The Slide Brothers, standard bearers of the sacred steel tradition, will release their first studio album on February 19, 2013 on Concord Records. The album, simply titled Robert Randolph Presents: The Slide Brothers, was catalyzed by Robert Randolph, who has revitalized the sacred steel tradition in the modern era, carrying the style born in The House of God Church more than 80 years ago to mainstream secular success before concert and festival audiences around the world.
The Slide Brothers’ album includes 11 tracks and features some of the most dynamic electric slide guitar playing ever recorded. Inspired by Randolph to finally emerge beyond their respected positions within the sacred steel community, the Slide Brothers tackle rock, funk and even the deepest blues with a ferocity that will startle fans of Duane Allman, Derek Trucks and even Muddy Waters.
The Slide Brothers are Calvin Cooke, Chuck Campbell, Darick Campbell and Aubrey Ghent, each of whom was raised worshiping and performing in The Church of the Living God. They were an ad hoc family, traveling and learning from the other dominions in their communities in cities from Nashville to Chicago to Newark. Calvin Cooke was born into a musical family in Cleveland, Ohio in 1944 and would go on to become known among the ranks of Nashville’s premier country steel guitarists as “the B.B. King of gospel steel guitar.” Cooke is hailed today as the most influential living pedal steel guitar master within the Sacred Steel tradition.
The album opens with a searing interpretation of the Allman Bros classic “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’”. The twin guitar attack by Chuck and Darick Campbell immediately serves notice to the remarkable musicianship honed by years of playing in church and at sacred steel conventions. “Growing up in church, traditional blues music always came off to us as a little bit sloppy,” explains Chuck Campbell. “It was not as precise as Sacred Steel where it is always about mimicking the voices heard in the church. We wanted to play these songs with the same conviction we have in church—playing the steel so that you can almost hear the words as if they were sung by a voice.”
Two songs from the album celebrate the music of Elmore James, the Chicago blues legend who made his mark as a master of the slide guitar technique that would later influence greats like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and, of course Robert Randolph. Randolph also counts The Slide Brothers as a major influence and an inspiration. “I was born with these guys,” explains Randolph. “I look to them the same way I look to blues greats like Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson. Aubrey Ghent and Henry Nelson, Aubrey’s dad, and The Campbell Brothers; they all shaped this Sacred Steel tradition inside the churches but they weren’t allowed to leave the church until now.”
Likewise, Aubrey Ghent has also become a celebrated steel guitarist, preserving the sacred steel tradition and bringing it to a wider audience. Ghent’s unique skills became apparent at a very early age and local churches began inviting him to perform at services starting when he was only nine years old. At twenty he answered God’s call and became known as the “Preaching Deacon,” evangelizing through both word and music. Unlike Robert Randolph and the Family Band who have crossed over by doing more secular music, Ghent has stayed closer to the gospel roots of the tradition.
Chuck Campbell began playing the lap steel guitar at the age of twelve and is renowned for his innovative approach to the instrument, both technically and musically. His brother Darick Campbell first made his mark in music as a drummer, and he 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 direct reflection of the influences that he has blended in becoming the most emotional player of The Campbell Brothers musical tour de force.
Robert Randolph set the music world on fire in 2000 when he began playing his first club dates in New York City before audiences who had, for the most part, never before had any intersection with the sacred steel phenomenon. Randolph started playing the instrument as a church-going teenager in Orange, New Jersey. He was raised in the House of God Church, an African-American Pentecostal denomination that had been implementing steel guitars in services since the ’30s. Randolph’s own group, the Family Band, includes cousins Danyel Morgan, Marcus Randolph and John Ginty. Robert Randolph and the Family Band’s Live at the Wetlands, released in the fall of 2001, vividly captured the band’s live performance and set the stage for Unclassified, the studio debut that followed in 2003, introducing Randolph to an even wider audience. One new fan was veteran guitarist Eric Clapton, who brought the band out on tour and appeared on Robert Randolph’s third release, Colorblind, in 2006. In 2010, Randolph teamed-up with producer T-Bone Burnett and released the album We Walk This Road, which featured guest appearances from Ben Harper, Leon Russell and Doyle Bramhall II. More recently, he unveiled Robert Randolph and the Family Band’s Live in Concert, a long-awaited follow-up for the fans of his acclaimed Live in the Wetlands recording. Today, Robert Randolph finds himself back in the studio and returning to his roots. “By co-producing and presenting the new album from The Slide Brothers, I’m hoping that the story can finally be told,” he explains. “For eighty years this music has been hidden inside the churches and these older guys were not allowed to play anything else. 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.”
The Slide Brothers shift easily between genres, incorporating both traditional gospel repertoire as well as and secular material. To underscore the album’s diversity, a stirring instrumental version of the spiritual classic “Wade in the Water,” is followed by a vibrant and bluesy cover of Fatboy Slim’s 1999 trip hop hit “Praise You” (featuring vocals by blues queen Shemekia Copeland and backing by Robert Randolph & the Family Band). Jimmy Carter of the famed Blind Boys Of Alabama joins Aubrey Ghent to provide lead vocals for “My Sweet Lord.” “It has long been a vision of all of ours to be able to this,” says Chuck Campbell. “Robert was able to pull together the top steel players from different generations. It is truly an honor to be a part of album that brings together so many wonderful people such as [Jimi Hendrix bassist] Billy Cox, Shemekia Copeland, and the Blind Boys Of Alabama. Instead of us meeting at a church convention we were able to get everyone together in a recording studios to play secular songs and religious songs with the same conviction. We feel blessed that we have finally been able to do this.”
The story of The Slide Brothers will finally be told on February 19, when their debut album, 80-years in the making, will be released.
Track Listing for Robert Randolph Presents: The Slide Brothers:
1. Don’t Keep Me Wondering
2. My Sweet Lord
3. Sunday School Blues
4. Wade In The Water
5. Praise You (feat. Shemekia Copeland)
6. It Hurts Me Too
7. Catch That Train
8. Motherless Children
9. Help Me Make It Through
10. The Sky Is Crying
11. No Cheap Seats In Heaven