10 Questions with…Roosevelt Collier



When music fans think pedal steel, most of the time they think Robert Randolph.  However, there’s another group out there fronted by a pedal steel player who’s equally as skilled, and that’s the Lee Boys.  Roosevelt Collier blows minds nightly with his soulful, inspired playing, and he took a break from spreading the gospel to talk with Honest Tune.
Honest Tune: How did you very first get interested in playing the pedal steel guitar?  Was there a particular song or event that you remember blowing you away?
Roosevelt Collier: Well, playing the steel is a big tradition musically in our church.  It dates back to the 1930’s as far as I know. The tradition ran in my family all the way from my grandfather (the late Rev.Robert.E.Lee) and my uncle (the late Bishop Lorenzo Harrison).  Then came my uncle, the late Rev.Gleen Lee – I would always watch my uncle G Lee play the steel every time we had church.  I remember how he would make it sing and talk and put on a show during church.
I was actually a drummer first, and then came bass, then guitar, then steel. I remember one night at bible study, both my uncles Glenn and Alvin Lee (current group leader) pulled my cousin Lil Al (Lee Boys Bass player) outside church and made us decide who’s playing what instrument and I chose the steel and Lil Al chose the bass.  I had to be about 12 yrs old. This is how I first started.
roosevelt1.jpgHT: How old were you when you began to play professionally with the Lee Boys?
RC: Ahhh I would say about 18 or 19…I may be off by a little
HT: Gospel music has played a major role in influencing your choice to play in a family band.  What other types of music do you listen to in your free time?
RC: Wow….I listen to everything from classical to folk.  I feel as though you can learn or be taught from any genre of music so I don’t limit my self to just one.  Now I mostly listen to blues, rock, neo soul, funk and jazz…
HT: You play some mean Michael Jackson on steel! Do you experiment like that often with the instrument?
RC: Yes I do…I try to play some of everybody who have an influence on me right now.  I’m working on Van Halen and Steve Vai as we speak.  I won’t pull those tricks out of the bag until they are completely ready.  I like a challenge and since I’m playing these licks on a pedal steel, it forces me to put more time into breaking down and practicing.
HT:Are you teaching any kids how to play pedal steel right now?
RC: I’m teaching my little cousin named “Poppy” how to play right now.  He’s picking it up faster than I did.  I get plenty of calls from guys that would like for me to teach them and show them what I know.  I’m a type of guy that would show anybody whatever I can if it will help them.  I’m thinking about putting together an instructional video sometime soon maybe.
HT: The Lee Boys have an edgier sound than some of the other sacred steel out there on the road. What would you attribute that to?
RC: I would partially attribute that to both of my uncles: The Late Rev. Glenn Lee who passed back in Oct 2000 and Alvin Lee.  During church, they always will put a new twist on traditional music.  Coming to one of our church services you will be likely to hear the steel echoing some of everything and that’s because my uncles always added influences in their own way to a church service. 
I will never forget the time I was sitting in church and during the time where we normally play our march, uncle Alvin and uncle Glenn would bust out and start playing Michael Jackson “Black or White” and I was so blown away.  So from my uncles came the current generation of Lee Boys.  We all add our own flavor to this band and when it comes together you get an edgier sound. 
Now me being the steel player, I’m very aggressive when it comes to playing.  I am trying to bring a whole edgier approach to the steel than what you would normally hear.
roosevelt2.jpgHT: Do you like dancing? Where do you normally go to cut a rug?
RC: Of course! Who doesn’t? I go to my own shows to cut a rug! After my shows I like to go in the crowd and dance with our fans and have fun with them.
HT: Are their any musicians you are really eager to play or work with one day?
RC: Yes, very much. Jimmy Herring of Widespread Panic, Steve Vai, Eric Clapton, Soulive, Ronnie Baker Brooks, Nickleback, Buddy Guy, John Mayer, Derek Trucks, Los Lobos, Victor Wooten, Otel Burbidge, Mint Condition, Prince…listen, these are not even half or near.  There are so many great musicians that I would love to work with.
HT:The Lee Boys have traveled extensively in Canada. Do you have any interesting stories from the days you played more of the folk circuit?
RC: Wow, where should I start?
Ok…short story.  Back in Canada 2002, we played a Folk festival on a Sunday morning and after we finished playing, we all went back stage to go eat and chill.  So I was sitting by myself and I looked up and saw this huge guy walking towards me.  He had to be every bit of 6’8" and at least about 380 lbs.  So I’m looking around like I hope this man is not about to start no trouble with me because there is no one around and he look pissed and hungry and I’m too tired.
So as he got closer, I started praying – God please let this guy go some other direction.  So he finally came up to me and in the most generous voice said, “I was touched through your playing this morning.”  I was shocked and told him thanks for that.  That really meant a lot to me.
HT: You are young , man. What do you hope to accomplish in your musical career to come?
RC: I wish to accomplish all that God has for me.  I want my musical career to reach countries.  I see myself, with the right people behind me, headlining big events and having thousands of fans coming to hear feel good music.  I want people to feel what I feel thru my music.
In my career I want to tour all over the world, just like the Dave Matthews Band.  I want to work with various musicians.
Most of all I want to spread good music to everyone. I believe if there was more good music than there would be less crime.