Country music gets a bad rap, and it’s mostly the fault of goody two-shoes like Keith Urban and Garth Brooks. I mean, back in the day, country was full of bad boys (and if you’ve never read George Jones’s memoir, I Lived to Tell It All, you really should—that man was an animal!). Seattle’s Country Lips sound and play more like classic country’s raucous and rowdy boys—and their live shows are becoming legendarily wild. It’s hard to stand still when eight-plus members are bringin’ the foot-stompers. Country Lips are putting the party back in the original party music. Somebody had to do it. It’s not always about tears falling in your beer.
Many, many years before the likes of Kenny Chesney, Brad Paisley, and Blake Shelton donned 10-gallon hats and began crooning about blue jeans and cheesy romance, country was the genre of choice for drunkards, rebels, and rockers. Seattle’s own Country Lips pay homage to that proud tradition, cranking out debauched ballads with slurred-speech choruses that would make Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard proud. The eight-piece band has a reputation for rowdiness (as should any roots country revivalists worth their weight in Jack Daniels)…
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.
Robert Randolph has become the most successful artist to emerge from the Sacred Steel tradition. Randolph was trained as a pedal steel guitarist in the House of God Church and his dynamic use of the instrument has earned him international acclaim. Randolph’s mission is to share the extraordinary talents of these legendary masters with audiences throughout the world. Together with Co-Producer John McDermott, Randolph has readied the group’s debut album for release by Concord Records later this year.
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.]]>
The muddy Willamette River that runs through Portland, Oregon, may not be as famous as the mighty Mississippi, but it forms theborder of a new form of American roots music, informed both by the traditions of the American South and the rainy woods of the Northwest. Portland bluegrass band Jackstraw has been the flagship of this movement since they formed in 1997. They know their bluegrass history and don’t hesitate to pay homage to their heroes, like the Stanley Brothers, but this ain’t your standard bluegrass band. These boys have a cutting edge take on bluegrass picking that they’ve developed over years of touring the United States and their original songs can sound as much country as oldtime. This is bluegrass that belongs in a dusty honky-tonk, country twang as rooted in Bill Monroe as George Jones, an old-timey sound for a new age.
Jackstraw formed in 1997 when rhythm guitarist Darrin Craig and lead player Jon Neufeld met mandolin picker David Pugh and bassist Jesse Withers at Artichoke Music, a Portland guitar store. Six records and 14 years later, the band has toured throughout the United States, playing roadhouses, clubs, listening rooms and festivals. Along the way, they’ve shared bills with bluegrass greats such as Del McCoury and Tim O’Brien and welcomed legends like Danny Barnes and Tony Furtado as temporary band mates. The band’s devoted following includes bluegrass purists, altcountry fans, kids looking to dance, and people who know a good tune when they hear one. Jackstraw has developed a reputation over the years for their impeccable musicianship and hard-driving original songs.
In addition to their work in Jackstraw, each band member is also an in-demand member of the flourishing Portland music scene. Guitarist Jon Neufeld plays with Black Prairie, the Decemberists’ acoustic side-project and alt country sensation Dolorean, and Darrin Craig, Jesse Withers and David Pugh all play with their own highly regarded outfits. Most recently, Jackstraw brought on local star banjo player Cory Goldman (Water Tower Bucket Boys). The addition of Goldman’s blazing-hot, funky banjo lines has added even more depth to the band. With the release of their latest album, Sunday Never Comes in early 2012, the praise has been rolling in for their new sound, and Jackstraw has been playing major festivals and touring across the country.
Before Portland was on the map as the roots music capitol of America, Jackstraw was there, building the foundation of this community with their hard-worn picking and lonesome harmonies.