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):

Anchormen 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.

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  1. RF wrote:

    ON the subject of Bryan Elliott replacing Ishee and, as you say, he should be “honing (his) craft, playing (his) bit part in the set when it comes, and (bing content) 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.”

    Ain’t gonna happen with PSQ. As much as I liked PSQ, they relished in the clown Ishee was. Tony would immediately throw barbs at Andrew and Andrew would respond in kind. When Peace left, they actually put a picture of the group holding Andrew upside down on an album insert. He was part of the show. I expect Bryan to get similar treatment which must be sorely needed. They have lost a bass, a tenor and a baritone over the last four years and now Kerry stands as the only member remaining of what such a short time ago was a group everyone predicted would hit the top. they still may, but it’s going to be tough. I hope they do.

  2. Mr. KM wrote:

    Well, you could go into Ishee’s involvement into the pseudo-retirement of The Kingsmen name, and why he left that group. I’m sure your readers would love to hear that story.

  3. anonymous wrote:

    One thing I’ll never understand is the whole “going into convulsions” thing at the piano. I vividly recall a Palmetto “Hide Thou Me” performance at the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion a few years ago where Ishee seriously distracted from John Rulupaugh by doing this. I hope Elliot’s style is a little different.

    I also like the stage presence of Roy Webb. He can be funny and goofy when needed, but when the guys are singing a song, he has his total attention on them - smiling and encouraging them. I like that a lot.

  4. Gerry wrote:

    I would love to hear what Mr. KM has to say!

  5. Jonathan White wrote:

    I think that it is a sad thing to see Andrew Ishee leaving the PSQ. However, Bringing in Bryan Elliott could be one of the smartest things they could do. He already has been with a group and has some experience. The last time I saw him, he was not trying, but succeeding in getting the crowd on their feet. Can’t wait to see him.

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