Mention 'steel guitar' and most people think syrupy country music. More hip listeners will know that steel guitar, in country and elsewhere, is practiced by some bad-ass players, and the instrument can do far more than accompany a mediocre country popster.
Only the truly hip will know of "Sacred Steel":
Troman and Willie Eason brought the electric steel guitar to House of God services in the late 1930s. While Troman played in the straight Hawaiian style, Willie, who never had lessons, imitated African American singing with his instrument. His voice-like single string work became the basis of the House of God steel guitar tradition. Willie traveled widely playing the steel guitar and singing, first to tour with Bishop J. R. Lockley's Gospel Feast Party, then later by himself to perform street corner music ministries. He recorded a total of eighteen sides in the 1940s and 50s
Read the whole piece, it's interesting and informative. There's also a Wikipedia entry that has some good links. But still, what's the point you might ask? Robert Randolph, the most well-known practitioner of this art. From Wikipedia:
Randolph, a native of Irvington, New Jersey, began playing the steel guitar in the House of God Church, which used steel guitars in worship services.
. . . Randolph himself has explained that in his adolescent years before his discovery by the secular community, he was almost completely unaware of non-religious music, saying "I never heard of the Allman Brothers, Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, none of them. I wasn’t into that music, only the church thing."
He learned really fast. This isn't Willie Nelson or Merle Haggard's (as wonderful as they are) steel guitar. Robert is really special. His website: robertrandolph.net
Here's one of his signature songs:
Starting to get the idea, see the possibilities?
Try this one:
I'm sure you saw that coming. But here's one that will suprise you, some old-school r'n'b:
And last, for the 3 of you that have made it this far, here is more proof that any instrument can work in any Genre. Witness Buddy Emmons, one of the earliest and still best masters of country steel playing, blowing some serious jazz:
(full disclosure: The original author of this video disabled embedding in YouTube. I downloaded the video using TubeSock, and uploaded it to my YouTube page. I hope he's not upset.)