“Let’s Celebrate” from recent live demos
Popular music history has taught us that the pedal steel guitar, a mechanized cousin to the grittier blues slide approach, has long been a near-essential ingredient in country music circles. In the last 10 years, the uplifting form has been taken by new players like Robert Randolph and The Lee Boys, as well as folklorist Robert Stone who spearheaded the Sacred Steel compilation CD series in the late ’90s.
The Lee Boys — brothers Alvin, Derrick, and Keith Lee (guitarists and vocalists, respectively), alongside nephews Roosevelt Collier (pedal steel), Alvin Cody Jr. (bass), and Earl Walker (drums) — began distilling their infectious sound at a House of God church in southern Florida. The sacred steel tradition has become synonymous with the House of God congregations.
“The sacred steel music has been a part of our church and our lives for about as long as I can remember,” says Alvin Lee. “Willie and Troman Easton introduced it to the church way back in the ’30s. My grandfather and father played the steel, too, and it was my father that taught us about it. It surprises a lot of people to hear the steel guitar played the way we do.”
Attending a Lee Boys show is akin to experiencing a revival at the funkiest church in the Southeastern corridor. Derrick and Keith trade call and response vocals, handclaps and exaltations with the crowd while Collier’s essential steel, used here as more of a lead guitar than a rhythm instrument, bends and whines with precision alongside the jubilant rhythm section of Cody and Walker.
The Lee Boys released their last studio effort, Say Yes! (Arhoolie), in 2005. Sans crowd approval, the disc didn’t fail to capture the group’s energetic live presence.
“The music just follows its own agenda,” says Lee. “The spiritual element, I think, brings it to another level. It’s just the kind of music that makes you feel better!” —Michael Andrews