Desert Island Discs
Workin’ Man’s Blues
By Rev. Billy C. Wirtz
Each week Rev. Billy C. Wirtz tells us about artists, albums, and music that we need to know about.
In the past two years we’ve lost several blues legends.
Not only do we grieve the loss of brother and sister musicians, we are also faced with the reality of fewer and fewer artists who were around when the music first came into being. As their ranks continue to thin, those wishing to carry on the tradition for future generations must rely on audio and video archives as point of reference.
In the gospel and sacred world, the situation is much the same, and artists having that direct connection to the wellspring decrease every year.
Aubrey Ghent is one of a blessed few with that direct connection. He is the nephew of Willie Eason and the son of Henry Nelson, both pioneers in the genre of Sacred Steel guitar.
Back in the thirties, Eason spent time in Hawaii learning the basics of the steel guitar. Upon his return to his home in Florida he began to incorporate the steel guitar into worship services alongside the Hammond organ and drums.
His stated objective was to produce the voice of angels on the instrument.
Sacred Steel is breathtaking in both power and beauty.
In recent years, Sacred Steel groups have stolen the show at festival after festival, and have been featured on tours with such heavyweights as Eric Clapton and Santana.
As with any style, there are those who use it as a springboard to success and others for whom it is an anchor to the traditional and timeless.
Among the traditionalists, Aubrey Ghent sets the standard.
Continuing on with my “Desert Island” series that I began with David Maxwell last week, I called on Aubrey and his wife Lori for their choices.
If talent, commitment, and ethics were the primary criterion for success in this business, the Ghent’s would not spend too many nights off the road. Aubrey’s playing virtually defines the genre, and Lori’s singing only serves to bring the music up to yet another level. Unfortunately, the realities of today’s music world dictate a different scenario.
Jumping From Six to Six
I got a late start this week.
On Tuesday, I called Lori and inquired if Aubrey might be available for my upcoming column.
Apparently their schedule was full until the night before deadline, but after speaking with Aubrey, she agreed, requesting I call back Wednesday night. I then spoke briefly with Aubrey, asking him to think of ten or twelve pieces of music that he couldn’t live without, and left it there.
Wednesday night I called at 9:30 East Coast time.
Aubrey was just sitting down to a late dinner; I agreed to call back in thirty.
Thirty minutes later, I hit redial.
Having phoned him several times in the past, I was anticipating a fairly easy and smooth interview; he is one of the most articulate and relaxed musicians I’ve spoken with and apparently enjoys talking with me as well.
It’s a witness to his character and heart that he even attempted to answer my questions; Aubrey was more than just a little tired, he was “Tore down, point me to the nearest flat surface, ‘Sleepwalk’ in the key of C, completely and irrefutably, wore out.” (My description)
I asked him what the matter was, and he explained that he had worked all day, gone to a rehearsal, and had to go to work again the next day.
“What time do you leave for work?”
“Oh, around five.”
“Five a.m. I work six in the morning till six at night, on week days.”
I was stunned.
Here is one of the greatest musicians alive, working himself to the point of exhaustion just to make ends (hopefully) meet.
My shock was tempered by respect. There are a number reasons why Mr. Ghent has to work a day job, but foremost among them are his refusals to compromise his music and his beliefs.
During my conversation with Lori, she explained that Aubrey turned down several offers and left situations that he felt were at odds with own ethics and that there were constant pressures to change his presentation, which he refused.
Indeed, they have several festivals booked for the summer, but it’s those gaps in-between that force some painful decisions.
I am happy to report that Aubrey and I did agree to speak later this week and in next week’s issue we’ll get some insight as to his influences.
Thanks to BluesWax and Blues Revue Publisher Chip Eagle I’m not given too many guidelines for this column.
From time to time I feel it important for readers to get a glimpse into the personal side of this business, especially when it involves someone whose commitment necessitates great sacrifice.
Aubrey Ghent, Jr. is a man of integrity, a quality found rarely in the music biz, and today’s world in general. When integrity, as opposed to money, serves as the principal factor by which a career course is charted, I believe it sets a standard both musically and personally that is both commendable and noteworthy. I can only hope that both Aubrey and Lori continue to stand by their principles and bring the pure, unadulterated beauty of Sacred Steel to the world.
Get some rest Aubrey, and I’ll catch you this weekend.
Rev. Billy C. Wirtz is a weekly columnist at BluesWax. Each week he finds artists, albums, and music that you should know about. He also plays piano. His radio show, Rev. Billy’s Rhythm Revival, is available in podcast. To hear the latest, go to Rev. Billy C. Wirtz’ page on Facebook and look for the link.
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