Gospel Music on the Steel Guitar

Hello fellow players,

Bob Hempker sitting in for Bobbe Seymour again.

Gospel music has many different sub-categories. For example, Contemporary Christian, Negro Spirituals, Protestant Hymns, Catholic Chants as well as most Christmas Carols are Gospel based.

Many famous singers had Gospel roots, for example Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin spring immediately to mind. Donna Summer had Gospel roots and she returned to Gospel after her disco career.

James Brown and Billy Preston both started in Gospel. I saw Billy Preston in concert in Reno, Nevada in the 80′s and I was astonished at how great a Hammond B3 organ player he was.

It’s difficult to brand any type of religious music because of the variety and the diverse artists that perform it. We are now seeing more and more steel guitar being used performing Gospel music. Steel guitar is highly featured in Gospel music the way it was in country music twenty or thirty years ago.

There are some steel guitar players who make a good living playing on Gospel recordings especially because so much Gospel music is recorded in Nashville. For example, well-known steel player Sonny Garrish can be heard playing on The Hinson’s recordings which has a country flair. Scott Sanders, a little known player can also be heard on a lot modern of Gospel recordings.

I recommend that you listen to Sonny Garrish on The Hinson’s recordings because not only is it great steel playing but it’s also something you can from. Sonny always plays the right thing at the right spot and is a very well rounded player. Sonny can play as hot as he wants or as sweet and slow as he wants.

Gospel music can be very soothing or very invigorating. The modal scales that we use out of the major scale that we use in all kinds of music were originally created in the middle ages for Catholic Church music. Much of classical music came out of the Catholic music. Jazz came out of classical which has influenced practically every other style of music.

Getting back to steel guitar, a young man named Robert Randolph comes to mind. Bobbe Seymour introduced me to Robert and his father about twenty five years ago. They came in Bobbe’s store when Robert was a young lad learning to play.

Robert is also known as a Rhythm & Blues player. Whatever the case, he is very entertaining to watch and listen to play. He has a totally different approach to playing steel guitar than anyone else. It is refreshing to hear a young person using steel guitar is this particular music genre.

Whether you want to play Gospel music professionally, you just want to play in church or at home for your own amusement and pleasure, the steel guitar can provide a wonderful expression of this music.

Albert E. Brumley Jr. has written hundreds of Protestant hymns such as “I’ll Fly Away”, “Turn Your Radio On”, “If We Ever Meet Again This Side Of Heaven”. Mr. Brumley’s son, Tom Brumley is one of my all-time favorite steel players. Tom was a wonderful gentleman and a dear friend. It was a great loss to steel guitar when we lost him a few years ago. I guess we could say Tom Brumley came out of Gospel music. You can hear the Gospel influence especially in Tom’s playing of ballads.

During the fifteen years I was in Branson, I worked a few Gospel shows and I’ve always enjoyed myself playing those shows because the music is either pretty or happy or both and lends itself wonderfully to a steel guitar. Anything that you play in any other type of music can be incorporated into your Gospel playing.

We have many people come into the store wanting to learn to play steel guitar because they heard somebody play in church and it impressed them by how our beautiful instrument sounds. Playing Gospel music in church is an excellent outlet for your music if you’re not one to go play in bars, nightclubs and such.

Sit down at your guitar and start playing “Amazing Grace”, “The Old Rugged Cross” or any standard hymn and see where that takes you. You’ll find yourself coming up with all sorts of ideas. These songs just lend themselves so well to steel guitar that they’re one of the coolest things to practice on.

Any time spent practicing Gospel music is time well spent because as I said earlier, all forms of modern Western civilization music evolved from the church music of the middle ages.

I would recommend listening to Bobbe’s “At The Feet Of God” CD to hear how beautiful and uplifting Gospel music can be at the hands of a master player. It will give you something to aspire to.

I just finished watching Bobbe’s Gospel DVD. It really touches on many basic all-around steel guitar techniques. This DVD is very useful no matter what style of music you want to play. He really explains right hand technique, left hand technique, volume pedal technique, tuning, the ins and outs of playing in a band.

It’s an excellent choice for those trying to further develop their steel guitar skills as are all of Bobbe’s DVDs on his website www.steelguitar.net/videos.html and I’m not saying that just because I work with Bobbe.

Check out our monthly specials at www.steelguitar.net/monthlyspecials.html and we’ll try to save you a lot of money.
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5 Responses to Gospel Music on the Steel Guitar

  1. Bobby Lee says:

    Good post, Bob. I also have four gospel songs available for free download at my Bandcamp site: http://b0blee.bandcamp.com/album/the-grace-of-god

    I double tracked to get the effect of an organ, where one hand plays the chords and the other plays the melody. Gospel music takes many forms, but it seems that the steel guitar always sounds like it belongs there.

  2. CD Walker says:

    Steel guitar noise in gospel music is an abomination! It makes gospel music sound like bar room music. All you need is liquor, and plenty of cigarette smoke and any drunk whoremonger will fell at home in these churches. The only thing I ever heard a sample of that is worse is so called christian rap. Radio stations that play this junk get turned off by me. Now laugh at me !

  3. B says:

    CD, you might want to consider playing a different CD. If you don’t like steel guitar in gospel music, my advice would be to not listen to it, and listen to something else. Some people do like to hear steel guitar in gospel music. Gospel steel guitar CD’s sell extremely well, so you may be in a minority. That is okay, too. We all like and dislike different things. If I don’t like certain music, I just plain don’t listen to it, and let the people who like it get their fill.

  4. Bob Hempker says:

    Bobby, nice job. I think anyone who loves sacred music would have to love that. Brilliant work!

  5. Bobby Lee says:

    I think CD Walker is a troll.

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