Grant Alden’s Field Notes: A Sacred Steel primer
This may all be silly, this gratuitous half-assed self-promotion, but I feel occasionally the need to explain my long absences from this space, and the airing of my once-a-month hour of radio this Friday on WMKY at 7 pm EST (long sigh) provides such an occasion.
Predictably, for the dozen or so folks who took note of my review of Robert L. Stone’s book on Sacred Steel guitar, that music is the subject of this month’s broadcast.
There is less connection between those two thoughts than one might guess; it has to do with the unpacking of CDs. Which is taking forever, in part because I’m dumping songs into iTunes for various real and imaginary radio shows as I go along, and in part because I have less space than I’ve had before and am trying desperately to prune the madness into the cabinets I still have. Which isn’t going to work, but I’ve finally gotten to M, and even that has taken forever.
Inevitable digression: The hardest part is the music of people I once knew slightly and formed opinions of. There’s a Greg Trooper ad next to where I’m typing just now. Greg served on the AMA board early on, he was friends with Steve Wilkison who was one of the AMA founders, and is somebody whose company I’ve enjoyed hither and yon. But do I keep every one of his CDs, when I get to the Ts? I don’t know. By then I’ll be out of room, perhaps (probably), and some other game will be afoot.
A second inevitable digression because I was going to write this as a blog and see no immediate time to do so without losing the notion entirely. The car I mostly drive because the truck gets worse gas mileage has a cassette deck. One of the boxes I opened early on had cassettes in it, including the annual compilation tapes I’ve made off and on for a couple decades. More off than on, though it got easier when CDs and iTunes came in and for a time I made color covers and punished friends with them. No time even for that and the color printer died. Anyway, I’ve gone back and listened to 1989 and 1992, which are quite different, but both reflect my time and place in Seattle. In 1989 I wasn’t yet a music critic, just a typesetter at The Rocket and maybe I’d gone back to writing some by then. I snuck Mudhoney’s first 45 onto the end of side one, “Touch Me, I’m Sick,” but the rest of it is pretty much classic rock, with the exception of a nice set of segues between Marvin Gaye, Young Jesse, The Sheppards, and Junior Walker. Ending with Sweet Honey in the Rock. A reminder that I need to track that Sheppards disc down, and Junior Walker, for that matter. Like I have a place to put any new music around here. But I digress within my digression. Two thoughts I stumble toward, and it’s not even beer o’clock here: First thought is that the one hint of the music I would spend most of two decades listening to and writing about on the 1992 tape is Courtney And Western’s single, “Hands Off,” which to this day I think quite splendid. Not counting the Monkeywrench’s “Bottle Up & Go.” Second thought…as I was musing over this in public, the art kid who works for us who wears a mohawk proudly showing off her gray hair, she said she only listens to vinyl and free downloads but had finally looked on eBay and had begun buying cassette tapes of her favorite punk bands for ten cents.
Back to the original thread, and then off to the refrigerator, then.
Arhoolie has put out most of the Sacred Steel worth listening to. I haven’t unpacked to Robert Randolph yet, nor to the Medeski-Randolph disc The Word, which I may or may not still have. But I had all the Sacred Steel discs in one place, and so it made for an easy show. I could probably have done it off a compilation Medeski put together for Rope-A-Dope, but I didn’t.
I opened with a needle drop on Spade Cooley’s “Steel Guitar Rag,” and, yes, I know he’s a fiddle player, but it was handy.
The Campbell Brothers with Kate Jackson, “God Is A Good God”
Willie Eason, “Why I Like Roosevelt.” Not his original from 1948, which I haven’t found yet, but the one recorded toward the end of his days.
Calvin Cooke’s “Have You Tried Jesus,” live from the first Sacred Steel convention
Ted Beard’s “The Train”
Sonny Treadway’s “Amazing Grace”
Lonnie “Big Ben” Bennett’s “See What the End Gonna Be,” with its Toe Jam Football intro…
Aubrey Ghent, “Praise Music”
Robert Randolph, “I Feel Like Pressing My Way”
The Lee Boys, and I switched things here but I think it was “Call Him By His Name”
Elwood Haygood with the Campbell Brothers, “Sit Down If You Can.”
And I thought I snuck a Glenn Lee track in, because I surely meant to, but…tune in and find out what I really did. Or didn’t do.