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DaShawn Hickman Sacred Steel ft. Charlie Hunter
Blues-gospel meets bluegrass and Americana with pedal steel ft. Charlie Hunter on bass
“Pedal steel is the main instrument in the church I grew up in,” says DaShawn Hickman. “Where most churches have organs that lead their services, ours are led by pedal steel.”
One of the foremost contemporary practitioners of Sacred Steel, a blues-gospel tradition dating back to the Pentecostal-Holiness churches of the 1930s, Hickman grew up not only hearing the pedal steel in the tiny House of God church his family attended in Mt. Airy, North Carolina, but also listening to his mother play lap steel in their home.
Hickman picked up the instrument at the age of 5, when his mother put it down to concentrate on ministering, and by the age of 12 his local reputation as a pedal steel player was such that he was regularly asked to play at other area churches.
Now, Hickman puts his own spin on the Sacred Steel tradition with a beautiful, funky and supremely uplifting new seven-song album.
Produced by Charlie Hunter (who also plays bass on the recordings), and featuring the soulful vocals of Hickman’s wife Wendy on several tracks, the forthcoming album shines a welcome spotlight on Hickman’s pedal steel brilliance, allowing the instrument’s considerable sonic and emotional range to be experienced in full.
“Sacred Steel can be so bombastic, with heavy gospel-y drums and lots of other loud instruments, that you lose a lot of the beauty of the pedal steel,” Hunter explains. “It’s kind of like with vibes—when you hear people playing vibes alone, it’s astonishing how it just takes over; but the second the band starts playing, you lose so much of it. So I wanted this record to be really about the steel guitar having that entire area to itself.”
Though the musicians had only played one gig together prior to entering the studio, the sessions went smoothly, thanks in part to engineer Benjy Johnson’s understanding of how to record Hickman’s pedal steel so as to fully do it justice.
Though it began as an experiment, Hickman says he sees the new record as an indicator of where he’s now heading musically. “Maybe I’ll be incorporating some other things into it, but this is definitely a direction that I plan on going. I feel like it’s more roots music; it really takes it back, especially with the African drums. You can’t get any closer to your roots than African drums,” he laughs.
“What we’re doing can be labeled many things; it doesn’t have to just be gospel. My wife and I both grew up playing and singing in the church, but since we’ve been doing this now together for about the past three years, we’ve got into the bluegrass side of things and the Americana side of things, as well…
“We just want to spread love and joy to people,” he continues. “That’s our mission, me and my wife both. We love what we do, and we just want to take it out and let other people experience it, and be heard in the right manner.”
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