Originally published in the October 19, 2015 issue of Country Weekly magazine.
In the third of our four-part series on the Oak Ridge Boys, baritone William Lee Golden finds his happy place in the world of light and shadow.
The Oak Ridge Boys—Duane Allen, Joe Bonsall, William Lee Golden and Richard Sterban—represent four distinct personalities who have managed to blend together as one unified quartet for more than 40 years. Perhaps one reason for their longevity is that all four enjoy their own personal hobby that keeps them occupied and fulfilled when they’re not on the road or making music in the studio.
As The Oaks prepare to enter the Country Music Hall of Fame on Oct. 25, Nash Country Weekly sat down with each member to talk about their unique hobbies for a special four-part series. In the third segment of our series, baritone vocalist William Lee Golden reflects on his fascination with painting and photography.
William Lee Golden could easily be described as the Oaks’ “cosmic” force, the member who marches more to the laws of nature than the tenets of men. With his mountain-man visage, marked by his long hair and a beard that has undergone decades of cultivation, William Lee would seem misplaced in the confines of a traditional-sounding country quartet with gospel influences. But “Golden,” as his three Oaks mates often refer to him, is very much in harmony with the rest of the group. What sets William Lee apart is his hobby, which you can boil down to the visual arts. He loves to paint and has a special passion for photography.
Ever the naturalist, William Lee chooses landscapes and sunsets as his subjects in both pursuits. As he explains it, his love of painting led to him being bitten by the photography bug.
“I wanted to take photographs of landscapes from my travels to have as a reference point for things I wanted to paint,” William Lee begins in his deliberate, Alabama-bred drawl. “When you have that picture in front of you, I find that you can put a little more detail into the painting as a whole.”
Most of William Lee’s paintings were finished on the road, which might appear a cumbersome way to go about making art. But for William Lee, painting became a welcome respite from the rigors of roadwork. “I would have all day to concentrate on something,” he explains. “I would take my supplies to my hotel room and set everything up next to my window, and that becomes my studio. It helped the day go by.”
In his methodical manner, William Lee would often take months to finish one painting. Soon, his interest in the more immediate outlet of photography began to increase. By his own concession, he grew more serious about photography as a true art form and not merely a sideline.
William Lee started out shooting landscapes, taking his camera along on Oak Ridge Boys road dates. But he especially loves sunsets and has shot them everywhere, from the deserts in the Southwest and the Grand Canyon to one of his favorite spots: Old Hickory Lake, just outside of Nashville. “When you put the sunsets over water, it has a whole different glow,” William Lee says, smiling. “The picture almost shimmers.” He can’t quite explain his fascination with sunsets as his subjects, only allowing that they’re “unique.” He does know that he has hundreds of sunset shots stored on the computer. “Every day is a different sunset,” he notes. “The seasons create a different atmosphere. So, no two are ever alike.”
His stunning landscape and sunset photos have caught the attention of several galleries and museums. Over the last couple of years, William Lee has exhibited his photos at the Pensacola Museum of Art in Florida and other
venues. His paintings have been shown at several locations, including a gallery at the Nashville International Airport, the Tennessee State Museum and the Gilcrease Museum of Art in Tulsa, Okla.
William Lee hankers to devote more time to painting, especially on the heels of his recent marriage to Simone Staley, a painter herself at one time. “I would like for her to start back, too,” William Lee says. “She has had her hands full the last several years being a single mother. Hopefully, we can devote more time to our painting.”
For now, though, photography appears to be the hobby of choice. He allows that he’s not done a show in some time, but fans can still view his work through his Instagram and Twitter pages and his website. “Being able to have an outlet for my photographs is wonderful,” he says. “I’m still kind of learning how Instagram works but I want to get better with that. I don’t share that many photos, mainly only three or four a week, sometimes.”
And when he shoots, William Lee utilizes top-notch equipment. “I’ve got one of the Canon 5D cameras that has 21 megapixels,” William Lee explains with a smile. “That’s the best one I’ve ever had. The picture quality is just beautiful. I use the same lens as the real pros.” William Lee went digital a few years ago and has never looked back. “I haven’t shot film in a long time,” he says.
Before heading out with Nash Country Weekly to snap a few photos, William Lee took time to reflect on The Oak Ridge Boys’ impending induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame on Oct. 25. He admits that the guys often thought about that magic moment, but never assumed that they would one day get the call.
“Every year, we’d think that we would have a chance,” William Lee says evenly. “It kind of got to the point where you would get your hopes up. But it’s out of your control and it’s not something you can promote to get in there. We are all just honored to be named.” And if the guys need a photographer to preserve the occasion, they’ll know exactly where to turn. NCW