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Sunday Morning Blues
April 8, 2008 12:10 PM   Subscribe

Sacred Steel is a pedal-steel guitar style that evolved in the African-American Pentecostal denomination The House of God, Which Is the Church of the Living God, the Pillar and Ground of the Truth. Brothers and lap steel players Willie and Truman Eason, inspired by the electric blues and Hawaiian steel guitar of the 1920s and 30s, brought the sound to two branches of the church, the Keith and Jewell dominions. Its hallmark: "talking guitar," in which the sliding steel emphasizes and mimics the words of preachers and singers. In the 1970s, a new "Motor City" tradition began, featuring the more complicated pedal steel guitar. This body of music was known mainly in church circles until two things happened: first, folklorist Robert Stone became interested in the music and relased several CD collections. And then, church player Robert Randolph (and his Family Band) began taking Sunday morning's music out onSaturday night.

Some of the most widely noted practitioners:
The Campbell Brothers
Pastor Elton Noble, convener of the Sacred Steel Convention
Aubrey Ghent
Henry Nelson
Calvin Cooke
Lonnie Bennett
Maurice "Ted" Beard

Articles:
A Joyful Noise
The Sacred Steel Tradition at Blues Access

For the players: some sacred steel tunings
posted by Miko (19 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
I saw Robert Randolph's band open for Eric Clapton in 2004, and Randolph is without hyperbole, an awesome performer.
posted by wabbittwax at 12:31 PM on April 8, 2008


A joyful noise indeed.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:44 PM on April 8, 2008


Sacred steel worked as a great overlap between my interest in sacred music and my ex's love for guitar - he was fascinated by the tunings and technique, I was entranced by this great groove that is also music of faith.

Plus, I saw Randolph at the Paradise in Boston, the show that's described in the Robert Stone link - as wabbitwax says, he's amazing.
posted by catlet at 12:49 PM on April 8, 2008


I've seen Randolph every time he's come to town. Thirding the 'amazing'. He always looks absolutely thrilled to sit down at that instrument.
posted by echo target at 12:56 PM on April 8, 2008


Great post Miko! I love that Calvin Cooke clip ("...but Motown didn't have a steel guitar"). I realize now that I have long neglected my Sacred Steel CD that's sitting unloved on top of a shelf of other CDs I didn't know what to do with. I'm fetching it now! Thanks again.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 1:02 PM on April 8, 2008


Great post. I've always liked Sacred Steel, not least for the muscular and quasi-militant name.
posted by OmieWise at 1:32 PM on April 8, 2008


Thanks for this most awesome post, Miko - just been sampling around the edges because I have to go out, but can't wait to get back to explore - l loves me some steel. And sacred steel? w00t!
BTW, rollbiz recently made a great post on Robert Randolph on his thejivefather blog.
posted by madamjujujive at 1:35 PM on April 8, 2008


Yaaay! Robert Randolph and the Family Band are awesome! I saw them at the first Bonaroo Festival back in 2002. It was a Sunday before noon, so Randolph started off the show by saying, "This is a Sunday morning, y'all, so we're going to take you to church." And they proceeded to play an entire set of gospel numbers. For this lifelong agnostic with a strong appreciation for roots music, it was a definite treat. Randolph & co put on an amazing show.
posted by Afroblanco at 1:52 PM on April 8, 2008


Yeah, Robert Randolph is great, I saw him for the first time a few months ago and his set was awesome. I've never seen a show that felt that much like a huge party. Everybody was dancing and going nuts, what a blast. Definitely recommended if you like music period.
posted by baphomet at 2:38 PM on April 8, 2008


Nice post, Miko, on a worthy topic.

Robert Randolph fans need to make sure that they own the self-titled LP from The Word, featuring Randolph on sacred steal, John Medeski, and the North Mississippi All Stars. A truly phenomenal record.
posted by kosem at 3:15 PM on April 8, 2008


Thanks for the post Miko. I've enjoyed some of these Sacred Steel folk here and there over the last few years, but I never really dived into it, so I'm glad you've done the research here that's led me to some stuff I hadn't heard.

And this is probably a good place to mention Secular Steel.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:34 PM on April 8, 2008


I feel stupid. I dig on Robert Randolph and the Family Band, and I listen to a ton of Hawaiian music, but I never made the connection between the guitars - then again, it's evolved quite a bit.

Trying to establish a timeline and figure out who might have been involved, I flailed my Google about furiously to uncover the connections:

The Hawaiian steel guitar (born around 1890) was integral to the sound of Hawaiian music that became a craze on the mainland in the 30's - 40's; the style was popular enough that there was a Royal Hawaiian Music Studio founded in Philadelphia run by Jimmy Kahanalopua, who's brother Jack might have been the one who gave Troman Eason his first lessons; Troman taught the style to his brother Willie, who took it home, found God and the church, and from there it would branch off into several other distinct styles.

Blows my mind, this does. Just thought I'd share.
posted by krippledkonscious at 3:49 PM on April 8, 2008


Thanks for the terrific post! My mother used to sing and play pedal and lap steel with her two sisters. (They even had a local radio show for a while in the late '40s.) I remember listening to them when I was young. Great music; great memories.
posted by trip and a half at 4:40 PM on April 8, 2008


Very cool tracing of the developments, krippledconscious! And neat, trip and a half - I looked around for any women playing the instrument and had no luck. Glad to know it happened.
posted by Miko at 8:41 PM on April 8, 2008


"I looked around for any women playing the instrument and had no luck.

Well, here's some luck for ya, Miko: country virtuoso Barbara Mandrell. Alas, however, two other smoking clips of Barbara stroking the strings and pumping the pedals that I linked to in this FPP some time back are now pulled from YouTube. Drat.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:42 AM on April 9, 2008


I saw the Lee Boys 2 weeks ago and they pretty much torn it up.

The videos on their site don't do them justice.
posted by Slacktastic at 7:15 AM on April 9, 2008


Oh, no, I didn't just mean I looked for women playing pedal steel, but for women playing "sacred" steel.
posted by Miko at 7:45 AM on April 9, 2008


...which i didn't make clear when I said "women playing the instrument." My fault.
posted by Miko at 7:46 AM on April 9, 2008


Just saw these last few comments. My mom and aunts played/sang both the "sacred" steel and the secular/popular tunes. They learned the sacred stuff from a very old African-American woman whom I never met but heard lots of stories about.
posted by trip and a half at 5:10 PM on April 9, 2008


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