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from Volume 24 , Issue 8

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The 1997 Gospel Steel Guitar Show

Fred Layman

Two players who probably provided the most excitement for the audience in their playing over the weekend appeared back-to-back in the middle of Friday evening. David Spires, formerly from Zanesville, Ohio and more recently from Nashville, is well known from his appearances at the St. Louis convention and on several regional shows. He and his dad Chuck, himself a formidable professional musician and lead guitarist, make up an awesome duo when they team up together. David plays with great feeling, whether it is on a slow hymn or a lightning-speed gospel number. His years of dedication to his instrument and the tutelage of his father are evident in his highly perfected musicianship.

When you hear Albert Svendal play, you ask yourself, "Where has this guy been and why haven't we heard of him before?" Albert appeared on the show for the first time last year and inspired the audience with his dedication to gospel music and his Christian witness. Beside being an excellent musician, he is also an entertaining showman. He insists that the Christian faith is about joy, that ought to characterize the lives of Christians, not down-in-the-mouth negativism. One of the more entertaining parts of his segment was a series of humorous sound effects on the steel guitar. Did you ever hear a steel guitar sound like Caribbean steel drums? Albert does it with a drinking straw from McDonalds, woven in and out of his strings.

Rounding out the Friday evening program was Kenny Rollans from Little Rock, Leonard T. Zinn from Michigan, and Rob Parker from western Kentucky. Kenny not only builds one of the best steel guitar eats on the market; he also presents good renditions of standard hymns and southern gospel songs. Leonard has longtime credentials as a professional musician, both on steel and rhythm guitar, and plays gospel music with his characteristic smoothness. Having him in the band as staff rhythm guitarist helped make everyone sound good. Rob Parker is also well known to folks who attend the St. Louis and other regional shows as a vocalist. But he is also an able steel guitarist and often accompanies his vocals with his own steel backup.

The Saturday morning show opened with Jack Hamlett, a young player who turned in a good set playing on a vintage Bigsby steel, on legs but with no pedals. This young fellow has good natural talent and improves each year. Albert Svenddal came on next for a second set. It was my unfortunate fate to follow him. The previous evening when he was following David Spires, he insisted that no steel player is better than another one-they just play differently.

David Spires

It fell my lot to shake his faith in that belief. The highlight of my set was getting to backup Rob McKeithen, the bass player, in a song recorded by Doug Oldham, Thanks to Calvary.

Harold Flynn from Knoxville was next on the show. Harold played steel with his own gospel group for several years, traveling in the southeastern states, so gospel music has long been important for him, and his commitment shows through as he plays. Clyde Coffey from Louisville followed Harold. Clyde, like Jack Heern, prefers the C6th tuning and he knows his way around on it. Clyde, Jack and Bob Strum added variety to the show with their gospel renditions played on the 6th tuning. Joe Adams closed the morning portion of the show. Joe is just a great musician and a joy to hear. He plays professionally in the southern Ohio area and teaches steel there. He's also active in the band at his church. Joe's set let us end the morning with an upbeat.

Following the lunch break there was a spot on the program titled "Spiritual Jam" No names of players were listed. This was to be the surprise portion of the show. When we returned from lunch, four steels were set up across the stage and Doug Jernigan, Jack heern, Leonard Zinn, and Albert Svenddal sat down to their steels. We were then treated to a solid hour of splendid gospel music as each of these players took a verse and a chorus of a selected song and played variations in his own style. This had to be the highlight of the weekend!

Barney Miller from Atlanta came on in the middle of Saturday afternoon. Barney often backs up Billy Walker when he appears in the Atlanta area. Barney is no stranger to gospel music. His set was done well and he was well received by the audience.

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