Meet the go-to pedal-steel player keeping it in the family, with his mum writing his breakthrough song.
It was 2002’s sizzling Live At The Wetlands album that introduced a young Robert Randolph And The Family Band to the world. Since then the pedal-steel guitarist and singer has spent most of his adult life on the road. Earning his spurs through gospel music – and the House Of God church he and his family frequented – it’s little wonder that his music is a mix of blues, gospel, soul and rock.
Today, although jet-lagged, sporting heart-shaped sunglasses to cover his tired eyes, he can’t help but sound inspired when he talks about music and the history he’s making, including the latest album with the Family Band, Brighter Days.
The Wetlands album made a lot of people sit up and pay attention to your music. Eric Clapton got hold of it and offered us a tour with his band. It was 2003, I was twenty-two at the time, it was a good time. I think we delivered. You don’t know the importance of it when you’re that young. And people were enjoying it, but you look back and we used to be so out there; we’d drink a whole bottle of whisky and then we’d be on stage… But that got us on Letterman, performing Going In The Right Direction [from the Unclassified album], and that helped us take off and get on radio.
Church and family are a big part of your music, aren’t they? The whole family is musical. My sister is singing on the record. My brother is an even better singer. My mother wrote Going In The Right Direction. It’s an old church song we used to do. She wrote it for the kid’s choir back in 1988.
She wrote your breakthrough song? Oh yeah. We were always around music when we were growing up. She grew up around George Clinton in New Jersey. My uncles all had funk groups back then – get fucked up, go down to the basement and start playing.
Where did the church fit into this? Listen to this [plays some thrilling live lap-steel playing from his iPad]. This is a church service from 1970. This guy’s called Lorenzo Harrison. He’s dead now, he was seventy then. We all learned from that guy. That tone is better than my tone. That’s in front of a twothousand-strong congregation. Those services could go four hours, easily. That was church, that was fun. There’s a whole movement – check out Sacred Steel [an African-American gospel tradition that developed in the 1930s]. That was really the scene. That was our Buena Vista Social Club.
“I get invited to play all the time, but I turn a lot of
These days you’re the go-to guy for lap-steel guest spots. I get invited to play all the time. I’ve just dropped a song with Keb’ Mo’ called Oklahoma. But I turn a lot of things down.
You said yes to Blackberry Smoke, though, and played with them. The funny thing with I’ll Keep Ramblin’ [from Blackberry Smoke’s Find A Light] is that it was originally written by me and Charlie Starr for my Got Soul album. And this idiot producer persuaded me not to record it. So we did this instrumental version on my record, and then Blackberry Smoke did the full version, and every time I turn around, people are asking me why the hell I didn’t record it for myself. I’m like: “Man, I know.”
Brighter Days is released on August 23 via Provogue/Mascot Label Group.