ONE of country music’s legendary songwriters and performers has touched down once more in the kingdom after frustrating flight delays and a summer of stunning shows, recording sessions and more than a touch of sadness.
Rusty Golden, described recently by a musical critic and US radio host as ‘that electric kind of performer that pulls in a room just by walking on stage’ will be saying ‘howdy’ to his fans and making new friends at his favourite Juffair venue from tomorrow evening.
The show’s about to start at Big Texas Barbeque & Waffle House inside Best Western Plus - The Olive Hotel and it’s all thanks to a family connection that a man who can boast five No 1 records, two of which were named ‘Song Of The Year’, a Grammy Awards nomination as well as a Songwriter of the Year accolade, can call Bahrain ‘his second home’.
Rusty said: “A great country song is like a three-minute movie. You can make someone feel real emotion sadness, laughter and everything in between. Music is the universal language.
“A great country song tells a story. Most of the themes of those stories touch the soul. Someone falls in love. Someone gets their heart broken and they fall out of love. Sometimes they never get over it.
“Country songs sometimes deal with family issues too. Everyone has a mother and a father. Sometimes you don’t see eye-to-eye with them but one day, when they’re gone, you realise they were doing the best they could.”
The music industry has very much been a family affair and remains so to this day.
Rusty grew up in and around it. When he was seven his father, William Lee, moved him and the family, mother, Frogene, and brothers Craig and Chris, from Brewton, Alabama to Nashville, Tennessee so that he could pursue his career in music as a member of the Oak Ridge Boys (ORB).
Within six years the ORB became one of the most popular groups in the land, selling in excess of 42 million records, including the classic Elvira, a song that’s been keeping the family’s bills paid since 1981, according to Rusty.
In 2015 the act was inducted into the Country Music Hall Of Fame as well as being members of the famous Grand Ole Opry.
By the age of 13, Rusty was out on the road first playing drums until watching English rocker Elton John perform in Nashville in 1972. Inspired, the day after the show Rusty gave his drumsticks to his brother, Chris, and started teaching himself to play the piano.
Six years later he performed on Larry Gatlin’s Number One album release Love is Just a Game.
In 1978 while in Los Angeles and, in between playing a concert at the legendary Roxy Theatre, Rusty started making plans to write and record his own songs and by age 20 he was recording at Quadraphonic Studios in Nashville for ABC Records.
He went on to form The Boys Band with friends and record a debut album for Elektra/Asylum Records which yielded a Top 40 single and the first music video for MTV produced in Nashville in 1982.
In 1984 Rusty received a gold record for his song-writing contributions on the Oak Ridge Boys album Bobbie Sue.
Rusty decided to concentrate on his songwriting by signing with PolyGram Music and his songs were recorded by country and pop stars. Also, during this time he continued working as a musician on tour and recording with various artists. Starting in 1994, and for 15 years afterward, Rusty promoted his own concerts in the US.
It’s when things are running smoothly that life often kicks you where it hurts.
Fast forward to 2002 and, after returning from performing at a private party for Fortune magazine at the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame Show, he decided to check himself into hospital after falling ill. Within three days he underwent a quadruple heart bypass in Nashville.
“Life has thrown me a few curveballs,” he said. On the day we started this interview Rusty has just found out that one of his dearest friends and band-mates, bass player Don Breland, had passed away. It coincided with the death of R&B icon Aretha Franklin and, in 1977, on that day, the world lost Elvis Presley. And, another old songwriting buddy, Tony Joe White, who penned the hit Polk Salad Annie, famously performed by Elvis, also passed away shortly before Rusty stepped on the plane.
While recuperating from the bypass at his mother’s home, Rusty started pondering his future and the past that had got him ‘where he was … or wasn’t’ ... and he decided to write a gospel song.
“Musically, it was a return to everything I grew up on,” he explained. The song John in the Jordan, performed by Ernie Haase & Signature Sound, hit No 1 in the charts and Rusty soon found fans in that genre wanting to hear more.
Rusty went on to achieve further chart-topping song writing success with What Salvation’s Done For Me (The Booth Brothers) I Want to Thank You (Karen Peck & New River) Between 12 and 33 (The McKameys) and A Different Light (recorded by brother, Chris – Country Gospel’s Male Vocalist of the Year 2018).
What Salvation’s Done For Me and I Want To Thank You were voted Song of the Year, in 2007 and 2008 respectively, and were both nominated for Grammy Awards.
Since 2015 Rusty has released two critically-acclaimed projects, Angels and a ‘recovery-themed’ album called Sober which Billboard magazine’s Deborah Evans Price described as the ‘best work this gifted singer/songwriter has ever delivered’. “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,” she added, “spend some time with this album. You’ll be richer for the experience.”
A piece of luck, good fortune and loose family connections led to the star heading to Bahrain, bringing along a beloved Western buckskin jacket given to him by his father, who will be celebrating his 80th birthday in January, because he thought it would help show that ‘real American Country & Western music had finally come to the Middle East’!
“Had my cousin Carl not been married to the sister of the lady who pays me … chances are very slim that I would’ve ever gotten to visit Bahrain,” said Rusty. “And now, after three years of getting to know the kingdom, the US ambassadors, recording parts of my new album here and making lots of new friends … that would have been a real tragedy for me. I will now be celebrating my fourth Christmas and birthday here this upcoming season!”
Big Texas Barbeque & Waffle House is owned by restaurateur Milly and logistics businessman Radford Cox, with managing partner Bryan Malone, playing an important role too.
“It’s very much a family affair,” said Radford, whose mother Winnie Jo is currently visiting from her home in Oklahoma.
