Living the dream. It’s such a cliché that it’s almost become a punch line. But for Houston native BJ Golden, it’s simply the truth.
Golden was parked in Denver in 2013, playing in a quartet of local bands and giving guitar lessons, when he received a call from an old Nashville buddy, Corey Roberson, who had become country star Brantley Gilbert’s assistant tour manager.
“Can you fly back for an audition?”
Golden, who had first moved to Music City at age 19, before dodging west in pursuit of deeper musical training, didn’t hesitate, studying tunes on the plane home. He got the gig.
For the past half decade, Golden, rather than simply riffing with friends in the Rockies, has been utility infielder for Gilbert; seeing the world from a tour bus and rocking fans across the country.
His road rig embraces two mandolins, an octave mando, and acoustic and electric guitar, as well as piano and organ. He leaves the square and roundneck resonators, the banjo, the ukulele, and the oud—yes, the oud—at home, but when Gilbert needs some extra spice for a record, they’re at the ready, too.
Golden’s saga starts like many, with piano lessons at a tender age. His parents recognized a real passion for music in the young man’s soul and bought him his first guitar at age 9. End—as they say—of story.
Golden was gone and he’s pursued the path ever since, starting with high school bands copping rock songs of the day. As noted, he headed east straight out of high school, landing in Nashville with hopes of becoming a recording engineer. The sheer quality of players in town made him realize he needed to up his game. At Middle Tennessee State University, he found classical guitar, which blew him away just as much as his first concert—Garth Brooks at age 10.
Fast forward to Colorado. Golden left what was starting to look like a career on 16th Avenue for the Mile-High City in order to delve deeper into nylon, spending two years studying classical technique at the University of Denver.
“I wanted to become as technically proficient as I could on my instrument,” he says, “and I saw the classical path as the way to achieve that.”
Gilbert, Golden says, is a giving man. He likes to highlight his band members’ talents, and Golden gets to offer a brief bit of a different kind of picking at each concert. Just before a Saturday soundcheck in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Golden stands before a backstage road box and busts out a beautiful flurry of contrapuntal classical notes more appropriate for a recital hall then a rock and roll show. While his fingers twine on steel, his face takes on a beatific glow. He is at home on the strings.
“I discovered my passion for instrumental music in Denver. Even if I’m listening to a pop song, my ears are automatically drawn to the instrumental arrangement. What is the guitar doing? What is the mandolin doing?”
The road can ask for different things from instruments as well as players, but Golden, 34, is good with taking his favorite gear on the highway. Sound, he says, is paramount.
“I’m of the opinion that I want the best sounding instrument I can have for the road and for home. I understand that dings and scratches are inevitable on tour, especially when you have other people handling your gear. But there’s something inspirational for me about a good instrument that translates my intentions to the audience.”
His main 8-string axe, a custom F-style Weber Bitteroot fits that bill.
“They’re really great sounding, well made instruments, both onstage and off,” he says of what’s coming out of Bend.
Golden also brings a Breedlove Premier FO mandolin on the road. It’s not a backup, he says.
“I need two mandolins because a lot of Brantley’s stuff is recorded a half step down; that’s where he’s more comfortable vocally. I use the Weber for that, but there are some things that require us to play in standard tuning as well, and the Breedlove takes care of that.”
Golden, who still practices two to three hours a day, also carries a Weber River Octave Mandolin with Gilbert, kept in bouzouki tuning for its unique chime.
“I get comments from producers, who say these instruments are really balanced. They transfer really well and sound like you’re sitting right in front of them even when you’re in the control room.”
Mandolin actually came to Golden’s quiver recently, around the time he took the call in Denver (where he was playing plenty of wedding parties and catching solo gigs for the ceremonies, too). But he finds, as many multi-instrumentalists do, that the different native tunings and inherent tones of varied instruments provide perspective.
“It forces you to get outside of your comfort zone and really explore different fingerings and different options, and that always leads to something harmonically different than you might play on, say, guitar.”
The once hirsute Golden has just doffed his Billy Gibbons beard for marriage, but he can still put the boogie in the box, electric or acoustic. In fact, in tandem with visual artist Eric Breish he is currently working on what will be a limited line of Telecaster-themed guitars featuring stunning aluminum fronts designed to catch and reflect stage lighting in almost psychedelic patterns. There is even thought of pairing the instruments with Breish’s wall pieces as a unique audiovisual package.
He’s also excited about a new flamenco build from Caro Y Topete, which will be outfitted for the amplified stage and become a partner to his recital instrument, created by the late renowned craftsman Robert Ruck.
Each instrument is the same for Golden, an extension of his hands, of his heart. Golden was lucky to get that call. Gilbert was even luckier he took it.