The Slide Brothers are Calvin Cooke, Chuck Campbell, Darick Campbell and Aubrey Ghent–the greatest living musicians who embody the Sacred Steel tradition. The joyous music these legendary artists create extends far beyond scared steel to encompass blues, rock and soul all celebrated with a sound that is uniquely their own.
The pedal steel guitar was introduced to church services by Willie Eason in the 1930’s. His single-string passages, which imitated the African-American singing and shouting voices, remain the signature sound of the Keith Dominion steel guitar style. The goal of a skilled steel player in church is to use the guitar to mimic voices, to ‘sing’ lines of the hymns and to provide praise music that pushes the congregation closer to feeling the Holy Spirit. This church-bred style of high energy electrified slide remains today an integral part of the worship service wherever the faithful gather.
Despite its role in church services, this dynamic, high energy music had never been heard outside of church. As a new century dawned, rumors of an extraordinary new form of slide guitar began to attract interest among blues fans who long favored the electrified sound of slide guitar masters such as Elmore James and Duane Allman. Where the music of Muddy Waters or the Allman Brothers showcased traditional six string slide guitar, critics and fans alike were jolted by the an even more potent brand of slide guitar being performed on pedal steel instruments. As the center core of the Sacred Steel movement was its artistic purity. Ted Beard, Calvin Cooke, Aubrey Ghent and other pedal steel icons within the church had fostered a rich, uniquely American art form unspoiled by commercialism.
Calvin Cooke, Nashville country steel guitarists have dubbed Calvin Cooke the “B.B. King of gospel steel guitar.” Calvin was born in 1944 in Cleveland, Ohio into a musical family that belonged to the Church of the Living God, Jewell Dominion, which had a strong steel guitar tradition. Calvin first picked up the guitar in 1955 when a member of his extended family bought him a six-string guitar, but his fingers were too small to play it. To achieve the sound he wanted, Calvin used a knife as a slide. In time his mother purchased a steel guitar at a local pawn shop. He continues to use the same instrument on stage today as well as a ten string pedal steel instrument which he plays in a unique tuning that came to him in a vision.
By 1958 Cooke had brought the influence of Jewell music, which is characterized by slower tempos and boogie rhythms, to the Keith Dominion. Bishop Henry Harrison was so impressed by the young steel virtuoso that he took Cooke on the road with him to preach the Gospel. Harrison was a carpenter and together they helped build churches by day. By night he played and sang while the Bishop preached. Calvin is hailed today as the most influential living pedal steel guitar master within the Sacred Steel tradition.
Aubrey Ghent, a nephew of Willie Eason, has also become a celebrated steel guitarist, preserving the sacred steel tradition and instrumental in bringing it to a wider audience. Ghent’s father, Henry Nelson, was also schooled by Eason and played sacred steel for over 50 years, sharing the stage with such gospel greats as Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Mahalia Jackson. Ghent is hailed as a master of the lap steel guitar and his skillful technique has earned him worldwide acclaim. Ghent’s unique skills became apparent at the age of nine when local churches began to invite him to perform at services. At twenty he answered God’s call and was known as the ‘Preaching Deacon”, evangelizing through word and music. Unlike Robert Randolph and the Family Band who have crossed over to doing more secular music, Aubrey Ghent has stayed closer to the gospel roots of tradition, as have many of the steel guitarists of the Jewell Dominion. In recent years, Ghent has performed and recorded with several top recording stars including Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks.
Chuck Campbell began playing the lap steel guitar at the age of eleven. At fifteen he became one of the first players to utilize the Pedal Steel guitar in the House of God Church, Keith Dominion. Chuck is renowned for his innovative approach to the instrument both technically and musically. His use of effects such as distortion, tone control pedals like the Wah-Wah and his picking techniques enable him to emulate the human voice in an uncanny fashion.
Early in his career Chuck became recognized for becoming the first steel player to be accomplished in the Sacred Steel styles of Calvin Cooke, Ted Beard and Henry Nelson. Chuck’s inventive blending of those methods along with his ground breaking use of complex chords and fast picking formed the musical style which is the most emulated among young Sacred Steel players today.
Darick Campbell first made his mark in music as a drummer. For several years Darick was the premier drummer of the General Assembly, the National Convocation of the House Of God Church in Nashville, Tennessee. His choice of the Lap Steel is a reflection of the influences he has blended to become the most emotional player of The Campbell Brothers musical tour d’ force. His renditions of “End of My Journey” have caused audiences throughout the world to weep in heartfelt response to his playing.
The Slide Brothers were recently featured as part of the Experience Hendrix Tour, thrilling sold out audiences across the US and Canada with their interpretations of such Hendrix signature songs as “Purple Haze” and “Foxey Lady”. Their acclaimed performances have won fans who had never witnessed the infectious appeal of the sacred steel. Their enthusiastic reactions came as no surprise to Robert Randolph. “My goal is to open the door for people in the same way that musical doors have been opened for me,” explains Randolph. “I want to take this musical history and make it relevant to give people a better idea of who we are and where this tradition came from. I think even though I’m a young guy who was born into the era of hip-hop and contemporary gospel, I can help bridge the cultural gap between people who are seventy-five years old and kids who are fifteen years old by reaching back into this history of music.”