L5, after Roger

Scott Fowler talked with Danny Jones recently about the future of L5 after Roger Bennett. I daresay the question on everyone’s mind got the shortest (and least detailed) treatment.

SN: Will the group be seeking another pianist?

SF: Yes.

The question is, of course, who? Seems to me the logical thing, if you’re Fowler (who I assume is now the sole owner of the group), is to do everything in your power to convince Tim Parton, who has been filling in on and off for a while now with L5 when Bennett was too sick to travel, to stay on at least for the next 3-6 months. Indeed, Parton strikes me as a fine permanent L5 pianist, should he be open to the idea. When I’ve seen Parton with the group, he’s been a nice fit. A talented player who, thanks to years of experience in the studio, has the understated self-confidence of someone with nothing to prove and so would be less likely to get caught in the “comparisons to Roger” trap – a sure loser every time for anyone.

It’s SOP to say that someone can’t be replaced, and usually that’s the case because it’s true. In this case, though, such stock phrasing fails to capture the enormity of Bennett’s loss to the group as a performer and emcee, to say nothing of personal relationships he left behind. I was never convinced he was cut out for vocal work, but he was a force of musical omniscience in the group, commanding nearly all aspects of the L5 sound and appearance: arrangements, keyboards, no little amount of songwriting, vocalist, and of course, the emcee full of genuinely funny comic relief.

I’m not suggesting L5 can’t go on without Bennett. The truth is, of course, they’ve been learning to work without him on and off for some time now. But no matter, Bennett’s was and is the kind of influence that will define the group’s identity and appeal for some time to come. For the next year or two, I imagine (if not longer), fans will expect L5 to keep Bennett’s memory alive from the stage in a variety of ways, similar in spirit if not precisely in kind to what the group has had to learn to do in the past years when Bennett had to take a leave from the road. This makes Parton all the more logical for the short and, if possible, immediate longer-term, as he has been a part of the group during these last few difficult years already. Stability is key in these kinds of interregnums, when the foreseeable future will be as much about reconciling with the past as transitioning to what’s next. Such a transition will have to come, inevitably, at some point, and potentially bring with it changes in one direction or another that might right now seem imponderable (indeed, I won’t be surprised if someone blasts me for being disloyal to Bennett and his memory for writing as much as I have). But if you’re L5 (or their fans), there’s no reason to rush.

Update: Just to close the loop on this, and to give me the satisfaction of reading the tea leaves mostly right, I’ll note what most of you probably already know by now: Parton is the permanent L5 pianist.

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  1. Thom wrote:

    Parton does seem the logical choice. Very talented and confident - solid performer, great accompanist, elegant style, not too showy. Nice fit for L5.

    There are a number of great young pianists in SG. Among them Scott McDowell with BFA, Matthew Holt with Perrys and Tommy McKenzie with Crystal River. It is reassuring to see these young virtuosos choosing to play SG music.

    Note to groups with good pianists: feature them more, turn off the tracks every once in a while and do some good ole fashioned “gather around the piano” singing. I believe your fans would love it - I know I would.

    Tee Rawls

  2. quartet-man wrote:

    Parton did do a good job with them, but of course I missed Roger terribly due to all of the other things he brought besides the piano playing. I think he or someone like Stan Whitmire might be good as far as the piano playing part. However, like trying to replace Younce or Payne in the Cathedrals, they would have to make their own pair of shoes, because there was only one Roger.

  3. Brenda wrote:

    What about Stewart Varnado? I think he’d be a good fit for Legacy Five also. Similar style to Rogers. It will be a hard job for anyone to follow Roger Bennett, but someone’s gotta try.

  4. GC wrote:

    Roger was so much more than a piano player that replacing him will be impossible. Just a personal opinion, but he was the most enjoyable vocalist in the group. He knew how to communicate a song to an audience in any setting.

  5. Trent wrote:

    Varnado would be a great replacement for a lot of different reasons. He has tremendous rapport with audiences, he is skilled beyond belief, and his personality, looks, and age are so different from Bennett’s that much comparison would be unlikely. Stan Whitmire, who is the best pianist in SG today, would be the cream-of-the-crop- catch-of-the-year for L5. I doubt they will be able to get him, though. He has so many other projects & interests that I can’t see him foregoing them to travel with L5. Matthew Holt is probably the most underated piano player around right now..but he seems to be at home with the Perrys. Of course, Mr. Justin Ellis of the Crabb Family is going to be looking for work soon; the timing could be right. He is multi-talented, but he may have to lose the Greg Brady look to play with Legacy Five.

