Robert Randolph: Master Jammer
Robert Randolph. If you haven’t heard of him, you’re obviously not a rock icon. Because guys like Dave Matthews, Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana and Joe Walsh have. Those music icons are among a long list of guitar gods who have played, jammed and collaborated with Randolph and his band of assorted family members.
Randolph plays a pedal steel slide guitar, a complex, one-man-band type of instrument that often requires all four limbs to be doing something different at once. One can be picking at strings with one hand, and sliding a steel across them with the other while pushing at pedals with knees and feet.
“It takes both hands and both feet; it’s a very complex instrument,” Randolph said.
As a result, it produces complex sounds.
“It’s really cool to learn all these chord changes and voicings. It sounds like a different voice,” he said.
The steel slide guitar was the main instrument at the House of God Church in Orange, New Jersey, where Randolph grew up. He mastered the “sacred steel” tradition and made it his own, producing a unique, high-energy sound that is original, uplifting, and riffed with rock and soul.
“My music encompasses the roots of American music – gospel, blues, rock, funk,” Randolph said. Add in the riveting guitar riffs he learned from listening to Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix, and the band goes far beyond its church roots.
The church started in the south where playing lap steel guitar has been going on since the1920s.
“For me it’s always great to incorporate this gospel sound… to go out and record and write songs that are joyful and uplifting,” Randolph said.
Joyful and uplifting, yes. They also rock!
Randolph and the Family Band’s current tour, stopping at The Paramount in Huntington next Friday, Oct. 4 at 8 p.m. (tickets $23 to $45), supports Lickety Split, the band’s first album in three years. As the name implies, the band is made up of a passel of actual family members: cousins Marcus Randolph and Danyel Morgan; sister Lenesha Randolph, who brings powerful vocals; plus guitarist Brett Haas.
“We come from a family full of great singers. A big musical family,” Randolph said.
And then there’s Randolph’s extended family, which includes some of rock’s greatest musicians.
“Over the years I’ve had the great fortune to be able to collaborate with Carlos Santana, Eric Clapton, Dave Matthews, Joe Walsh, Don Henley,” he said.
It’s led to some legendary jams.
“Carlos Santana is just a great guy to sit down and play music with. It’s really a treat. He brings so much energy. We’ll put on these old African records and listen to that and start to jam,” Randolph said. “It’s interesting to see how his mind works musically.”
Randolph also learns from Dave Matthews, a longtime friend with whom he has toured.
“People don’t realize how great a songwriter he is. I’ve seen him write something in 2-5 minutes. And he’s a hell of a guitar player. He knows so many different chords and scales,” Randolph said. “He’s one of the nicest guys to hang with, and as a musician he’s great to sit and jam with.”
Randolph and the Family Band hit The Paramount with a few special guests. And hey, you never know who else may show up.