The steel guitar has many voices, some of which are familiar. It was invented for playing the slow, gliding notes of Hawaiian music, and it also puts the twang in country-western.
But when promoter Peter Van Ness first heard the Slide Brothers, all four of whom will be playing pedal steel at Beverly’s Larcom Theatre on Saturday, he wasn’t even sure what instruments they were playing.
“We listened and I thought, it sounds like a Hammond B3 organ,” said Van Ness, whose business, Gimme Live, is based in Gloucester. “The minute we heard them, we were hooked.”
What the Slide Brothers play is sacred steel, a gospel style that emerged in the 1930s during services at The House of God Church.
In addition to mimicking other instruments, it copies the urgent voices of singers in the choir and, at times, even suggests the pleading of a pastor.
“If they’re preaching or they go into high gear or praise the lord, then the music boosts or backs that up,” said Calvin Cooke, the oldest of the four Slide Brothers. “It helps urge the people to get more happy and urges him to preach a little harder.”
The piercing notes and urgent tone of sacred steel reached mainstream audiences with Robert Randolph and the Family Band, which released a debut album in 2002.
Randolph, who also started in the church, acknowledged the men who played before him by producing their album, “Robert Randolph Presents The Slide Brothers,” which debuted in February.
“We’d been touring with him off and on ever since he got started, about 15 years ago,” Cooke said. “Then, later on down the line, he said he had an idea of bringing us old guys together, playing the guitars. It finally came in where he did it.”