Rusty finally touched down in the kingdom last week and, like most of Rusty’s life, it wasn’t without incident. He was one of more than 100 American Airlines passengers who missed their connections to the Middle East at Chicago’s O’Hare airport and had a 24-hour delay.
His recent months back home in ‘Music City’, which Nashville has long been referred to by natives and visitors alike, have proved productive.
“I’ve finished with my brand new release which I actually started recording at Studio 77 in Bahrain last year,” he said. “I’m not sure if I stressed enough that not only has Bahrain become a place of inspiration for my song-writing but I actually did quite a bit of recording in Adliya.”
He also filmed a music video for one of the songs at the stunning new Monthaven Mansion concert venue at an intimate show with some fans paying $500 for a seat.
He also played alongside Carrie Underwood at the Grand Ole Opry, a legendary stage he’s been playing on since he was 18, and his latest release – a new five-song EP titled Confessions – has been ecstatically-received. Devon O’Day, the Afternoon Drive radio show host on 650am WSM, said the new collection of feel-good love songs ‘remind you to dance, to ride in a convertible holding hands with the music loud ... and that when you are in love, you are forever 16.
It begs the question, how come such a highly-regarded performer is playing in Juffair?
The answer, and the good fortune for music lovers here, lies in the current state of the music industry, battered and bruised and a bit like the publishing sector, finding its place in a digital world.
“Someone might say: ‘but you’re from Nashville, surely you can make money playing music there?’ Well, not so much anymore,” said Rusty. “Because I have made my living as a songwriter since 1982, the music industry has completely changed since then. Heck, most people who still buy music are downloading it. The royalty rates for artists and songwriters in the digital age is awful. You can have a song stream online 200 million times and your royalties may be $900 if you’re lucky.
“Back before the internet when people actually bought music at a place where music was sold ... in my lifetime that has included vinyl albums in the 1960s, 8 tracks – remember them anyone? – during the 1970s, cassette tapes in the 1980s and, then by the 1990s, compact discs (CDs) ruled.
“For me, the magic era of actually holding a vinyl album sleeve in your hands, putting the album on the stereo and as you listened, you would look at the artwork and be able to read not only the lyrics to see songs but find out who wrote the song - sorry folks, but in many cases the artists never wrote or, in some cases, played an instrument on their own albums.
“Anyway, I know that I may sound like an old guy reminiscing about the ‘good old days’ but for someone who was so inspired by the music to the point of obsession, those were the days!
“I loved reading who played each instrument, which recording studio was used and who mixed and mastered the final product.
“I realised that the age of the CD was numbered when car manufacturers stopped putting players in their vehicles. Fast forward to today, unless you are Taylor Swift or a handful of acts who not only write or co-write their songs and still manage to sell millions of actual products (only she, Adele and Drake were certified platinum last year) let that sink in.
“So singer-songwriters like myself had to figure out how to continue making a living in the music business. I’m so thankful that I can play an instrument – the piano in my case – otherwise, I would have to depend on karaoke backing tracks.
“For the last 20 years I have paid the bills through songwriting, playing on other people’s projects in the recording studio and on stage but because of the fact that lots of people listen to a song by visiting YouTube or whatever, the music business, and those who have depended on it to feed their families, has been hit hard.
“I’m so thankful for the phone call from my cousin back in October 2015 that set the wheels in motion for my being able to see a part of the world that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise.
“I’m so thankful for the folks who not only built a stage for me to perform on, but have made me feel welcome and part of the family, which, by coincidence, I sort of am!”
He also aims to use his music industry knowledge to help up-and-coming musicians living in Bahrain and perhaps help promote some concerts here too. “I would like to help find someone who is so talented that needs someone with the connections I have and help them make their dreams come true,” he said.
“I’ve been very fortunate and seen lots of my own dreams come true so it’s my duty to help someone if I can. If I can find someone that can give me goose-bumps, make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and find out if they are a good person deserving to ‘make it’ I will do what I can to help them.”
The Big Texas Barbeque & Waffle House in Juffair is an ideal location for US service personnel stationed with the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet desperate for the sounds of home but the good food, ambience and music has also attracted a loyal following from locals and other expats working in the kingdom.
“Bahrain is such a cosmopolitan place with a diverse population of people from all over the world,” said Rusty, “that’s what the USA was founded on.
“I have made such wonderful friends who I keep in touch with when I’m back home in Nashville and I can’t wait to meet up with them again.
“Thanks to Facebook and other social media platforms which for me, other than Facebook, is Instagram, Twitter and my YouTube channel RustyGoldenTV, means I’m able to keep in touch.
“At the same time, because of the nature of the way it works, I’m often meeting people who will be shipping out or transferring to another locale and there’s always a fresh crop of faces to see and names to remember.
“I try to live my life one day at a time. If you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plans. If you were to have told me five years ago that I would be spending at least seven months out of the year in the Kingdom of Bahrain I would have thought you were crazy.
“I’m so glad that I took the chance that day in November 2015. I feel like I have a ‘second home’ here in Bahrain.
“I love it when the patrons come up to me and talk if for no other reason it makes us both feel like we’re back home. I’m not hip hop, I can’t play jazz or classical, I can’t rap ... heck, I can’t even wrap a gift. But if you like classic country and old time rock ’n’ roll come see me.”
Check out Rusty live tomorrow evening. He will also be on stage from 8pm every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday during the next three months. For reservations, call 17360063.
Stanley Louis Szecowka
Editor/Journalist & Blogger, Restaurant & Motors Reviewer, FinTech Writer, Manager, Trainer.
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