EHSSQ catch all

So what’s going on with southern gospel’s favorite boy band dancing quartet these days? Well, last week it seems they headlined the Stamps-Baxter School of Music, to mostly rave reviews. Here’s an email I received a few days after the event:

I think what blew everyone away is that SigSound hauled in their whole lights/sound/backdrop, etc., for the show. They were dressed to the nines, etc., just as if it were a real concert. Ben Speer [who owns and runs the school] was visibly impressed with their show, and made jokes about adding a dance class to next year’s school, but he didn’t do it in a condescending way, but in a very flattering way, actually.  No real surprises to their show, other just really giving it 110%.

Another correspondent confirmed this view:

At first I didn’t know why the group brought the “full enchilada.” Most acts come in casually and that’s understandable because it’s a summer school, but afterward I understood why they did it. The kids loved it. And they appeared to be buying a bunch of a product after the show.

Smart stuff indeed. I mean, it’s an audience of a coupla hundred kids who for the most part all want to be or become EHSSQ. If your audience has visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads, it doesn’t hurt to show up in a big fat candy truck.

And anyway, it probably wasn’t that big of a deal for the group to pull the full enchilada since they were headed to the Gaither mothership for the Cathedrals tribute taping. The only complaint-like thing I’ve heard about the performance was their decision to sing “Old Convention Song.” And it was an odd choice. Despite the title, it’s not actually an old convention song, of course. Rather it’s about a bunch of other songs that are really old convention tunes. I mean, sure, they were probably rehearsing material for the Cats tribute album, since the Cats popularized the song way back when, but still … if you’re at a singing school that teaches convention singing, why not sing… you know, an actual convention song?

A few days later, the group recorded the Cats tribute. Daniel Mount has a descriptive summary of the event. So does Nate. Aside from a clunky segment with Bill Gaither near the middle of the show and an overheated auditorium that required a lot of breaks for makeup reapplication, it sounds like it went smoothly, at least from the email I’ve received (I’ve asked a friend to repost her email in comments for all to see).

In other words, Signature Sound has been a bunch of busy beavers. A recent commenter on another thread wonders why EHSSQ has largely stopped putting out new material since Dream On, but I suspect the group is playing a longer game than the one that measures a quartet’s success by whether it has a new project every year full of mostly mediocre tunes with a few cuts respectable enough to go to radio. They’ve spent the last few years establishing themselves at an increasing distance from the Homecoming crowd without actually breaking ties with Gaitherland. And now comes the Cats tribute recording, which will, I imagine, probably more or less cement the group’s claim to the George and Glen legacy, at least as a brand (that is, selling product and putting butts in seats  by using the group’s connection to the Cats).

Thus, new music is really beside the point. They can do that, but so can (and does) everyone else. For EHSSQ it’s not really what their brand is about, as far as I can tell. And if this approach sounds familiar, … well, it is. In fact, it’s basically the Homecoming model writ small in a single group: Old favorites and a smattering of new stuff held together by a signature style. The glue is not the “new” but a certain way of producing and arranging and, of course, a very meticulously cultivated brand of singing and showmanship.

Sure, the breathy singing makes me wince, and the some of the more peacocky pretensions of the group’s onstage persona can be off putting, and Ernie’s emcee work gives me the willies a lot of the time and no they can’t really dance … but blah blah blah. It’s hard to argue with their commitment to what they see as their vision of quality or excellence or whatever you want to call it. And they’ve got the popularity and the success to show for it. This is impressive, particularly at a time when what are typically considered top-tier acts in the bidness count singing to a few hundred people at any given venue a good night. In other words, a lot of groups like to ride on the big-fish/small-bowl reputation of themselves as top-tier sg acts, but very few groups are actually achieving top-tier status in terms that wouldn’t be laughed at out outside sg. Or as one reader put it to me in an email:

Maybe I’m just drinking the Signature Sound kool-aid these days, but you know what? They give a damn. They really do, and you can see it in their shows: they’re in shape and take care about their appearance and style. And from a performance angle, you don’t get that kind of precision on stage without rehearsing hours a day. And when you do that, then you can go out on stage and have fun for two hours! Because they know what they’re doing and they’re not stepping all over each other’s lines and pissed off at each other for screwing things up or missing opportunities. And then, when the concert is over and they stand around in their sweaty suits signing autographs and talking to fans for as long as it takes.

Maybe that’s why they can go to Lancaster, PA (no southern gospel stronghold!) and sell thousands of tickets (I’d guess upwards of 2500-3000ish when I saw them) and move a ton a product, if their table traffic is any rough guide.

