Roy Webb and the Future of Signature Sound
Roy Webb’s decision to leave Signature Sound earlier this week will probably make the top ten list of biggest news items in Southern Gospel this year. Ernie Haase & Signature Sound is a supergroup that crosses subgenres readily, being a favorite headliner group in the Gaither Gospel world with their progressive appearance while still maintaining a strong presence in the Singing News Gospel world with their mostly traditional sound. I doubt this change will harm Signature Sound’s popularity as much as the departure of any of the four vocalists would, but Webb’s comedic irreverence formed a major part of the group’s banter in between songs.
Probably the biggest question Haase will face is whether to hire a pianist who is also a comedian or just a pianist. (I doubt he will find anyone who will try to replicate Webb’s style, word for word; it was so original that anyone who tries that would probably come off as a cheap imitator.)
Who are some of the pianists who could be under consideration, and what would they bring to the group?
Andrew Ishee is currently a free agent (to borrow baseball terminology). He’s taken some time off the road, but his decision to join up with Tony Peace for an occasional concert might be an inkling that he’s beginning to get the Southern Gospel performer’s itch to get back on the road again. I think the comparisons of Ishee to late legend Anthony Burger are valid and have a lot to them, and his unique flair would enhance the group’s appeal.
Speaking of Anthony Burger disciples (even though disciples from afair), Matthew Holt also comes to mind. I’d hate to see him leave the Perrys, but from everything I’ve heard (not having seen him live yet) he could hold his own and wouldn’t take the group down any.
Crabb Family keyboardist Justin Ellis is probably looking for a job right now. His often subdued style would pretty much keep him out of the vocalists’ way. I have to admit that I’d rather see a bring-them-out-of-their-seats-after-a-fast-solo traditional Southern Gospel pianist get the job. But Ellis could undoubtedly do the job competently.
Everyone who reads this online column often knows that I couldn’t let a post like this one go by without mentioning Stewart Varnado. I have every reason to believe he’s happy in Florida, but I would love to see what his style would bring to the group. Watching him do a piano solo is an “experience” that would be entirely new to Gaither Gospel audiences–but I think they would love it. His facial expressions when mimicking one of the vocalists more akin to Roy Webb’s than any other pianist I’ve ever watched. Plus–and this is completely off the wall–Stewart is one of very, very few Southern Gospel pianists as tall as I am (6′) or taller, and his height would fit right in with the giants of Southern Gospel, Ernie Haase and Signature Sound.
Now if I put Stewart Varnado last, everyone would think I was writing this to advocate that he be hired. This is especially because I can’t write about him without superlatives! So I will close with another pianist: Adam Harmon, now a free agent after leaving the Kingdom Heirs. He’s a great pianist and would also be a good addition to Signature Sound. (Apropos of nothing in particular, it occurred to me this morning that there’s an outside chance that Roy Webb is heading for that vacant piano bench in the Showstreet Palace in Dollywood.)
Quite obviously, some of the top pianists in Southern Gospel–Kim Collingsworth, Jeff Stice, Darrell Stewart, and Brad White (of the Blackwood Brothers)–have gigs that they’re quite unlikely to leave (though in White’s case, I’d love to see him with Signature Sound). But for no reason in particular, I thought it would be fun to list five of the best / most likely pianists who might be considered for the job.