Goodbye, Andrew Ishee
Chuck Peters picks up where I left off a few days ago and confirms that indeed Ishee is leaving PSQ and, as far as we can tell right now, gospel music altogether (Ishee has said nothing himself so far):
BRYAN ELLIOTT HEADED FOR PSQAnchormen keyboard player Bryan Elliott will join Palmetto State Quartet on New Years Eve. Bryan’s departure from the Anchormen will be immediate. Anchormen co-owner, Tim Bullins told our reporter that the group has accepted Elliott’s resignation and they wish him well. Bullins says the group hopes to name a replacement pianist shortly after the first of the year. Elliott had been with the Anchormen for more than four years. This news pretty much confirms rumors that Andrew Ishee is leaving Palmetto State. Ishee and PSQ, so far, have not answered our inquiries
It is customary at this point for someone in my bloggerly position to offer a wistful encomium to the good gospel soldier leaving the theater of performance. And with Ishee’s departure, it’s tempting, not least of all because it would give me some pushback against all the “make a joyful noisers” who complain that the only good “criticism” is the kind that builds up and tells you what you want to hear. Plus, I could burnish my nice-guy credentials. But to do so in this case would be a lie, and though I wish Ishee happiness and success in whatever comes next for him, I won’t be disingenous about his exit from gospel music.
For all his promise in those early years with the Kingsmen, just after Anthony Burger left, when he wowed audiences with his preternaturally developed ability and looked to be Hammel’s next teenage prodigy, Ishee never moved beyond the flamboyant arpeggiations and cheap-seat showboating of youth to develop a maturer, subtler style, never seemed disciplined enough to content himself with being heard and not seen. A teenager, as Ishee was when he came on the scene, can be forgiven most of these follies. When you’re 15 or 16 and have grown up hearing from every church lady and gospel music fan within a hundred miles of your small-town world that you’re God’s gift to the piano and certain to be the next Anthony Burger, you inevitably internalize it and take the sg mainstage full of hope - and yourself. And in Ishee’s case there was talent enough to sustain those hopes and that dream for quite a while. There’s no shame or fault in NOT ultimately becoming the next Anthony Burger or Dino or Wally Varner or Eloise Phillips, of course. When that’s your ambition, the dream always dies hard. Or, in Ishee’s case, not at all. At least it seemed that way. But rather than grieving and getting over it and finding his own way, Ishee always seemed on stage to be trying too hard to be gospel music’s Everything - virtuoso painist, boy next door, wiseacre emcee, consummate insider, and in his last years with PSQ, part group owner.
The result was a pastiche stage persona that always felt painted on to my eye and over-rehearsed to my ear. A lot of this, I realize, is a matter of taste. One man’s phoniness is another man’s charisma. Still, Ishee always seemed unreconciled to the performer’s reality that you aim for the target your talent fits you to hit and let the rest of it go. Trying to play the part of so many different characters and hit all the notes in every register at once, Ishee scattered the force of his not inconsiderable talent.
It is ironic, in some ways, that Bryan Elliot, another seriously talented teenager wunderkid, is replacing Ishee. The handful of times I’ve seen Elliot perform in the last few years, he’s manifested a lot of not-so-latent Isheeisms: hopping around conpisciously on the piano bench (I saw him fall off it once), hopelessly mugging for the audience, hamming up all his lines, and breaking into an overheated sweat while generally appearing (whether intentionally or not) to try to steal the show all night long. Here’s hoping Elliot leavens his dreams with the hard truths of others’ experience and learns from (rather than imitates) Ishee’s example. Study the exemplary case of a Roy Webb or a Lori Sykes or Stan Whitmire or a Kevin Williams; hone your craft, play your bit part in the set when it comes, and content yourself the rest of the time with the understated riches of being the custodian of a tradition of live instrumentation in gospel music that, but for you and your ilk, is fast disappearing.Email this Post