If you go
What: Nashville instrumental band Steelism
Where: Sign of the Wagon, 154 E. Philadelphia St., York
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 1. Doors open at 7 p.m.
Tickets: A minimum donation of $10. Buying in advance is recommended.
Details: To purchase tickets, visit http://bit.ly/1EwX9CL . For more information, visit the Sing of the Wagon's Facebook page. The show is BYOB.
Spencer Cullum first heard pedal steel on a Rolling Stones record, the country inflected tune "Torn and Frayed" from the classic "Exile on Main St."
It was a revelation.
"I thought, 'What on earth is that sound?'" Cullum said in a recent phone interview while waiting for a train in his adopted hometown of Nashville.
Pedal steel wasn't popular in his native land, the United Kingdom. In fact, he said, you probably could have counted all of the pedal steel players in England on one hand and still had fingers left over. For instance, the steel player on that Stones record was Al Perkins, a Texan.
Cullum was enamored with the high, lonesome sound of the steel. He picked up an inexpensive pedal steel and had at it, eventually looking up British steel player B.J. Cole for guidance and lessons. Cole was one of the top pedal steelers in Britian, playing on Elton John's "Tiny Dancer" and with just about every British artist looking to season a track with some pedal steel.
Cullum was soon getting gigs in Britain and Europe. One of those gigs, backing up country singer-songwriter Caitlin Rose, led to the partnership that became Steelism .
Traveling with Rose was Nashville guitarist Jeremy Fetzer. The two were from different sides of the globe — Cullum from Essex, England, and Fetzer from Canton, Ohio — but they shared a love for old Fender amplifiers and instrumental rock, spending a lot of time hanging out at a rough East London pub called The Blind Beggar talking about both topics. (They would later write a song titled "The Blind Beggar.")
Instrumental rock is a tough sell, Cullum admits. "It didn't used to be," he said.
True that. Back in the day, Booker T and the MGs had a monster hit with "Green Onions." The reverb-drenched, twangy surf of The Ventures was the soundtrack for California before the Beach Boys came along. Brit guitarist Hank Marvin had several hits with his band, The Shadows. Santo and Johnny's "Sleepwalk" is a classic.
Cullum and Fetzer loved all of that stuff, along with the haunting spaghetti western sound tracks composed by Ennio Morricone.
They began working together, composing instrumental rock, resulting in a debut CD titled "615 To Fame," a collection of genre-smashing instrumentals, and tours, one of which brings them to York's Sign of the Wagon gallery and studio Saturday for a return engagement. (The band played there last year.)
The songs in the CD cover a lot of ground, containing elements of funk and rock and surf and Morricone-inspired sound tracks.
"We both worked with a lot of singer-songwriters," Cullum said, "and that taught us a lot about how to structure a song and how important melody is. A tune really needs to have a melody, as if a singer is singing it."
A lot of people have tried to pigeonhole them with jam bands.
"We don't really jam," Cullum said. "We play songs. And personally, I don't really know much about jam bands. I'm a Grateful Dead fan, but I couldn't tell you the names of any other jam bands."
One thing the duo hears often is that their music could provide the sound track to a Quentin Tarantino movie.
"I'm waiting for someone to say, 'I know Quentin very well and I'm going to give him your music,'" Cullum said. "But I think we'll keep our separate ways until then and when it happens, we could retire and buy all of the Fender amplifiers in the world."
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