A few weeks ago, I caught Gold City and frankly, it disgusted me. Seriously. I’ve been in the business for decades and I love it. Love it death, but unfortunately I think that’s what’s happening to so much of the music: a slow, agonizing death by the lazy performance of countless sloppy songs. Watching Gold City, I saw these arrogant men in their S&K suits get up there looking bored out of their minds belching out the same songs they’ve been wheeling out of cold storage for 20 years and they wonder why they can’t sell records anymore. Well, out of the 200 people who came to see you the night I was there (no doubt many of them out of respect for how you used to sing and perform), probably 150 of them will be dead in five years so you better come up with some new schtick fast because the clock is ticking on your tiny little kingdom, mister.

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  1. Ruth Meyers wrote:

    I bought my ticket to see Signature Sound several months ago. They perform here annually and it’s always a sell out. But it wasn’t until late spring that we learned that Anderson would be the date and venue for the new DVD taping. I’d heard that they would be taping in Nashville and even last year (in Anderson) they were promoting this particular recording.

    The set was perfect for this type of program. There were several “floating” stained-glass windows strategically placed on the stage and in the middle was a giant screen that was outlined with a beautiful border that was consistent with the stained-glass.

    Bill Gaither was the first to be seen. He warmed up the audience and told jokes. The band was already in place, complete with piano, keyboards, bass, drums and guitar and a brass band.

    Once Bill said his hellos, the lights were lowered and the production began in the Signature Sound style. The brass band began playing the wedding theme of “Here Comes The Bride” and you could see the outline of the quartet. The crowd was immediately frantic. “Wedding Music” was the first song on the program. The guys looked spectacular in classic, blue suits.

    The song list was what you’d expect at a Cathedral’s Tribute (Boundless Love, Step Into The Water, Champion of Love, We Shall See Jesus, Can He Could He Would He) with a few pleasant surprises (including I’m Gonna Live Forever, Mexico and Yesterday) I was happy to see that some of the bigger “meat and potato” hits like I’ve Just Started Living and Somebody Touched Me were replaced by God Delivers Again and I Thirst. And I quickly discovered that liked those selections better. Much better.

    Of course, there are always guests at a Gaither taping, but I was glad to see only one (not counting Gaither). Squire Parsons was introduced and I thought Ernie did a great job grafting him into the “story” of the tribute. Without his humble beginnings with Squire, there would be no history with George and Glen. And I love how they didn’t dwell too much in the dialogue. He sang Beulah Land and it was sweet (and I’m not being condescending). I thought it was a moment.

    The only thing that I found odd the entire evening was that in the middle of the concert, Bill Gaither came out to talk and it was just uncomfortable. Either he was making big mistakes or he just wasn’t prepared.

    For instance, before the concert you could make signs at a table, just like they do at the secular concerts. But then we were told not to let them be seen until instructed. So in the middle of this droll dialogue, Bill asked about signs. It just seemed ineffective. I think that signs should be held up throughout the concert, naturally. It just didn’t happen for me. Maybe they can edit it out. Then Bill and the guys went off on this Hovie tangent that made no sense. Fortunately it only lasted about 15 minutes and we were back into the program.

    The only other complaint was that it was so hot that we were melting into our seats. I know the performers were hot and sweating. There had to be several breaks for make-up. With those new HD cameras now, it might not be too pretty.

    But all in all, I have to say I loved it.

  2. EHSSFan! wrote:

    What puts you off about Ernie’s emcee style?

    Just curious-I think he is vert good at connecting with an audience…

  3. Jesus Fan wrote:

    Whoever the freak was that dissed Gold City in an “email” to you needs to SHUT UP.

    Whoever thinks Tim Riley or Roy Webb (just for starters) hold even the smallest ounce of ego, and are boring to watch needs to have their head examined.

    Who is in charge of security at the psych ward in that area? There’s been a breach.

  4. Wade wrote:

    Jesus Fan… just about any person who gets up in front of ppl to perform has/had an ego!!! But not in unhealthy amounts in Tim or Roy’s case. IMO… Time could have all the Ego he wants… he is THE MAN!!

    Hard to believe they did not have better control of the Interior Environment for some project of that size. Or another Venue. They have huge truckz they can back up to the biggest venues and chill them down!!!

  5. Jake wrote:

    Whether you like EHSS or not, you have to admit that they take what they do seriously and gove 100%. They are raising the bar in SG music, and that is a good thing!

    They didn’t pull into Ben Speer’s school in a “big fat candy truck” but they did have their new bus. I’d hate to see the monthly payments Ernie has to pay for the new Prevost, but considering they travel with a band and sound/lights people, they need room for everyone.

    One other comment: The concerts I have attended have been closer to 3 hours than 2. And they are the only group peforming. As I said before, they give 100% for their audience and whether you like their style or not, they are showing how the bidness should be done.

