In the era of YouTube, and with the ubiquitous presence of camera phones and inexpensive digital recorders capturing almost every mundane moment of modern life, it’s difficult to imagine a musical genre or group of talented musicians remaining undiscovered.
Since the Thirties, however, an African-American gospel music tradition known as “sacred steel” has quietly thrived in the Church of the Living God and House of God churches. It has been particularly strong in the Keith and Jewell dominions spread across the eastern United States, from Florida to New York and as far west as Indiana, while most of the rest of the world was unaware of it.
Robert Randolph and the Family Band introduced sacred steel to secular audiences with his 2002 Warner Bros. debut album, Live at the Wetlands. But until recently, the only way to hear the genre’s other talented practitioners was by attending church services.
However, over the past few years, a handful of steel guitarists, like brothers Chuck and Darick Campbell, Calvin Cooke and Aubrey Ghent, have performed outside of the church at concerts and festivals, even though the church looked down upon these activities.
During last year’s Experience Hendrix tour, Randolph invited the Campbells to perform as the Slide Brothers, who were joined by Cooke and Ghent as the tour progressed. The enthusiastic response to the Slide Brothers’ performances inspired Randolph to get the four steel guitarists into the studio to record Robert Randolph Presents: The Slide Brothers, released in February by Concord Records.
“I was born listening to these guys,” Randolph says. “I look to them the same way I look to blues greats like Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson. Aubrey Ghent and his dad, Henry Nelson, Calvin Cooke and the Campbell Brothers all shaped the sacred steel tradition. This is the last undiscovered black American roots story, because this music has been hidden inside the churches for 80 years, and these older guys were not allowed to play anything else. By co-producing and presenting the new album from the Slide Brothers, I’m hoping that their story can finally be told. Now we’re all hanging out with the Allman Brothers, Buddy Guy and B.B. King and can use gospel and mainstream music to tell our story.”
For the complete Slide Brothers story (plus features on Orianthi, Rush, Jimi Hendrix and more), check out the April 2013 issue of Guitar World magazine, which is available now at the Guitar World Online Store.
SLIDE BROTHERS VIDEOSIn the videos below, you'll find an interview with — and lessons from — Calvin Cooke and Aubrey Ghent of the Slide Brothers. The videos were filmed at Guitar World HQ in New York City.PART ONEPART TWO