The Campbell Brothers are the grand masters of sacred steel, a vital yet little-known African-American gospel tradition built around the pedal steel guitar. At 8 p.m. Feb. 15 in Edison Theatre, the Campbell Brothers will join forces with the Louisiana Blues Throwdown for “Sacred Funk,” a special one-night-only concert of sacred steel gospel and New Orleans-style funk and soul.
In addition, at 11 a.m. Feb. 16 the Campbell Brothers will present an all-ages matinee as part of the ovations! for young people series.
The steel guitar was developed in Hawaii around 1900 and popularized by Hawaiian groups at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. Built from solid wood — a type of construction not commercially adapted to Spanish-style guitars until the 1950s — the steel guitar is designed to be played horizontally using a sliding steel bar. Variations of the instrument include the lap steel guitar and pedal steel guitar.
Sacred steel music first emerged in the 1930s at the Pentecostal House of God Keith Dominion Church, where it has been an integral part of worship for more than 60 years. Charles “Chuck” T. Campbell — whose father was a bishop in the church — began playing lap steel guitar at age 12 and, at 17, became one of the first players in the church to utilize pedal steel guitar.
Today, Chuck Campbell is recognized as a great innovator and teacher, celebrated for his picking techniques and for his use of distortion and “wah” pedaling, which enable him to uncannily emulate the human voice and evoke images of gospel moaning and field singing. In 2004, Chuck received a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship — the nation’s highest honor for traditional artists.
In addition to Chuck, the Campbell Brothers feature Darick Campbell on lap steel guitar; Phil Campbell on electric guitar; and Phil’s son, Carlton Campbell, on drums. Rounding out the band, which has been playing together for nearly two decades, are bassist Malcolm Kirby and gospel vocalists Denise Brown (a cousin) and Katie Jackson.
Since the mid-1990s, the Campbell Brothers — the first Sacred Steel group to tour extensively — have released a string of acclaimed studio albums, including “Pass Me Not: Sacred Steel Guitars” (1997), “Sacred Steel On Tour!” (2001), “Sacred Steel for the Holidays” (2001) and “Can You Feel It?” (2005). They’ve also released two instructional albums and are featured on the DVD “Sacred Steel: The Steel Guitar Tradition of the House of God Churches.”
Louisiana Blues Throwdown began as a series of “all-star” concerts produced and directed by New Orleans-based guitarist Marc Stone, a radio disc jockey and music journalist who began playing blues clubs at age 17.
The Throwdown’s traveling incarnation, launched last year, features Stone and a group of rising talents along with veterans Vasti Jackson, a Mississippi-born bluesman whose work has been featured in numerous films, including Martin Scorcese’s “The Blues” series; and soul powerhouse Mathilda Jones, a Louisiana native who got her start in high school backing a young Al Green.
Louisiana Blues Throwdown has appeared at clubs and festivals across the South. In 2006, Stone produced “A Change Is Gonna Come,” a benefit concert for the New Orleans Musician’s Clinic. That show featured many of the city’s finest players as well as the group’s first collaboration with the Campbell Brothers — a collaboration that directly resulted in the “Sacred Funk” tour.
Tickets for the Feb. 15 concert presented by the Edison Theatre OVATIONS! Series are $30; $25 for seniors, faculty and staff; and $18 for students and children.
Tickets for the Feb. 16 childrens’ matinee are $8. Tickets are available at the Edison Theatre Box Office and through all MetroTix outlets. For more information, call 935-6543 or e-mail Edison@wustl.edu.