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.
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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?
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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.