This year’s edition of the North Atlantic Blues Festival, in Rockland, is fast approaching and with it comes a diverse collection of acts performing. One such group is The Lee Boys from Miami, Fla., and it’s made up of three brothers (Alvin on guitar and backing vocals; and Derrick and Keith on lead and backing vocals) and their three nephews (Roosevelt Collier on pedal steel; Alvin Cordy Jr. on seven-string bass, lead and backing vocals; and Earl Walker on drums). Each member began making music at the ages of 7 and 9 in the House of God Church they attended in Perrine, Fla., where they underwent a rigorous course of training in a variety of musical instruments, including lap and pedal steel guitars. The band is touring in support of their “Testify” CD and to that end, a phoner was arranged with Alvin Lee.
Q: When I got a copy of “Testify” to help prepare for this interview I was looking at the songs — like “Going To Glory,” “Sinnerman,” “Testify” and “Praise You” — and thinking, “Okay, this is a blues festival!” Then I put the album in the player and after about 20 seconds or so I understood why you were performing at the North Atlantic Blues Festival.
Lee: Yeah, our music definitely includes the blues style … it’s rooted in Gospel but has rhythm and blues, jazz, rock, funk and hip-hop elements there, too.
Q: As I was reading the bio sheet, the phrase “sacred steel” came up — it’s the first time in my 44 years of doing this that I had ever heard of that specific genre of music.
Lee: Well, that term came from Robert Stone (a folklorist) who came to our church and documented some of our stuff. He was the one who pushed that term to the forefront in the early ’90s. The “sacred” came from the fact that we played in a church and the “steel,” of course, is the steel guitar that we play. It’s the focal instrument of the music, so that’s where the term came from — our church background and the pedal steel guitar.
Q: The other aspect of your music is the close sibling harmonies that are prevalent throughout the whole album. There’s a lot of testifying happening on this CD.
Lee: Well, thank you. We try to make the music that comes out fresh but we’re not necessarily really preaching with our music. It came out of the church but it’s more than gospel, there’s a “making people feel good” groove that we want to reach everybody in the world no matter what type of religious beliefs that they have. I mean, music can join a lot of voices together and that’s what we want to do with our music: transform the people who hear it.
Q: One of my favorite tracks on “Testify” is “Wade In The Water,” that was a total delight.
Lee: Thank you! We’ve been doing that song for a while now … we’ll do that one up there, too, as well.
Q: Is what’s on your latest album pretty true to what your live show is like?
Lee: Oh, yes … very much so.
Q: Have you played a lot in Maine in the past?
Lee: Not often, but we have played a couple of times, like at the Lobster Festival up there.
Q: Have you ever done the North Atlantic Blues Festival?
Lee: No, I don’t think we have — this will be our first time.
Q: Well, it will look very familiar to you in that it’s at the same site as the Lobster Festival — right there in Rockland on the waterfront. You are going to have a great time there!
Lee: Well, we can’t wait — that sounds awesome.
Q: Seeing this is your first-ever show at the Festival, is there anything you’d like to pass on to the folks reading this article?
Lee: Just that this is definitely feel-good music and they can try to sit down if they can but we should have them jumping and feeling good and just having a good time. We’re just very excited about coming and bringing sacred steel up there!
Lucky Clark has spent over four decades writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] (please note new address!!) if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.