Tim Parsons, Lake Tahoe Action

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December 13, 2012
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Dave Berry, Jelly Bread's lap steel guitarist, gets down and dirty

CRYSTAL BAY, Nev. - Dave Berry said he wanted to toss his lap steel guitar into a garbage can.

That was after watching one of the world's most accomplished guitarists play his instrument.

"When you look at Robert Randolph and people like that and they're playing the pedal steel with 13 strings and changes of tuning and knee pedals and stuff like that, that's just like flying a helicopter to me," Berry said.

The band leader of Jelly Bread can be humble, but he's not too shabby on his own six-string.

A quartet - and Lake Tahoe Action's 2012 Band of the Year - Jelly Bread opens Sunday, Dec. 16 for Dragon Smoke in its fifth appearance in the Crystal Bay Casino Crown Room.

Accomplished at guitar and dobro, Berry was captivated when he heard a friend play an acoustic guitar on his lap and with a lighter.

"It has a different sound and feel," said Berry, who asked his buddy, "How the hell do you do that?"

While Robert Randolph is the vanguard of the sacred steel sound, Berry is a rare player in the Lake Tahoe region. It is mostly played in the South, but California's Ben Harper, who is a major influence of Berry's, also plays lap steel.

"I just started figuring it out," Berry said. "I didn't get to play a whole lot my first two years with the band because all I had was my dobro. Those resonator bells pick up so much sound, I couldn't play with the band because it would feedback continuously.

"A year and half ago I picked up a used lap steel from the Guitar Center. I plug it in and get a little nasty and dirty, and I've been doing it ever since with these guys."

Jelly Bread keyboardist Eric Matlock appreciates Berry's musicianship.

"David has these great arpeggios (broken chord) rhythms," Matlock said. "He is a very rhythmic player and he brings out the lap steel gets down and dirty."

Berry also received affirmation from members of the Lee Boys, probably the second-best known sacred steel band after Robert Randolph. During the Squaw Valley Funk Festival last summer, the Lee Boys, who were the headliners, watched the Reno band.

"Those guys were bobbing there heads and I said, 'Come on stage,' and a couple came up," Berry said. "I handed them my lap steel and I played guitar and we played Bill Withers' "Use Me."

Once again, Berry felt humbled.

"Those guys grow up with it in their churches playing from about the time they can speak," he said. " I thought, 'I got to go sit in my garage for about three years before I play this thing again.'"

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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Dec 13, 2012 03:53PM Published Dec 13, 2012 03:50PM Copyright 2012 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.