Words by: Rich Lieberman | Images by: Dino Perrucci
The Lee Boys :: 06.05.08 :: Sullivan Hall :: New York, NY
If you're a live music junkie in New York City and the stars and the moons align just right, you often get lucky and witness some of the very finest impromptu collaborations today's music scene has to offer. Sullivan Hall in Greenwich Village recently played host to such an event. It was reminiscent of the old days when jams of epic proportions were commonplace at Wetlands Preserve or Nightingales any night of the week. Musicians strive to feel the soul of the music in their bones as the groove steers itself to unpredictable places. In a hot, tiny downtown club with a little help from their high-powered friends, The Lee Boys pushed the PA system just about as hard as it would go.
The Lee Boys with Marco Benevento :: 06.05 :: NYC
The Lee Boys are a family affair that groove in lockstep together. They lay down a brand of music dubbed "Sacred Steel." Hailing from the House of God church in Perrine, Florida they consist of three brothers - Alvin Lee (guitar), Derrick Lee and Keith Lee (vocals) - with their three nephews, Roosevelt Collier (pedal steel guitar), Lil' Al Cordy Jr. (seven-string bass) and Earl Walker (drums). Alvin formed The Lee Boys with late brother Glen at around seven years old.
"When Glen died it threw me for a loop, and that inspired me to take this music out of the four walls of the church, share it with the world and spread it all over," says Big Alvin. "Our music is all about uplifting, feeling good and making people feel better about themselves."
Sacred Steel is feel good gospel music with a kick. If you don't feel inspired and uplifted by a Lee Boys jam sermon you better get your vitals taken. And if you were in attendance on this special night in NYC you no doubt awoke the next day with a big smile and a happy heart after sharing in a truly special musical experience.
Roosevelt Collier & Warren Haynes :: 06.05 :: NYC
The show was billed as "The Lee Boys featuring Marco Benevento." The four core Lee Boys and Benevento took the stage for a short opening set. Three tight extended jams and 45 minutes later, the crowd was sufficiently warmed up. Due to the economics of the road, The Lee Boys' vocalists didn't make this particular trip. Roosevelt Collier, as always, shined as his pedal steel sang "Joyful Sounds," a Robert Randolph favorite written by the late Glen Lee.
It had been whispered around town for a few days that Warren Haynes would make an appearance. As a NYC resident, Haynes will often grab a cab to a small club to support the music he digs. Often he'll sit in and graciously lend his guitar licks to the mix. As we sat in The Lee Boys' dressing room after the first set, in walks Warren Haynes, Eric Krasno (Soulive, Lettuce) and DJ Logic. After hugs all around, Big Al and Haynes huddled to discus the setlist, and it was clear Haynes would play the entire second set with the band.
As the boys took the small stage, the crowd realized the rumors were true and became instantly electrified. Benevento, as he put it himself, "added a little Brooklyn to the mix," and hammered the keyboards hard. The Lee Boys, clearly as ecstatic as the crowd, created a smooth, bluesy Sacred Steel pocket the others musicians could roam around in. The electricity from the stage met the crowd's excitement and the result was musical bliss. Big Al handed over his Strat to Krasno and picked up a cowbell. Haynes and Kraz took it to another level with blistering axe interplay. They went from a sweet, B.B. King inspired blues feel to a rollicking version of Solomon Burke's "Everybody Needs Someone to Love." The solo breaks by all were fantastic, each musician feeding off the others. These seasoned players know when to hang back and feel the direction of the jam, until adrenaline takes over and they throw it into high gear. The entire set was fun and loose.
Kraz, Collier, Alvin Lee, Haynes :: 06.05 :: NYC
"Wow, after that I don't know what to do with myself!" laughed Alvin Lee.
The Lee Boys are currently hard at work in the studio recording a new album, which will also feature some great guest appearances. During Jazz Fest in NOLA this year they broke a record by performing seven gigs in four days. Three of those gigs at the Fairgrounds! They will perform on the big stage at Bonnaroo and you can probably catch them this summer at a festival near you.
"Our mission is to touch people through our music," says Alvin Lee. "If we can touch just one person through our music our job is done."
Judging from the looks of the crowd after the show, it's safe to say... job well done!
Opening the show was fantastic New Jersey jam band BuzzUniverse. Just off a sweet appearance on the Mountain Jam main stage last weekend they warmed up the crowd with their cool, danceable grooves.
The Lee Boys play Friday night, June 13 at The Social in Orlando, Florida before performing at Bonnaroo this Sunday. Complete Lee Boys tour dates available here...
Check out the Warren Haynes interview on JamBaseTV here...
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