Tony Cummings reports on Miami, Florida's masters of lap steel music, THE LEE BOYS
The recent release of the album 'Testify' by The Lee Boys is another milestone in the amazing growth in popularity of sacred steel music. Once the musical choice of worship of the House Of God Church, the music which fuses blues, funk and gospel lyrics driven by dazzling displays on the lap steel guitar has, in the last couple of decades, become a thrilling new musical language heard in clubs and festivals across America. Robert Randolph And The Family Band have led the way in taking the music out of the Church while other acts like the Campbell Brothers and Aubrey Ghent have also connected with audiences who wouldn't be seen dead in a church building.
The Lee Boys, out of Miami, Florida, are another sacred steel act who've played numerous festivals across the US including the New Orleans Jazz And Heritage Festival and the Chicago Blues Festival, attracting major critical acclaim. Typical are the comments published in the Chicago-Sun Times, "The Lee Boys, whose Church Of God-inspired sacred steel music may be what Jimi Hendrix had in mind with his grand plan for 'electric sky church music.' Part Robert Randolph, part Holmes Brothers, the Miami quintet sang the praises while whipping the crowd into a frenzy with hypnotic grooves, innovative pedal-steel/lead guitar interplay and funky rhythms."
The Lee Boys consist of brothers Alvin Lee (guitar), Derrick Lee and Keith Lee (vocals) who lead the family band, along with their nephews Roosevelt Collier (pedal steel guitar), Alvin Cordy Jr (7-string bass) and Earl Walker (drums). Commented Alvin, "When we first started out we didn't think we would be travelling the world. We are still today doing this for the love of music and following our dream, which is to touch people with our music." The band has gone from a small town church to playing for crowds as large as 250, 000 people. Unlike Robert Randolph, The Lee Boys don't include any secular material in their set. Said Alvin Lee, "It has been my dream for years to reach a larger audience with the Gospel message, and I feel like 'Testify' will be the best way to do it." Explaining the excited audience response to The Lee Boys' music Alvin said, "The inspiration and feeling that comes along with our music is the reason that people feel good. It is like the new music on the block, and it's just getting ready to explode."
Alvin Lee created The Lee Boys in 2000 following the death of his father and brother. In 2002 the band recorded their first album 'It Is No Secret'. Another album followed in 2005, 'Say Yes', and in 2009 the group were featured on a video, 'Live At Bonnaroo'. It was this year when a big fan of the band, Warren Haynes - renowned guitarist with The Allman Brothers and founder of the blues jam outfit Gov't Mule - asked if he could sit in on a couple of tracks for their latest album, that the emerging release came out on Haynes' own Evil Teen Records. Commented Alvin Lee about Haynes' involvement, "It's a true blessing. He's been a real trooper man for The Lee Boys. We had played with [Gov't Mule] before and they're so awesome."
The band are now out on the road promoting 'Testify'. Alvin told tristateindie.com, "We spend half the year with each other on the road and half the year with family. We do miss it [home], but when we get back we miss the road. Being family is what's made us stay together. Our friends and family are a true blessing. It's being in it for the love of music and all of us are still here and alive and that's the most important part of it all."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.