AJ Ghent: a stand-up guitarist from church of sacred steel

AJ Ghent Band at Crystal BayRelationships are important to AJ Ghent.

The third-generation sacred steel artist has closed relations with his wife, sister and his custom eight-string lap steel guitar, which all are included in his band, which this year released its first album

3 AJ GHENT BAND @ Crystal Bay Casino 05-24-2015-727-LHe began a relationship with Lake Tahoe music lovers on Sunday, May 24 in a free Crystal Bay Casino Crown Room show as part of its first West Coast solo tour. The group previously played in the Hollywood Bowl and other Western venues as the opening band for Zac Brown.

While it was Ghent’s Lake Tahoe debut, Tahoe, Crystal Bay Casino has presented several sacred steel groups, including Robert Randolph and the Family Band, Roosevelt Collier, the Lee Boys and the Slide Brothers, which includes Ghent’s father, Aubrey Ghent.

“My father, grandfather (Henry Nelson) and great uncle (Willie Eason) played a lot in church and my sound is from them,” Ghent said.

Sacred steel is a sound created in Pentecostal churches in Florida in the mid-1900s when Eason played a pedal steel guitar instead of the traditionally featured instrument, the organ. The pedal steel has a driving, singing sound which delivers the feel of electrified vocal harmonies. Eason performed with gospel legends Mahaila Jackson and Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

AJ Ghent has taken sacred steel to new heights, literally. He plays his guitar standing up, and the sound is like a secular version of Prince, Otis Redding and Jimmy Hendrix.

AJ Ghent Band at Crystal Bay“The sound and the tone from the lap steel is slightly different from pedal steel with a lot of things you can do with it,” he said, “whereas with the lap steel, it’s straight to the point with different tone and sound frequencies that I just fell in love with.

“I played a lot of the pedal steel, which has 14 strings, for a very long time,” he said. “I didn’t like to get up and sit down, the same thing back and forth, keeping up with the choreography. I wanted to stand up and play, so I adopted the whole standing up thing and I also saw my dad do it. He was one of the first guys I saw as far as sacred steel goes to play standing up. And I assumed that he got it from the Dobro players.”

AJ Ghent Band at Crystal BayGhent (pronounced “Gent,” as in gentleman) has two specially made guitars.
“This way I don’t have to check my instrument when I fly … They (flight attendants) would have to pry it from my fingers,” he said. “I don’t really let people touch it. I try to get on the flight really early so I can stuff it in the overhead bin.”
While many accomplished musicians have a large inventory of guitars, Ghent has just two.

AJ Ghent Band at Crystal Bay“It’s not something I can go to a music store and snatch it off a shelf,” he said. “It gets me to spend some time where I don’t have so many of them to the point where I don’t really build a relationship to the two that I have.”

His family relationships are strong, too. Ghent is the lead singer who is backed up by vocalists MarLa Ghent, his wife, and his sister Tiffany Ghent Belle. Seth Watters plays bass, Gary Paulo the guitar and saxophone, and Will Groth is the drummer.

Each of the members who will be on the West Coast tour also appear on the debut album, “Live at Terminal West,” a CD/DVD package.

“We are just giving the listeners and fans the opportunity to experience us live,” Ghent said. “Many people may not be able to make it to our show. The last couple of years we’ve had a lot of requests go overseas and a lot of times our schedule doesn’t allow us the time to take in new shows so far away.”

Ghent had a epiphany after he moved from Florida to Atlanta and met Colonel Bruce Hampton, who also plays an nontraditional stringed instrument, a tiny guitar called a chazoid.

“Playing with the colonel is one of the classes all musicians should take,” Ghent said. “We’re taught in school that music has to be taken seriously and you need to know this note and that note but we’re rarely taught the freedom of music and the freedom of expression. I think that’s one thing that the colonel has a degree in. There are no rules. Just play from your heart, play from what you believe. It was already there inside of me but he made me feel that it was OK to do this commercially. You just don’t have to do this in jams or in the garage. You can be commercial and be free no matter what it looks like, so he helped with that.”

AJ Ghent Band at Crystal BayPhotographer’s notebook: I was fortunate enough to photograph the AJ Ghent Band Sunday, May 24 at Crystal Bay Casino. I’m predicting that this will be my favorite event of the year, like Trombone Shorty was last year. They were so much fun, everyone in the place was up dancing or at least moving to the rhythms, you just couldn’t help yourself! The fact that I’m in the process of learning Lap Steel guitar made the event even that much more enjoyable. And the whole band was just so damn friendly and personable. I even purchased their debut Live CD/DVD (which they all signed for me), which I never do at the events I photograph. I would highly recommend anyone checking them out, you won’t be disappointed. — Kurt E. Johnson

AJ Ghent Band at Crystal BayAJ Ghent Band at Crystal BayAJ Ghent Band at Crystal BayAJ Ghent Band at Crystal BayAJ Ghent Band at Crystal BayAJ Ghent Band at Crystal BayAJ Ghent Band at Crystal BayTo see more, visit Kurt E. Johnson’s website: CLICK

 

 

ABOUT Tim Parsons

Tim Parsons
Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.

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