Robert Randolph is a bonafide guitar hero. Considered by many as the Jimi Hendrix of the pedal steel guitar, he has taken an instrument that is usually reserved for weepy country music ballads and rips it up with the best of them.
Accompanied by his Family Band, Randolph’s music mixes elements of Blues, Funk, Rock and Gospel to create something completely their own. Their shows are wild joy-filled experiences, as Randolph conducts a rock and roll sermon with each song flowing effortlessly into the next.
The band’s latest record “Got Soul” was just nominated for a Grammy in the category of Best Contemporary Blues Album and they will be celebrating with a lively show at Brooklyn Bowl on Thursday, January 25th. I got a chance to talk to the man himself ahead of the show.
Congratulations on the Grammy nomination! This is your 5th time being nominated. How does it feel?
It feels pretty good man. I’m just excited to be appreciated by all my musical peers and all of the people at the recording academy. All of the artists and songwriters. I’m really happy to be appreciated by all of those guys.
This year marks the 15 year anniversary of your first proper studio release, “Unclassified”. Have you seen your guitar playing influencing more people to pick up the pedal steel guitar and try to play it like you do?
That’s really how it’s been for the last 15 years or so. If you look at all of the guys that I’ve influenced – from all of the bluegrass guys playing dobro to the Revivalists with their steel guitar player. I run into all of these guys all of the time telling me about how I’ve inspired them. Even a bunch of alternative rock bands! Guys like the John Butler Trio come up to me and say things like “Hey man, we were just trying to write a song that sounds like you!” It feels great, man.
I bet listening to you had really made them want to step up their game.
Yeah, It’s really cool! I’ll go up to some of these guys and say “Hey man, that was my idea. I wanted to do that first!” Then the next thing you know they have a huge hit song. It’s cool to see how these guys have been influenced by me and the band. It’s fun!
On the other end of the spectrum, it must be really cool to hear living legends like Eric Clapton singing your praises.
It’s been great to have guys like Clapton, Santana and even B.B, King before he died, get excited and be happy that a new guitar sound was starting to influence a lot of people. All of those guys were older and thought they had heard it all! They were excited for me that I was bringing something new to music and to the guitar. It’s really been cool to hear that from them, but I’m still trying to get better.
How have you seen the Family Band progress as a unit over the past 15 years?
We’ve all sort of grown and got better as songwriters, performers, singers, and musicians. What’s cool is that we’ve kinda been a part of all of these different scenes. We’ve done some gospel tours and some hardcore blues tours. To come in as a “jam band” and evolve and be on so many big rock tours. It’s cool to see this path over the last 15 or 16 years. We just keep evolving. We’re already working on a new record and all of that. So it’s really been great to see how far all of this can take us.
It’s funny, I’ve never really thought of you guys as a “Jam Band” per se …
It’s funny how so many people would try to put is in the “Jam” scene. I mean… I don’t mind. Some people talk about bands like the Grateful Dead and Phish and other people that try to do that. But there are all of these other bands that love to jam! If you go to a Red Hot Chili Peppers show, they jam out! If you go to a Stevie Wonder show, he jams! It’s really about taking the songs that you record and letting the spirit of the live performance leading you into different versions of the songs.You can only get that from a live music experience of call and response with the crowd and people singing and dancing. It’s really the evolution of anything that I do. It’s always about having that relationship with the music fan.
You and the Family Band are playing Brooklyn Bowl on the 25th. What can fans expect from the show?
They can expect a lot of new songs. Some covers and a lot of originals off of the new record. A live and energetic Robert Randolph and the Family Band experience! Hopefully, we’ll have some guests that will be in town who will sit in with us. Every time we play Brooklyn Bowl we have such a fun time. It’s one of my favorite venues in the U.S. We’re gonna have a great time!
Tickets to see Robert Randolph and the Family Band at Brooklyn Bowl on January 25th are on sale now. Check out a Spotify stream of “Got Soul” below.