By John Herndon, KentuckySings.com
Chris Golden is happy just playing for The One who gave him the gift.
There are few packed crowds like he’d enjoyed during his 17 years as drummer for country and gospel music Hall of Famers The Oak Ridge Boys. Instead, Chris is his own driver, sound man, publicist, merchandiser and musician. “I’m a one man band now,” Chris says with his easy smile.
And he’s happy with the direction his musical journey is taking.
Golden left the Oaks in 2014 to embark on a solo career in gospel music. Since then, he’s been named Absolutely Gospel Music’s country gospel Artist of the Year and has won the International Country Gospel Music Association’s Gold Cross, which is the equivalent of the group’s Entertainer of the Year. He’s also won two Crossover Artist of the Year awards.
In addition, Chris has had two songs reach No. 1 on Cashbox: “A Different Light,” written by his brother, Rusty, and Dianne Wilkinson, and a remake of the Glen Campbell hit, “Less of Me,” the title track from his latest album.
But even with the accolades, there are few sold out shows. The lights are not nearly as bright these days.
“The Oak Ridge Boys were more than a job. It was the world I grew up in,” says Golden, the second son of legendary Oak William Lee Golden. “I loved what I did and always felt I had the best seat in the house.”
Yet, after years playing with one of America’s most beloved groups, a fire was getting hotter in Chris Golden’s heart. “I felt something burning inside of me to be singing again,” Chris remembered last week before performing in the Old Barn at Renfro Valley. “I never lost my desire to sing the whole time I was playing drums for the Oak Ridge Boys.”
It was during the 2013 tour that Chris was confronted with his future. As he was setting up his drums for a show, his struggle was apparent. “A guy said, ‘You need to stop playing for the guys who write you a check or playing for the people who pay money to see you. You have to start playing for The One who gave you the gift, man,’” Chris remembers. “I got cold chills right there. I asked that man if he was an angel. I thought he was a stagehand, but I never saw him again that night.
“He followed me to the lobby and said, ‘I felt the need to come tell you this.’ I asked him twice if he was an angel.
“I said, ‘Man, there is a plaque in my grandma’s house, right there in the foyer, that says to be careful to entertain strangers because you may entertain angels unaware. I asked him again if he was an angel.
“He said, ‘I am just the messenger.’”
Chris says he took the message to his heart and his instruments. “His timing was perfect,” Chris says. “I went to my snare drum, took a Sharpie and wrote ‘Play for The One who gave you the gift.’” Golden says he repeats this every time he changes a snare head.
Since leaving the Oaks a few months later, Chris has simply been doing what he loves as he presents the message he loves in gospel music.
“I miss him, but I totally understand his feeling of commitment to his music,” William Lee Golden says. “Sitting here playing drums for The Oak Ridge Boys, he’s a great drummer but he didn’t have the opportunity to showcase his real talents. At different times, that would be real frustrating for Chris as he had no platform for his real talent and his being able to sing. He’s an incredible singer and sings with feeling.”
During a 90-minute concert at Renfro Valley, Chris had a sound very similar to his famous dad as he delivered gospel classics like “I Saw the Light” and “I’ll Fly Away.” He also sang several songs from the “Less of Me” album, including one of his father’s most beloved songs, “Thank God for Kids.”
Chris played an acoustic guitar and piano during the show and brought his 15-year-old son, Elijah, on stage to sing a few tunes.
It was a true worship experience.
Which is exactly what Christ desires in his journey of faith.
“Chris started (playing instruments) real early,” William Lee Golden says. “Chris would watch (older brother) Rusty play and as soon as Rusty would walk away, Chris would start playing.
“He started as a young kid and has been playing music all his life. He would challenge himself to learn different instruments. He plays mandolin and plays well enough to play on records too. He plays a lot of different instruments on his own records.”
The credits on “Less of Me” list Chris performing on the acoustic guitars, bass, drums, electric guitar, mandolin, organ, piano and percussion along with vocals. His daughter, Elizabeth, plays the fiddle on the album and among the background vocalists are another daughter, Rebekah along with Elijah and William Lee Golden.
The journey has come full circle for Chris, who began his professional career as a 15-year-old pianist for The Telestials. After playing rock and country music for more than 20 years, Chris is back where he started.
“Sometimes you take the long way around,” Chris smiles. “I am singing for this message. I never got tired of this music and I have never gotten tired of the message.” During his time with The Oak Ridge Boys, Chris recorded five solo albums.
It wasn’t easy when the journey started in 2014, but every time he sings, Chris Golden delivers the message of hope found in salvation. The lyrics from “What Salvation’s Done for Me,” another song written by Rusty Golden and Dianne Wilkinson, sum up what he tries to convey.
I can’t tell you why He loves me, as bad as I had been
Why I’m worthy of this life of victory
I know I’m not a scholar just a sinner saved by grace
But I can tell you what salvation’s done for me
Chris, who attends First Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tenn. when he’s not on the road, says living by faith was not an easy lesson. “The main thing I had to get through was having the faith it was all going to be OK,” he says. “Just trying to take care of the music business, prayer is the first thing. It’s not just me. I have people all over the country who are praying for me. I have gotten to meet so many great people on this journey.”
And wherever Chris goes, people come away blessed.
“I am so proud of him,” William Lee says. “I know Chris has the talent but he also has the focus. He has that discipline about his life.”
That focus is to share the gospel message. “At this point of my journey, every invitation to sing is an answer to a prayer for me,” he says. “I became a ‘yes man’ about four years ago, even though I didn’t know how I was going to get there or get back.”
All that matters is Chris Golden is playing for The One who gave him the gift.
For more information or booking, see www.chrisgolden.net.