  6. tommy wrote:

    I saw Gold City last night and hands down they are the most vocally talented group in the business. That being said, I watched first hand Danny blow off a mentally challenged man prior to going on then during their set that same man got up from the front row and walked to the bathroom. Gold City stopped the show to make fun of him leaving. The whole group laughed as the joke went on and on. One mentioned how sig sound stays as long as it takes for the fans. That was not the case with Gold City last night. As soon as their set was over, they spent a few minutes at the table and then were off to the bus. The freemans and Ann Downing hadn’t even performed yet. I don’t know them so I won’t say they are arrogant but that was definitely the image they projected. They gave the impression many times on stage that they was an inside joke going on that we wernt part of. When I saw sig Sound they were warm and inviting. Gold City can flat out sing anybody but they need to show more of what so many say they are when defending them.

  7. Jesus Fan wrote:

    For the record, I think Gold City (absent the lull during the Aaron McCune era) has virtually always been able to out-sing anyone.

    Just because they are flat-footed talent doesn’t make them arrogant. As far as people leaving to go to the bathroom, I saw Scott Fowler do the EXACT same thing. So he’s arrogant too, huh?

    I definitely agree they (especially Danny) need to show more warmth and personality on stage, but to say Roy Webb or Tim the Man, or Josh Cobb don’t have warm personalities is pretty downright SICK.

    Bruce is not my favorite guy on stage, but he’s got a great voice and is a nice guy too.

    If anyone has been humbled by this whole experience, it’s Danny. Cut him some slack.

  8. noninsider wrote:

    Jesus Fan: I have also seen Scott Fowler do that… What made it funny is that he went down off of stage and walked up behind this woman and asked her where she was going, the woman replied “if you don’t let me go you will find out right here” I have to say it was one of the funniest moments I have seen in a concert… After she came back he told her he was sorry if he offended her in any way, and I believe they gave her a free CD… He is not arrogant by any means…

    As for Gold City I saw them a few months ago and I did not really notice any arrogance or bordem displayed, they were pretty friendly around the table and seemed genuine in their dealings… If they are not your thing then don’t go to their concerts!

    And about Gold City struggling to fill seats, well that is completely WRONG! They have been selling out places all over the country…

    I was also at the EHSS taping and they did a great job and I agree Doug, Ernie’s Emceeing seems kinda odd but it is not to bad… And also THERE WERE EMPTY SEATS! at a video taping nonetheless… I heard that they wanted to do it at the Ryman and that they Scott Fowler to be there but it did not work out that way… He and L5 would have been in Anderson, if not for a pre-scheduled date in New York… I also heard that Mark Trammel wanted to be there as well, but it was the MTQ’s homecoming…

  9. EHSSFan! wrote:

    I live in Nashville, TN and was watching the Channel 5 news at 10 PM and the lead story was about the Dove Awards leaving Nashville, TN and moving to Atlanta, GA and they interviewed Ed Leonard and then low and behold, there was Ernie commenting on it! I was blown away! Ernie peeps are doing a good job!!!

  10. Jake wrote:

    Message to all SG groups: Never make fun of someone in your audience — especially mentally or physically challenged. And don’t give someone a hard time for going to the restroom. For any singer or group member to do that — regardless of who they are — is pure arrogance, a lousy testimony, and a blown chance to show the love of Jesus Christ. And that’s not necessarily directed at Gold City or any other particular group. I’ve heard of that same kind of behavior in other concerts as well and it is simply not acceptable, and it contradicts the very message we are supposed to be bringing.

  11. lovelife wrote:

    Give it a break Jake…It’s all in fun and aren’t Christians suppose to have fun??? I don’t consider it making fun when you ask someone “where you going”….I have NEVER heard anyone make fun of a mentally or physically challenged person. Just sayin………………

  12. Jake wrote:

    Lovelife (#11) — I guess that is where everybody’s personality is a little different. I happen to be a rather shy introvert, and if I needed to leave to use the restroom and somebody asked me — publicly — where I was going, I would find it embarrassing and humiliating. It probably doesn’t bother some people, but in any audience you have a variety of personalities, and unless you know who you are kidding with, you better be careful.

    My comment about making fun of a mentally challenged person refers back to the experience of Tommy (#6) and that is what I was referring to. You may not have ever seen it, but Tommy apparently did.

  13. Jesus Fan wrote:

    Wow Jake, “Tommy apparently did.”

    Do you realize that the last time I saw GC I had to stand in line for a LONG time to wait to talk to Tim Riley because he was talking to a person in a wheelchair.

    Get a life. “Tommy apparently did…” Well, Congratulations, I’m happy you’re so well-informed.

  14. steven wrote:

    are there videos of ernie even singing some of Danny’s sugar sticks like “i’ve just started living” or “somebody touched me”?

  15. noninsider wrote:

    14. Ernie has never touched those songs, and rightfully so IMO…

  16. steven wrote:

    @noninsider…i was looking at youtube and saw the infamous Kurt Young do “I’ve Just Started Living”…so that got me wondering about Ernie.

