June 21st, 2011
Since The Campbell Brothers were here in Madison a couple weekends ago, I thought I’d post some of their music.
(Photo by jconn0403.)
While I’m not exactly an expert on Sacred Steel music, it seems that The Campbell Brothers are probably the second most famous practitioners behind Robert Randolph and the Family Band in the popular realm of things. My introduction to Sacred Steel was via The Campbell Brothers back in 1999 when I heard “God Is a Good God” from Sacred Steel Live! on the radio. I was driving to work at the time and I think I ended up being late because I stayed in my car until the DJ came back on and announced the name of the song. So it was especially nice to have them here in Madison at the Marquette Waterfront Festival. That they played two sets was icing on the cake.
I caught the first on Saturday from a friend’s yard to the side of the stage but was in the park on Sunday. Both shows were fantastic. You knew things were getting serious when electric guitarist Philip Campbell got out of his seat. Brother Darick made his way out into the audience for a bit as well after scolding those down in front for not wiggling their bums enough. Overall, I think the people at the festival were impressed even though it seemed like most of them were there to see Robbie Fulks and The Bottle Rockets.
None of my friends at the festival had heard of The Campbell Brothers nor had they any idea what Sacred Steel is. I told them it was gospel with pedal steel. An article from the New York Folklore Society called “Sacred Steel and the Empire State” explains how the music came about.
Beginning in the 1910s, a Hawaiian music fad began to sweep the mainland United States. Hawaiian music maintained a significant presence in the American popular music milieu well into the 1940s. Troman Eason (c. 1900-1949), after hearing a Hawaiian steel guitarist who played regularly over the radio in Philadelphia in the mid-1930s, called the radio station, talked to the steel guitarist, and arranged to take lessons. Troman quickly gained competency on the instrument and began to play it in the House of God church in Philadelphia.
Today Sacred Steel is still played in House of God churches though I don’t know if it has spread to other denominations. And while it’s probably a stretch to say that the genre is mainstream, it has certainly moved away from being the sole province of House of God churches. According to an article in the St. Petersburg Times, Florida folklorist Bob Stone heard about the music in the early 1990s and then secured an NEA grant to record it. The Arhoolie record label started releasing Sacred Steel in 1997 which put the music out there for the general public. Also according to the article, it was The Campbell Brothers who first began performing for secular audiences while Robert Randolph was the first player to make a living at it.
This set was recorded on 19 June 2009 at the Rochester International Jazz Fest in Rochester, New York. It’s a nice audience recording but you’ll need and want to turn the volume up a bit.
Don’t Let Nobody Turn You Around
A Change Is Gonna Come
Lord I Just Want To Thank You
Jump For Joy
Some intrepid videographers captured the band in action here in Madison earlier this month. The first two are from Saturday’s show while the last is from Sunday’s. Look at the old hippies dance!