Robert Randolph, the pedal steel guitarist extraordinaire, is currently wrapping up a Colorado tour with his ensemble, Robert Randolph & The Family Band. Thus far, 2017 has been treating Robert well, with the release of a new record, Got Soul, available here, and an extensive tour of the country to promote this latest release. You can check out our full review of Got Soul here, though take our word for it when we say it’s an absolute pleasure to listen to.
The band mixes gospel and rock to create something that is joyous and uplifting, so it’s no surprise that Robert Randolph is similarly positive and soulful. Live For Live Music got a chance to chat with Robert during his time in Boulder, Colorado. Check out the full interview as well as photos from Robert Randolph & The Family’s Band’s performance at the Fox Theatre below, courtesy of writer and photographer Sam Berenson!
L4LM: Robert, how are you doing?
Robert Randolph: Doing good, brother! How you feeling?
L4LM: Doing well! Thank you for coming to Boulder, and we’re happy to have you in town.
RR: Yeah man, happy to be here.
L4LM: So first and foremost, I wanted to start by asking what’s your favorite part about coming out to Colorado and being able to play music with friends and family in this state?
RR: Ah man. My favorite part is that it’s the best live-music state in the country. Seriously man. I tell everybody that you really can’t have a bad performance in Colorado. The crowd’s always into it, and everybody’s pumped. The entire culture here just really digs live music. Of course, you can smoke here (laughs), and everyone’s in a great mood; man, Colorado is just such a great state. Everywhere we go, I can’t even remember ever playing a bad show. I always think about Colorado, and it’s just amazing.
L4LM: I’ve caught you a bunch on the East Coast, but I haven’t had the chance to yet in Colorado, so I’m very excited for your performance at the Fox tonight.
RR: Yeah man, it should be fun hopefully!
L4LM: So let’s get to it: Who are your greatest influences on sacred steel?
RR: Hmmm. My biggest influences are a bunch of dead guys, and then a couple alive guys. Henry Nelson, I don’t know if you know Aubrey Ghent, but Henry Nelson is his father. Aubrey Ghent is still alive, but Henry Nelson is one of our forefathers. Ted Beard, Lorenzo Harrison, the Campbell Brothers who grew up my father’s age, Calvin Cook, those are my main whole group of my favorites.
L4LM: Totally. I’m curious as to what your approach is when it comes to infusing genres, between tradition and contemporary, given your strong lifelong church background?
RR: Man, you know, when I look at my big musical influences, whether it’s Stevie Ray Vaughn, or Stevie Wonder, or Sly and the Family Stone, or the Allman Brothers, all of those bands just make music. For example, all of Stevie Ray Vaughn’s heroes were blues guys, but he somehow infused rock and soul into his blues playing. If you look at the Allman Brothers, when you know they used to say they were just a blues band, and then they infused all of these stories and all of these sounds, which helped them create their own sound. You know, double dueling guitars, great songs, some of the greatest instrumental songs ever recorded, and some of the greatest compositions ever recorded. For me, it’s really just having something good to say, or if the story starts out bad, at least you’re gonna wind up in a good place. That’s just my church background. Whether it’s a love song, or traveling, or being addicted to something, the outcome of me growing up in church and playing music has always been to make people feel good. That’s really what it is for me; mixing up a lot of the old sacred steel stuff with a Hendrix-y, Zeppelin-y kind of way.
L4LM: I find it very interesting how interested you are with the Allman Brothers, and can really relate, having grown up on their music since a young age thanks to my father.
RR: Nice. Wait, whose y’alls fathers (speaking to myself and recording partner, Eric Plein, owner of the Cosmic Collective)?
L4LM: Haha, who are our fathers? Shoutout to Ron Berenson and Scotty Plein.
RR: There we go!
L4LM: So your new album, Got Soul, was released on Sony Masterworks. What does it means to be releasing an album on this new label for the first time?
RR: It’s such a great label. They’re really a grassroots-y kind of major label. You know, they really understand grassroots artists, re-reaching out to a lot of the grassroots fans. Having guys like me, and, of course Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi were on that label too, allowing us all to be ourselves and create this wonderful kind of blues, rock, soul-infused music. They allow us to be who we are, and are not really trying to get in the way of what’s popular.
RR: And you know, we’ll probably be back and recording another record with them within the next year or so, I’m sure. I’m already writing for that.
L4LM: It’s funny how smoothly that goes into my next question, which is, What ignited the desire to get back into the studio with Robert Randolph and the Family Band after taking a little break since 2013?
RR: Well, you know, I had recorded The Word record about a year and a half ago, and we toured nationally.
L4LM: I actually was fortunate enough to catch that show at the Boulder Theater, and what a show! I was absolutely blown away.
RR: Haha, thank you so much, that means a lot. We had fun doing that with The Word. Such a great time with those guys. But now, you know, it was time to get back in the studio with the Family Band, start playing again with the Family. Then, probably, the next record will be some other super-band I’m trying to put together… we’ll see.
L4LM: We love The Word, so I’m very excited to see what is to come. Tell me a little bit about some of the guests on your albums, because I know some of the names are playing during this year’s Beanstalk Music and Arts Festival, which I am a part of.
RR: Yeah, Corey Henry, is a great musician and a great friend of mine. He was one of my first picks because he’s such a young, energetic, wonderful organ-keyboard-music-guy. And then, Darius Rucker of course, who’s been a longtime friend of mine who I know from Nashville. We’ve always talked about doing something together, so this just really worked out and kind of all happened. Then we have Anthony Hamilton, who’s another great soul-singer. He’s mainly an R & B guy who grew up in a church as well, so I wanted to have him come and do a little “sing and testify little thing.” And it’s funny because I had actually played on one of his records awhile ago.
L4LM: So my parting question, and people who know me know how big of a Phish fan I am (Robert chants ‘yeeeeeuh!’), so I wanted to ask you if you recall the Live for Live Music piece, “Phishin’ With,” we did with you in 2015 as our first guest, and you mentioned that the Phish extended “Light” jam was the favorite thing you’ve seen them do.
RR: Yeahhhhhh! PHISH AT DICK’S!
L4LM: Coincidentally, that is my favorite Phish jam I’ve seen live in the 92 shows I’ve seen since 2010. I wanted to ask you if you’ve gotten a chance to see them since the last time you chatted with L4LM?
RR: I haven’t gotten a chance to see them on off-day since we last spoke, but aren’t they doing like 15 nights or something.
L4LM: Thirteen nights at Madison Square Garden this summer. I’m sure Trey would love it if you showed up!
RR: Haha, you’ll probably see me there. Count on it one of those nights. I live about 20 minutes out of the city, so it’s an easy commute.
L4LM: I can’t wait to see you there, and can’t thank you enough for taking time out of your busy schedule and sitting down to chat with me!
RR: My pleasure, and I hope you enjoy the show tonight!