    Not that i believe at all that he could come close to danny (none could), i would have found it interesting to hear his take on the songs.

  17. noninsider wrote:

    Steven; it is possible that Ernie did sing those songs when he first joined the Cats… But it was never recorded that I know of,mostly because he quickly became known for OWAS and since Champion Of Love was really taking off for the Cat’s they did not need to do “I’ve Just Started Living” or “Somebody Touched Me”

  18. William wrote:

    The first person I remember asking where someone was going was Jim Hamill with the Kingsmen. This subject brought memories of attending an outdoor all night sing where he asked somewhere they were going. I couldn’t hear the person’s response, but Jim said well, bring me some boiled peanuts. A little while later, the person walked up to the stage and handed him a bag of boiled peanuts. Best I could tell, no one got hurt and everyone laughed at the whole situation.

  19. GC/EHSS/L5 fan wrote:

    Ernie did “I’ve Just Started Living” right up until the end with the Cathedrals. To his credit, he didn’t even try to sound like Danny, but put his own spin on it. I do have it on VHS. I’ll try to get it converted to DVD and online.

    I only heard Ernie do “Somebody Touched Me” once. It was at NQC one year. They did “He Touched Me” featuring Glen and went right into “Somebody”. It was great. The little lady with the Bible came to the stage for Ernie’s rendition, so it had to be good!

    Of course, that was Danny’s song, but it was nice to hear a different take on it.

    Did Danny ever do “I Know A Man Who Can”?

    As for Gold City, I can say that Daniel Riley has always had time to talk to me and Tim is an absolute gentleman. Roy Webb isn’t one of the nicest people I’ve ever met in SG, he’s one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met period. Never met the other guys, but Josh does always respond to my Facebook comments.

    As for calling people down from the stage, the funniest was JD Sumner and the blonde in the red dress at NQC in 1996. Was anybody else there that night?

  20. noninsider wrote:

    19. Thanks for clearing that up… And I like your handle… Those 3 quartets may be the top 3 on the road today…

  21. quartet-man wrote:

    I don’t dislike Sig Sound or L5, but would be more tempted to change my handle to Oaks Cats GVB Gold City. :D

  22. GC/EHSS/L5 fan wrote:

    I asked this Grigsby character to post the “Living” video on his Facebook. It’s from a 20 year old VHS so don’t expect Blueray.

  23. noninsider wrote:

    Q-Man I totally agree twenty years ago that would be my handle without a doubt! :)

    O and here is a video someone posted of Ernie singing “I’ve Just Started Living”!/video/video.php?v=1533525824948

  24. noninsider wrote:

    Well I suppose that link will not work for the video, I apologize…

  25. Wade wrote:

    I am there with ya on that Q-Man!!!

  26. GC/EHSS/L5 fan wrote:!/video/video.php?v=1533525824948&ref=mf

  27. quartet-man wrote:

    Let me try:

    I hope Clarence posts this on You Tube so a lot of people who might not otherwise see it can see it.

  28. Extra Ink wrote:

    The first-hand report I got from the EHSS concert at Stamps-Baxter was that Ernie & the guys were very accessible. Sometime during/after the concert Ernie opened up the floor for questions from the students and they were gracious in answering every one of them. The student I talked with said that Ernie’s Q & A session really demonstrated a down-to-earth side of the group and the fact that the guys are just regular folks like the rest of us. One of the questions was “How do you guys stay so physically fit when traveling so much?” The answer is that they, of course, play basketball when they can find a court/game. If they can’t get to a court they will jump rope or find some other avenue to sweat off some calories. Also, the group has a set meal structure that they all follow together. Interesting and smart, too.

  29. quartetfan wrote:

    Well that video proves steven and noninsiders point to perfection. Ernie sounds much like he does on all his features, thin and shrill.

    It also showcases why nobody (or very few) have ever heard Ernie do any of Danny’s big hits.

  30. steven wrote:

    Cool! Thanks for taking the time to post the videos.

    I’ve enjoy EH&SS and Ernie with the cat’s and he has some great renditions of songs, that i enjoy. I just don’t think anyone can do it like danny on those particular tunes

  31. GC/EHSS/L5 fan wrote:

  32. GC/EHSS/L5 fan wrote:

    “Read The Book”. Fun little tune.

  33. quartet-man wrote:

    Ernie is no Funderburk for sure, but when it comes to thin and shrill tenors, there are many, many others who are far more so.

  34. quartetfan wrote:

    33 - True. Ernie is a very good blending tenor, but I’ve never been a huge fan of his solo stuff.

  35. Joe wrote:

    They “give a damn…” and “don’t get pissed off at each other…” Really, Doug?! Do ya really think your friend’s email did EHSSQ any favors? Or helped make your point? Sounds like he might have been describing Stryper, and not a SGM quartet…

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