Gold City and group managers who do not travel

A few years ago, Tim Riley retired from the road; he now only appears at selected events. At some of these events, such as the National Quartet Convention, his presence is not announced. Fans are not surprised if he drops in at some point during the week, but several of his appearances have been surprise appearances.

I watched an online video clip of one of those surprises appearances a few days ago. It was a moment I heard on the live feed, and perhaps it’s better to start by describing it as I heard it.

Gold City had just finished the classic quartet song “Non-Stop Flight to Gloryland.” Jonathan Wilburn was having fun teasing Steve Ladd about singing the high notes. At one point, when it got particularly silly, Wilburn said, “Don’t you just love it when Tim’s not here?”

At this point, I hear a huge round of applause. The audience goes wild.

The next words spoken are also Wilburn’s. “Don’t you just love it when Tim signs your check, Amen?”

At this point, let me switch to the perspective of the video clip. It appears that Bill Lawrence hands Tim Riley his microphone and leaves the stage. Of course, the audience loves it, but Lawrence has a slightly embarrassed look on his face as he disappears from the stage. Though I think Gold City may have had one more set later in the week, that incident is almost a metaphor for the way Lawrence left the group.

Fans wanted another Tim Riley. Even though there may be other bass singers as good as he was, there will never be another Tim Riley. Bill Lawrence was put under the spotlight as the fans watched to see if he was the next Tim Riley. But he was not, for there never will be another Tim Riley. (Now Aaron McCune is under this same spotlight, though perhaps not to the same extent.)

And that leads to the problem I’ve been pondering. It’s hard to be the next Tim Riley. But the task becomes simply impossible when you are standing next to the legend himself.

* * *

What can Gold City do to let their new bass singer(s) flourish on their own account, to become legends in their own right?

I don’t really have an answer to the question. But I do have a parallel.

For perhaps thirty years, a time that included their most popular years, the Kingsmen Quartet was headed by Eldridge Fox. He did not regularly travel with the group, but (much like Riley with Gold City) appeared at selected special concerts.

Although he was the group manager and, if you will, a legend in his own right, he was able to appear on stage alongside other great baritones without upstaging them.

Why was this? Was it because Eldridge Fox was on album covers and live projects as a full-fledged member of the group, though one who did not appear at every concert? Was it because his appearances–say on a live album–were often clearly announced? Or was it possibly because they would frequently keep all five vocalists on stage, and either double up on a part or sing five parts?

* * *

I don’t really know the answer to the question. But, ultimately, I’m not the one who has to answer the question. No matter how important some bloggers like to think we are, I happen to know that we’re not the ones keeping groups on the road. Perhaps we can say something that’s helpful, but the industry could just as easily go on without us.

And now I am really off track. To return to the topic, Tim and Danny Riley would do well to come up with some arrangement where Tim is a featured vocalist, much like Eldridge Fox with Gold City or James Blackwood with the 1970s Blackwood Brothers. Maybe they could find songs (or create arrangements) that have parts for two bass singers, with Riley carrying the melody and another bass singer singing a bass part beneath him.
The key to success here is finding a way to let Riley make his special appearances in a way that lets the regular bass singer, currently Aaron McCune, be the star of the show for the rest of the night.

For Gold City to make their way back to the top of Southern Gospel, they need stability in the bass position. For stability in the bass position, they need to find a way to let their regular bass singer make his own mark in Southern Gospel. And for a bass singer to make his own mark, he has to be presented in such a way that the concert audience connects with him, and doesn’t just sit back and hope that a legend waits in the wings.

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15 Letters to the Editor

Southern Gospel Journal welcomes letters to the editor. We will post the most thoughtful and insightful submissions. Ground rules: Don't attack or belittle groups or fellow posters, or advance heresies rejected by orthodox Christianity. Do keep comments positive, constructive, and on topic.
  1. That is a most interesting perspective, Daniel. I agree with your conclusions, too. I would really like to see Aaron become all he can in So. Gospel music in his own right. How often does Tim “appear” at Gold City concerts?

  2. Well said. Tim is gone, so to speak, and when he does make an appearance he should do everything to make Aaron comfortable. Actually, I don’t think Aaron has to take a backseat to anyone. He’s making his mark as a great bass singer. Another thought I have had, Jonathan needs to be the main M.C. He definitely knows how to work a crowd.