  6. wc wrote:

    L5 was in Greensboro, NC a week or so before Roger passed away. Scott Fowler said at that concert that Tim Parton had agreed to travel with them as long as needed.

  7. Ty wrote:

    I think Varnado’s the choice. Parton or Whitmire would be fine too, IMO. Whatever the case, you definitely don’t what an “Andrew Ishee” in there who’s all over the keyboard because I think L5 fans would react. The choice needs to be laidback, self-confident, and unassuming. If he tries to take the show, or impersonate Bennett he will absolutely fail. I also don’t think an unknown pianist is out of the question, as L5 has a history of taking singers from out of nowhere (Seamans, Cobb, Howard, Dustin) and making them stars.

  8. Linda H. wrote:

    True they have taken a lot of unknowns and brought them to prominence, however I agree that Stewart would be the best fit that I can think of. Losing Roger leaves a huge hole in L5, and it will take time to recover, but having a respected and well-liked fan favorite at the piano seat should help. I’d love to see this happen. There are several good pianists out there, and Tim Parton perhaps the better pianist, but overall Stewart would probably bring more to the table.

  9. Linda H. wrote:

    True they have taken a lot of unknowns and brought them to prominence, however I agree that Stewart would be the best fit that I can think of. Losing Roger leaves a huge hole in L5, and it will take time to recover, but having a respected and well-liked fan favorite at the piano seat should help. I’d love to see this happen. There are several good pianists out there, and Tim Parton perhaps the better pianist, but overall Stewart would probably bring more to the table

  10. Smith wrote:

    Varnado would bring a lot to the table, and he has always said that Roger was his hero. Is anyone remembering NQC? Varnado played with L5 there and shared a piano with Roger at Pianorama. It’s easy to throw names out there as to who the replacement will be, but I suggest giving the situation time. I don’t suspect that Varnado will be leaving the Echoes at any point in the near future however a good fit he may be.

  11. GC11 wrote:

    I think Varnado is just as goofy as Ishee, he’s good but not classy…I think he’d be a way wrong fit even if Bennett was his hero.

  12. Bradley wrote:

    So I guess if they entertain you at all it’s goofy? If you’ll remember Roger did his share of goofy things on stage, Anthoy did also, but they grew older and we regard them as class. I think Stewart is one of the best that we have in SG. Great player and great entertainer!

  13. GC12 wrote:

    To GC11: I would offer that Varnado would be a great fit. If you actually ever spend any time watching him he is very classy. The goofy stuff doesn’t carry through the entire concert and when it does it’s because Randy Shelnut sets it up. I would bet that if Stewart was offered that position he would do very well at it. Unfortunately I think that his problem is going to be the same problem that child actors face. He came on very young and used the cheesy stuff to help get some recognition but has now grown into one of the best and most respected pianist in the business. He’s going to have to overcome the “cute little redheaded piano player” mentality and get folks to recognize that he is now older, and more mature as a musician. He’ll have a long and very successful career in gospel music no matter what group he is with.

  14. GC wrote:

    Varnado is silly…

  15. Tom K. wrote:

    Tim Parton is the choice - quiet, professional and unassuming. And, now getting ready for some criticism, Stan Whitmire is the most overrated pianist in the business.

  16. Aaron Swain wrote:

    Tim Parton has officially been named as L5’s new pianist. Singing News has the story.

  17. Glenn Camp wrote:

    I think Tim Parton is an excellent choice for LT to replace Roger.
    I am glad I purchased some tapes and CD’s of Roger’s beautiful piano playing. It had become very difficult to hear his playing at L5’s concerts because of the extremely loud canned background noise.
    I hope when we do get to attend an L5 concert with Tiim Parton playing the piano that we can actually hear Tim’s playing and him not be drowned out by the excessive loud canned background noise that is referred to as music, which it isn’t. Loud banging drums and steel guitars are just not condusive with the great harmonious sound of L5. I wish Scott Fowler would realize this.

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