writer of my family. Every month for years the Singing News would publish “Poetry Corner”, and it was my grandmother’s writing. I took some of her lyrics [and added music] and that was my first song. A lot of people don’t know that… I have a couple of copies of those songs on tape put away that to me are priceless.” At almost 90, Rusty’s grandmother is still his biggest fan and is “tickled” about Rusty’s song moving up the Singing News charts.
Rusty’s famous Dad, William Lee, provided an environment of music that nurtured his son’s growing passion for playing and songwriting. “He definitely had everything to do with the fact that I was into it, but he never pushed it,” Rusty explains. “It was just all around me. It’s no different I’m sure from some kid’s dad being a football player and the kid decides he wants to get into football. That’s all I was around. Every time we’d go see Daddy “work”, there I was at a Gospel sing with all these groups.”
“It was just the normal thing for me. I didn’t know that the other kids’ dads didn’t do what my dad did. I knew that other kids’ parents didn’t have other people coming up to them and asking them to have their picture taken with them, or to have their autographs. So that kind of put fairy dust all over me when I was a kid. What kid doesn’t want to have that! It looked like it was something fun to do. It was just the natural thing for me.”
Rusty muses about the changes that happened when the Oak Ridge Boys began to sing more country music. “My Dad and The Oak Ridge Boys kind of got off that [Southern Gospel] path for a while, but they never did it in a weird way. Back in those days it was a little harder for them to try to stretch, things were a little stricter, [like] the rules about hair and all that stuff. They were always bending those rules,” Rusty laughs.
“I think it was all meant to be anyway, the Oaks were able to take quartet singing to the masses. People were saying, “Oh are they a country group now?” I thought, “No, they are always going to be a Gospel Quartet, just singing different lyrics!” As long as you have a tenor, lead, baritone and bass, you’re a quartet, there’s nothing else to it. They’ve always been that to me.”
“Now they go to those Homecoming things and I see all of the people coming up, wanting their pictures with them,” says Rusty. “It’s a wonderful thing to know that they [are accepted now]…I mean, there was a time when maybe some were mad or jealous or I won’t even say what, or just indifferent. But time is a healer. I watched all those barriers fall down and everybody just loved each other. They are all on the same page again. It’s just so great.”
Rusty continues to reveal the story of the Oaks, one that he was a part of while sharing the stage with this famous country group. “I’m so proud of all those guys because I know what they went through, to get where they are. There were years where there wasn’t a gospel promoter that would touch them. They thought the Oaks had turned their back on Gospel music. They thought that once you leave the flock you are gone. And there was a lot of people that thought that way. It was hard for [The Oaks] and they were starving, and what the gospel people didn’t know was that the country people and pop people didn’t want to touch them because they thought the Oaks were too gospel. They were in a bad, starving position there for a while.”
Then Johnny Cash took the Oaks under his wing and brought them to Las Vegas to play in his shows. “Johnny Cash was like Elvis back then, he was as huge as he could be, and he would book them when nobody [else] was booking them. Yet they stuck with it through all that. A million bands would have given up or broken up. And the fact that those guys are still together, through not only the worst but the best of times…”to Rusty, speaks volumes about the Oaks’ dedication and perseverance.
“I am proud of those guys. They have hung in there, stood the test of time. They are still winning, they are still out there doing it.” And while the Oaks were being put through some of the biggest tests of their career, Rusty was finishing his education in music on the road. He soon found that having a famous Dad wasn’t necessarily a positive thing in this very competitive industry.
“It’s what’s known in town as the big double-edged sword, to be the ‘son of’ or the ‘daughter of’ any big thing that casts a shadow. Some people will say, ‘well it ruined my life’. Not me. I’ve had people tell me that’s its held me back because of people not really taking me at face value. And I hate to think about it, but there’s nothing I can do about it. But if it has caused problems, it’s sure not worth changing your name or having nothing to do with your family. It’s not worth running from it. That’s not the way to do things, not for me.”
Rusty continues, “Honestly, I don’t have a problem with people seeing my name and the first thing they think about, or see in me, is my Dad. ‘Oh, he’s William’s boy’. I’m just trying to make the best out of it, make him proud.”
After playing with the Oak Ridge Boys, Rusty went on to play with artists such as Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers, continued his songwriting, and eventually formed his own bands with his brother Chris. He has played with Dallas County Line and Marty Stuart. Rusty has won awards and gold records in country music and shared the stage with many of today’s best-known stars.
But today, Rusty is celebrating the rise of a Southern Gospel song that he co-wrote, and he is suddenly in the midst of a family welcoming him back home. “This is the first time I’ve ever had a number one song. I do have gold records, but that’s for having songs that were with the Oaks or other artists and they were album cuts. I’ve had singles, but I’ve never had one hit number one. It’s like a brand new thing to me and it’s exceptional. I’m really thrilled.”
“It’s been a great year you know. Ever since Jerry and I wrote the song, and started writing together, it’s just been a wonderful relationship. I’ve known Jerry a long time,” says Rusty. “He was telling me the other day, he wrote a song that was a Dove Song of The Year, probably ten years ago, by Steven Curtis Chapman, called “His Strength is Perfect”. He told me that that song since then has been cut over two hundred times.”
“Jerry and I are on a mission now, an honest mission. Jerry told me, ‘If I could make a living writing just this kind of stuff, I would do it. I love it’. Jerry is pretty successful in mainstream country. I told Jerry, ‘I think, it’s just about getting the right songs’. I’m not saying that everything we write is going to be a hit, but I really believe…I’ve got faith and I believe if you are anointed and you really let the Lord lead, [you will be blessed].”
