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  Willie Eason passes

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Author Topic:   Willie Eason passes
Bob Stone

From: Gainesville, FL, USA

posted 17 June 2005 11:30 AM     profile     
Pioneer "sacred steel" guitarist Willie Eason died at 2:50 pm yesterday, June 16, 2005, at St. Anthony's Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Willie was born in 1921 in the LaCrosse community of Schley County, Georgia, near Ellaville and Plains. His family moved to Philadelphia, PA before he was a year old.

In Philadelphia circa 1936, his older brother, Troman (1905-1949), took lessons from a Hawaiian steel guitarist named Jack, whom he heard playing live over the radio. Inspired by Troman's success with the steel, Willie took up the instrument and played it in the House of God, Keith Dominion church his family attended. By 1940, he began to travel the eastern US from New York to Miami to play for revivals, church meetings, and later, on street corners. He recorded seven 78 rpm records, including two on which the Soul Stirrers--arguably the most popular black gospel quartet of the day--sang backup as Willie sang lead and played fills on his Epiphone Electar.

Willie was tremendously popular among the House of God congregants and the inspiration for dozens, if not hundreds, to take up the electric steel guitar. Today the steel guitar (which many House of God congregants still refer to as the "Hawaiian guitar") is the dominant instrument in that church as well as a related organization, the Church of the Living God, Jewell Dominion.

Willie is survived by his wife Jeannette and a large extended family.

He was a wonderful, unforgettable soul who loved life and lived it fully and passionately.

Rest in peace, Willie. We'll miss you.

Ian McLatchie

From: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

posted 17 June 2005 12:42 PM     profile     
What sad, sad news. It was real thrill getting to meet Willie at the Sacred Steel convention three years ago, and I'm continually reminded of his presence thanks to one of Bob's beautiful photos in my study. A brilliant musician and a warm, generous soul. My condolences to Jeannette and the family.
Bill Leff

From: Santa Cruz, CA, USA

posted 17 June 2005 01:09 PM     profile     
Although I did not have a chance to meet Willie Eason, I treasure the few recordings and video I have of him.

Rest in peace, and thank you for all you have contributed to the Sacred Steel guitar tradition.


From: Cloverdale, California, USA

posted 17 June 2005 01:15 PM     profile     
Moved to "Our Extended Family".
Brad Bechtel

From: San Francisco, CA

posted 17 June 2005 01:23 PM     profile     
May he rest in peace with his maker. His contributions to expanding the world of steel guitar as we know it are greatly appreciated.

Brad's Page of Steel
A web site devoted to acoustic & electric lap steel guitars

Keith Cordell

From: Atlanta

posted 17 June 2005 03:57 PM     profile     
I never met him formally, though I feel like I did... his playing was very influential to those of us who revere the Sacred Steel tradition. My thoughts will be with his family and church.

GFI D8 Non-Pedal, Peavey Delta Blues, Goodrich H10K VP, Modded Vox V-847, Ibanez DD1000 Digital Delay, Dunlop Lap Dawg bar

Andy Volk

From: Boston, MA

posted 17 June 2005 04:14 PM     profile     
Posting this for Bob:

Dan Tyack

From: Seattle, WA USA

posted 17 June 2005 07:36 PM     profile     
I'm going to play 'Just a Closer Walk with Thee ' tonight for Willie. Twice.


Bob Stone

From: Gainesville, FL, USA

posted 18 June 2005 05:12 AM     profile     
Here's a link to the St. Pete Times obituary. Not 100% accurate historically, but a very nice tribute.
Jack Stoner

From: Inverness, Florida

posted 18 June 2005 09:06 AM     profile     
Bob, you beat me to it. I was going to post that St Pete times link. The article and picture was in this morning's printed edition.
Donna Dodd

From: Kennesaw, Georgia, USA

posted 18 June 2005 09:49 AM     profile     
Truly, a LEGEND!

Does anyone happen to know how long Willie had been afflicted with Alzheimers Disease, and if he was able to play any in his final days?

