Moved by a classic


William Lee Golden first sang with The Oak Ridge Boys in 1965 but had never sung “I’d Rather Have Jesus” until the current tour. Here, he delivers a verse at Renfro Valley, Ky. on June 2.    (Photo by John Herndon)

William Lee Golden’s rendition of “I’d Rather Have Jesus” is a highlight of “Shine the Light” tour

By John Herndon,

As you can easily see from my other writings on KentuckySings, I am a huge fan of The Oak Ridge Boys and have been for almost 45 years.

It was the days when the Oaks could get a crowd rockin’ with their renditions of “King Jesus” or “Jesus is Coming Soon,” much like they do today when the Mighty Oaks Band breaks into that familiar introduction to “Elvira.”

That’s just how it is for those of us who have been following the Oaks since the days when Archie Bunker ruled TV and leisure suits were the sharpest threads a man could wear. They are members of the Country Music Hall of Fame, but for me, they are at their best when they are singing gospel music.

That’s what makes their “Shine the Light” tour so special. While they never forgot gospel when then transitioned to a country band in the late 70s, when I saw the Oaks on June 2 at Renfro Valley, they sang more gospel than any time I had seen them since they were opening for Freddy Fender in 1975 or 76, performing at least five songs off 17th Avenue Revival.

All were wonderful but for me, the highlight was William Lee Golden raising a microphone to sing that old hymn I had sung so many times during church services.


William Lee Golden talks about his son, gospel singer Chris Golden, and singing “I’d Rather Have Jesus” prior to the Oak Ridge Boys’ show at Renfro Valley. (Photo by Stephanie Herndon)

I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold

I’d rather be His than have riches untold

I’d rather have Jesus than houses or land

I’d rather be led by His nail-pierced hand.

It’s exactly how I feel today.

I was fortunate to catch up with William Lee Golden prior to the Oaks’ concert that night at Renfro Valley. I had met him a couple of times way back in the ‘70s, then had briefly chatted with him prior to the Oaks’ Christmas show at Campbellsville University in 2014. It was never more than a hello.

We talked for about 15 minutes just before the Oaks took the stage at Renfro Valley. I found him to be extremely gracious and kind.

And he was more than happy to talk about the song he called his favorite gospel song in a recent interview with Dan Rather on AXS-TV. It is recorded on The Oaks latest album, “17th Avenue Revival.” It is also featured on a Gaither productions release, “A Few Good Men,” which contains songs by The Oaks, The Gatlin Brothers and The Gaither Vocal Band.

“Country music is about life and living. Gospel music has a lot of storytelling too,” the Hall of Famer said. “‘I’d Rather Have Jesus,’ it’s a song about faith.”

Golden said the simple message of the song is what gives it a special meaning. “We are talking about someone who had love and compassion to all people,” he said. “It is a great gospel song.”

Like many people, Golden remembers the song from a different era. “I remember hearing it way back when I was a kid,” says Golden. “I remember hearing it with the Billy Graham Crusades with George Beverly Shea.”

But even though Golden first started singing with the Oaks in 1965, he’d never recorded the gospel standard. “(Producer) Dave Cobb brought that song to me and wanted me to sing it,” Golden said. “It just so happened to be a song I have always liked. You never get too old to sing a song.”

And you never get too old to be moved by one either.


The Oak Ridge Boys sing “I’d Rather Have Jesus” at Renfro Valley, Ky.

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