A Sacred Steel Primer

“Luther might actually know more gospel numbers than me. I learn new tunes from him all the time.” —Robert Randolph

Early proponents included J.R. Lockley and brothers Troman and Willie Eason. The tradition continues to this day, upheld by a line that includes the Rev. Aubrey Ghent (who conducts services in Nashville, home of the annual Southern Sacred Steel Conference), the Campbell Brothers, Calvin Cooke, Sonny Treadway, the Lee Boys, and, of course, Robert Randolph. All these artists have multiple albums, but the primer that introduced the style to the secular world (and inspired the Word) is the 1997 Arhoolie Records compilation Sacred Steel: Traditional Sacred African-American Steel Guitar Music in Florida, which includes music from both the Keith and Jewell dominions.

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Soul Food
Sometimes the Word’s approach is like bebop, with a head played by the ensemble and hot potato solos tossed around. This tune, “Chocolate Cowboy” from , gives John Medeski, Luther Dickinson, and Robert Randolph turns at the wheel. Dickinson splits the difference between jazz and country when his solo enters at the three-minute mark, and then Randolph drives it home starting at 3:57, pushing for melody and speed.