The Lee Boys – guitarist Alvin Lee, steel guitarist Roosevelt Collier, bassist Alvin Cordy Jr. and drummer Earl Walker -- brought their version of "sacred steel" to Sullivan Hall Thursday for a blistering two-hour set of guitar stringbending and rhythmic undulation.
The first half of the set consisted of a fierce jam on two Stevie Wonder tunes -- "Sir Duke" and "Superstition." The vocal mikes were not working properly so the band just wailed away, playing chorus and after chorus of mindblowing guitar licks. Collier was filthy good, and Alvin played hellacious rhythm patterns and accents behind him as the bass and drums slammed out a doubletime backbeat.
Midway through the set a posse of young women right out of a Sex In the City casting call rolled into the club and began dancing madly to the obvious delight of the band. Eric Krasno joined in on lead guitar, playing fiery lines over the band's seemingly endless vamps. The crowd danced on ecstatically. After a rousing jam on "I Can't Turn You Loose" Krasno split and the band finished up with "When the Saints Go Marching In."
Though their music was born in the House of God church in Perrine, Florida, the Lee Boys sound has become a sensation with a secular audience that responds to its happy foot groove and virtuoso guitar technique.
The style was a well-kept secret until only ten years ago, when Arhoolie Records released live recordings from church services made by folklorist Robert Stone. Stone introduced several outstanding players, including Lee Boys co-founder Glenn Lee. The church soon produced its first star, Robert Randolph, who shot to the top of the jam band circuit. The Campbell Brothers emerged in Randolph's wake with a fully-realized funk rock sound that could take the paint off walls.
Much has been made of the church attempting to force the sacred steel players to choose between keeping the music in church and playing for secular audiences, but the Lee Boys were encouraged by their father, Rev. Robert E. Lee, to broaden their horizons.
“He let us take music lessons and learn other music,” says Alvin. “We were always the rebels when we first started out, playing Stevie Wonder and Earth Wind and Fire songs during the church services.”
When both Robert E. and Glenn Lee died in 2000 Alvin made the decision to bring the
Lee Boys to the outside world.
“After my father and brother died I went to the Campbell Brothers and Robert Randolph and asked them for advice,” Alvin explains. “They said ‘You got to take it outside the four walls’.”
In 2002 the Lee Boys began touring and quickly translated the excitement of their church performances to the concert stage.
“We’re not preachers,” Alvin reasons. “Our job is to touch people through the music. It’s about the music, it’s not about the religion part of it.”