CrowBear Schmitt

From: Ariege, - PairO'knees, - France

posted 18 June 2005 10:05 AM     profile     
may the good Lord keep Willie close to Him & playin' sacred steel for the angels & the lucky ones up there
my condoleances to his family
Bob Stone

From: Gainesville, FL, USA

posted 18 June 2005 10:53 AM     profile     
Hi Donna,

Willie had heart trouble just prior to the first Sacred Steel Convention in March 2000. Although still recovering from his recent illness, he came to the convention looking very sharp in a tuxedo. He was honored with the Sacred Steel Heritage Award for his lifetime contribution to the tradition. He played and sang a little and it was evident that his recent illness had seriously effected his musical abilities and his mind. From that point on, his mind seemed to steadily decline. I'm not certain exactly when he was diagnosed as having Alzheimer's, but his wife began to use the term about 3 or 4 years ago.

The last recordings of Willie were "Take Your Burden to the Lord" and an instrumental version of "Near the Cross," both backed by the Campbell Brothers at the Crescent City, FL House of God October 11, 1998. The brothers and I consider these very special moments. The selections are included on Arhoolie CD 472 "Sacred Steel Live!"

Ed Gerhard

From: Center Strafford, New Hampshire, USA

posted 18 June 2005 08:34 PM     profile     
Very sad news indeed. I think of Mr. Eason every time I play my old Epiphone Electar Zephyr, just like the one Mr. Eason is pictured playing. His "Near the Cross" always gets to me. Thank you, Mr. Eason for all you've done in pioneering this great music, and thank you Bob Stone for bringing this music to so many of us who, like me, never even knew it existed until a scant few years ago. Willie Eason will not be forgotten, not by me at least.
Ed Gerhard
Del Ray Grace

From: Toledo, Ohio, USA

posted 19 June 2005 02:49 PM     profile     
We have lost a great pioneer in Willie Eason. Even though I've never met him personally I feel blessed to have known him through Bob Stones documentary work on the Sacred Steel Guitar.(Thanks Bob)I also feel a personal loss because I am one of the many sacred steelers to come out of this great tradition which began with Willie long before I was even born.Willie may have died June 16,2005 but his legacy will continue on through out many more generations to come.May God continue to bless the Sacred Steel tradition.Thanks Bob Stone for keeping us abreast of this news.Our prayers are with his wife Jeannette and the Keith Dominion House of God church family.
Bob Stone

From: Gainesville, FL, USA

posted 20 June 2005 05:11 AM     profile     
Thanks everyone. I will pass your kind words along to the family and provide this link to those who have Internet access.

In addition to the funeral Saturday at 11:00 am, there will be a wake and musical tribute Friday night June 24 at Norwood Baptist Church, 1818 29th Avenue, North, St. Petersburg at 7:00 pm. Elton Noble will be MC and play steel too. Others are yet to be confirmed. Everyone is welcome.

Del, If you know any Jewell Dominion people in the area who might attend, please spread the word.

Karlis Abolins

From: Burien, WA, USA

posted 20 June 2005 07:56 AM     profile     
I only know Willie Eason through the various recordings I have. Yet I feel a strong sense of loss at his passing. Please convey my feelings to his family and friends.


Bob Stone

From: Gainesville, FL, USA

posted 27 June 2005 08:58 AM     profile     
Dear Forum friends,

The Eason family was deeply moved by the posts here with regard to Willie's passing. At their request, I read several of the posts at the funeral Saturday.

The Steel Guitar Forum is a wonderful thing.

The Eason family sends its appreciation for your tributes to their late patriarch. Thanks everyone.


Bob Stone

Andy Volk

From: Boston, MA

posted 27 June 2005 07:55 PM     profile     
Willie communicated so directly and with such sincerity. In songs like "Little Wooden Church on a Hill", he transcended mundane things like technique and tunings to reach right through the medium of recording to make a direct emotional connection with the listener.

And I should add my kudos too to Bob for all you've done. As somebody coming in from outside the Sacred Steel culture, I can't imagine a better spokesperson and documentarian than you in grasping the deep cultural significance of this music and showcasing its unique qualiities as an art form for both religious and secular audiences.

[This message was edited by Andy Volk on 27 June 2005 at 08:02 PM.]

Bob Stone

From: Gainesville, FL, USA

posted 28 June 2005 06:39 AM     profile     

You hit the nail right on the head. Willie was a wonderful storyteller, whether speaking through his guitar, singing, or just talking.

Thanks for your kind words about my work in documenting and presenting this music and the people who make it. It has been, and continues to be, rewarding work. These folks have enriched my life.

By the way, I'm chipping away on the Sacred Steel book. Hoping to deliver the draft manuscript to University of Illinois Press by the end of 2005...

All the best,


[This message was edited by Bob Stone on 28 June 2005 at 06:40 AM.]

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