  3. Diana, I don’t know the answer to your question. I believe the answer is several times a year.

    JB, I, too, would enjoy seeing Jonathan as the main emcee.

  4. I guess I think that a person replacing such a beloved singer would need to be confident within themselves of their talent. Perhaps Bill Lawrence wasn’t as confident of his ability as he should have been. I would think that having Tim Riley choose you as his replacement, being as respected as he is, would be enough of a vote of confidence. The response to Mr. Riley’s occasional appearances could be viewed as simply the response to a person who is viewed as a treasured friend – not a judgement on his replacement’s talent. It appears to me that Aaron McCune is confident in himself, and knows that he is a strong part of the new Gold City team. I really enjoy the new GC lineup, but still miss hearing Tim Riley – not because I don’t enjoy Aaron McCune’s singing – but simply because I enjoyed Mr. Riley’s voice.

  5. My mind fails me. Was Aaron with GC at NQC this year? I think he was. Did Tim appear? My guess is that Tim will make more infrequent appearances in the future. That’s just a guess, but maybe lessons were learned here.

    And Aaron McCune is one of the top basses in SG right now anyway. Bill Lawrence, as engaging as he was, wasn’t.

  6. Ron, to answer your questions,

    (1) Yes, he was.

    (2) Come to think of it, Tim might not have appeared.

    I personally liked Bill Lawrence as much as I like Aaron McCune, but I’ve never seen either in person yet.

  7. I’ve gotta say that what was most endearing about Bill Lawrence was his smile. The first time I ever saw Gold City was when Bill was filling in because Tim had knee surgery. I really enjoyed his singing but I enjoyed his smile and stage presence even more.

  8. Bill Lawrence is an exceptional bass singer (as is Aaron McCune). I honestly don’t think either of them are diminished in a comparison with Tim Riley, even though I am a huge Tim Riley fan as well.

    Tim is/was synonymous with Gold City. He was also just as talented as the men who replaced him, so there is obviously going to be talk (heard by the group and its members) about Tim if he still “hangs around”. I think the best thing Tim can do is stay off the stage with Gold City for the most part and really BUILD UP Aaron when he does appear at the same venue.

    The analogy you made to The Kingsmen and Eldridge Fox is not accurate because as popular as Foxy was, he just was not on par (as a vocalist) with any of the other men singing his part. So he could come in and sing a little and no one would compare unfavorably to him. Not trying to take anything away from Foxy, he was a great man, a great quartet man, a great business man, and a good singer.

  9. I’ve heard that JD and the Stamps had 2 basses at one time. If I remember correctly, Richard Sterban sang the bass part, and JD sang an octave lower than Sterban. Listen to “Rainbow of Love” and “Lonesome Road” :you’ll hear a bass harmony on the studio recordings when JD is echoed in the choruses.
    Gold City could try somehting simillar

  10. That’s an interesting idea. Wow, you went into the archives for this one! 🙂

  11. i would like to know what ever happen to Bill I know he came off the road some time ago but i can say this i use to be the lead singer for the gospel enforcers out of morganton nc, and Bill and I were good friends everytime we would work with gold city Bill and I would talk jsut abt the whole show but can some please tell me where is BILL

    • Bill is currently in Florida.

  12. I think that what most true Gold City fans were/are expecting or looking when Tim “retired” is Tim Riley’s sound, not so much the “next” Tim Riley. When he retired, it was more the low, smooth, lumbering SOUND and tone that was synonomous with Tim Riley and Gold City harmony that I missed the most. They didn’t find it with Bill. Aaron came along and immediately drew comparisons with a young Tim Riley. I’m guilty of comparing the two myself. If you watch the video of “Get up, Get Ready” on you tube, (the one from NQC)… and close your eyes… you know where I’m going with that.

    I just think that there is so much instability within Gold City that prevents anyone from really “flourishing”. Members leaving every couple of months. I think when Jonathan left, the spirit of Gold City left with him. They went from being the “class” of southern gospel to just another gospel quartet. But if you want to replace the “sound” of Tim Riley, there is only person that can get it done. But he’s pretty much locked down with the Kingdom Heirs. Jeff Chapman sounds just like Tim Riley. It’s scary.

    • I think I’m in the minority, but I *loved* Bill Lawrence with Gold City. 🙂

    • I think that Tim Duncan has a very similar edge to his voice. (I might be the only person but one who thinks so, but my brother agrees with me – that makes two!)