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The Campbell Brothers
In the late 1930s, as the Hawaiian electric steel guitar was quickly becoming a staple in country music ensembles, the same instrument was gaining popularity in some African-American churches on the Eastern seaboard -- with markedly different results.

In country music, the steel guitar is often used as a backup to the lead guitar; its peculiar singing sound lends a lush underwater feel to simple, twangy melodies. But in the Keith and Jewel Dominions of the Holiness Pentecostal Church, originally founded in Florida in 1903, the steel guitar has been the lead instrument for the past 60 years in place of the traditional gospel organ. It was there that Willie Eason -- now considered the father of gospel steel guitar -- discovered the steel's eerie ability to echo the human voice, perfect for accompanying (and inspiring) the spontaneous outbursts of song typical of dynamic gospel services.

In the hands of modern master Chuck Campbell, the steel has been pushed to ungodly limits -- Campbell has been dubbed the "Eddie Van Halen and B.B. King" of the steel guitar by his mentor, Calvin Cooke, and his use of phase-shifters and fuzz units has turned heads among conservative church clergy. Recent dates at the Berlin Jazz Festival and other blues and roots fests across this country have brought the music exposure outside the church, but as heard on their Arhoolie release Pass Me Not, the Campbell Brothers' sound remains firmly rooted in the "sacred steel" tradition, a rocking, soulful blend of wailing steel and rolling-in-the-aisles gospel. They will appear with special guest Katie Jackson, the gospel singer who appeared on their Arhoolie album.

-- David Cook

The Campbell Brothers with Katie Jackson perform Sunday, May 30, at 8 p.m. at the Great American Music Hall, 859 O'Farrell (at Polk), S.F. Linda Tillery & the Cultural Heritage Choir open. Tickets are $15 in advance, $17 at the door; call 885-0750.

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