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Wednesday, June 11, 2008 03:39 pm

Sacred steel

The storied Lee Boys play Marly’s on Wednesday

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The Lee Boys play a free show on Wednesday, June 18, at Marly’s Pub.

This e-mail appeared this week in my inbox among the typical calendar items, right between a chicken fry and a book sale: “The Lee Boys will be playing Marly’s, June 18th for free. Check them out on MySpace.”
Holy cow! The Lee Boys are an awesome nationally known sacred steel band, hitting many big, cool festivals this year. I verified the booking on the Boys’ Web site, then replied to the e-mail, looking for more information. The Lee Boys, hailing from Miami, belong to the House of God Church, a place of Christian worship known for its peculiar attachment to the pedal steel guitar. Strange as it sounds, a couple of churchgoers introduced a lap steel guitar into the praise service back in the 1930s, and the congregants took a liking to the wail of the steel-stringed slide guitar. The term “sacred steel” became associated with the church-based sound to differentiate between the usual use of the instrument on country-music standards and Western-swing dance numbers. By the 1970s the pedal steel had become the dominant instrument, and by the 1990s the sound had finally leaked into the secular world. Robert Randolph and the Family Band is likely the best known group beyond the church’s walls today, touring and performing with such renowned acts as Eric Clapton, Dave Matthews, and the North Mississippi Allstars. The Lee Boys are direct descendants of this electrifying gospel genre, having been taught to play by relatives within the church, including the father and grandfather of some of the Boys, plus uncles and others from the extended family circle. The band consists of three brothers and three nephews playing guitar, bass, drums, and singing, with the mandatory pedal steel included in the package. The Boys incorporate some jazz, country, hip-hop, and funk into their music, but I would put it in the category of high-energy blues, which is what a lot of gospel is. Whatever venue the guys play, they bring the church attitude along, creating an atmosphere similar to that of a revival meeting. The fervor of faith combines with the excitement of entertainment to make listeners believers for the time spent under the spell of this incredible music energy. The list of places played by the Lee Boys is impressive: the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, the Austin City Limits Music Festival, the American MusicFest, the Philadelphia Folk Festival, and on and on. The world-class band will be playing Marly’s next week for free just a few days after raising the roof down in Tennessee at Bonnaroo, one of the country’s premiere music festivals. Send a special thank-you to Caylan Hill of Crazyleggz Productions for suggesting the booking, to Marly’s for picking it up, and to the Station for graciously giving up time from their weekly Wednesday gig to host the Lee Boys.

This Wednesday, June 18, the Station hits the stage at 10 p.m., followed by the Lee Boys at 11 p.m., at Marly’s Pub (9 W. Old State Capitol Plaza, 217-522-2280).
Contact Tom Irwin at tirwin@illinoistimes.com.
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