Rusty continues, “I made a deal with the Lord a while back. I said, ‘I’m putting You in charge. You tell me what to do and let’s do it Your way for awhile.’ And now here’s a #1 record that’s breaking records and I’m giving Him all the credit. I’m tickled! The way it went and got cut and released…it just wasn’t natural. It was a God thing, big time. And I’m respectful for it and of it.”
“Anyway, that’s not all Jerry writes now, but I tell you one thing, I haven’t written any other kind of music since. Honestly, that’s the only thing I have personally written. That’s just kind of the calling I’ve got right now.” Rusty is still in awe about how the song “John in the Jordan” became the latest hit in Southern Gospel. He says it’s a “God thing”.
“I heard from Michael Sykes who was producing some of my Dad’s gospel stuff here in town at his studio, that Bill [Gaither] was coming into town,” Rusty says. “I had said to Michael that next time Bill was in town I’d love to hand him a CD with a few songs on it. Sure enough, I was gigging downtown that night. The office was ten minutes from where I was playing, so I dropped the CD at the office. Thinking back on it, best I can remember, I think it was the Signature Sound guys who were in the studio that night hanging around.”
“So I dropped the CD off on a Monday night, but nobody would listen to it then. But I heard [the CD] was heard by Bill Gaither on Tuesday. Sometime on Tuesday, he had people book time and musicians and everything, and by Wednesday night, that song was recorded. Which was an amazing thing. Especially when I found out after the fact, that the reason Signature Sound was in that studio was that they were doing background vocals on an album that was already finished.”
Rusty still sounds amazed. “They were already finished with their record, Get Away Jordan. So for them to hear something at that late in the game and say, ‘you know what, this ought to be on the record, it sounds like a hit’, and for them to do in and cut it…My Dad’s the one who told me, ‘you know, we’ve only done that a couple of times, when we were already finished and heard something at the last minute that we thought was a winner’. When they did that, Dad said they’d probably single this song.” Rusty laughs. “So that’s what happened, it was a miracle. An honest, Big Lord miracle.”
With his return to Southern Gospel, Rusty has been listening to some of today’s groups and comments on the progressive sounds and solid songwriting. He comments on “Strike Up the Band” by friend and fellow writer, Dianne Wilkinson. “I heard one today called, ‘I Feel a Song Coming On’, it’s really kind of funky, by a group called Three Bridges. Never heard of them, but the song was great and it didn’t sound like a quartet! It sounded like R&B almost, it’s really cool.”
“Honestly, in my opinion, I hope that [Southern Gospel fans] are ready to embrace [growth and change] because it is just going to help the industry. I want friends of mine who maybe aren’t into what I’m into, who are at least cool about listening, saying, ‘man, that’s good stuff’! Whether it changes their life; I’d like to think it could, or would, or whatever, I just want them to dig it instead of saying, ‘aww, that’s something my grandmother would listen to’.”
“And there is a lot of it that this is exactly what it is, and what’s wild is that mine’s kind of like that! When we wrote it, I said, ‘Jerry, this reminds me of something the Oaks could have done back when! But that’s what we went for; I wanted it to sound like one of those songs that you think sounds like a classic. I wanted it to sound like that. We write all kinds and I just wanted that particular one to sound like one of those ‘I’ll Fly Away’ types, kinda familiar.”
This singer/songwriter/musician who has walked a musical path from Gospel to Country and beyond, now finds himself on the familiar trails of the old homestead. Writing music that his grandmother loves, participating in Gaither homecoming tapings surrounded by a great “choir” of old friends, sharing music and faith with some of the most talented people of his generation and the next. The circle of faith has brought this gentleman home.
“It’s a complete 360. Everybody talks about doing a 180, but it’s been a 360 for me. My Dad joined the Oaks when I was 5, and that’s all I knew from the age of 5. Ever since I was born, really, because my Dad was a member of a little tiny gospel group before he joined the Oaks. All I heard was church and gospel music. I never heard anything else. Then I joined the Rambos when I was 12 and I did gospel stuff till I was 17, so that was all my early stuff [influence]. It was not only the music, but also the people and the business of gospel music. That’s what I’m right back into now. I have come back to the business and the songs of gospel. Going to the Gaither taping and seeing people was like going to a big old family reunion. Yeah, I’ve come home big time. I’ve come home to the music of my youth, in every respect.”
Rusty says he has come home ‘in a deeper level as well’. “I’ve joined a church again, for the first time in my life as an adult. And here’s what’s wild: It’s the church I went to when I was six years old.” Rusty continues, “My grandmother is so proud of me! I read the Word all the time. I’m praying, but you know what? My prayers are now “Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!” I don’t really pray for much. I feel kind of guilty because I know that He knows what I need. He knows! I don’t want to say, “Lord, gimmee gimmee gimmee”…Or “I wish I had…” He knows that. I just like to say thanks for what I do have.”
“That’s where I’m at right now. And that’s exactly what I said the first thing today, the first thing I did when somebody told me that we hit #1. I didn’t say ‘yippee’, I said, ‘Thank You, Lord!’ I know about the verses that say, “Ask and you shall receive”. But surely that’s not all you do is just ask, ask, ask. I want to praise, and I want to say thank you.”
Ernie Haase and Signature Sound have found a song that will be requested by fans for a long time, and “John in the Jordan” may well be recorded as a classic as the years pass. But for songwriter Rusty Golden, this song is the result of a long journey and evidence that the Lord makes every path straight. Rusty has come home to Southern Gospel and to the source of the faith instilled in him many years ago. His thankful heart testifies to the grace of the God that led him back home.
For more information on Rusty Golden, log on to his website at http://www.rustygolden.com/ .
First Published April 2007 on SGM Radio at http://www.sgmradio.com/
By Lorraine Walker
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