Pedal steel guitar prodigy Robert Randolph didn't only pick up inspiration and advice by listening to classic rockers, he learned the ropes first hand from some of those illustrious artists. In just three years since the release of his debut CD with The Family Band, Randolph has toured non-stop with Eric Clapton, Santana and Aerosmith, scored additional opening slots with the Dave Matthews Band and The Black Crowes, and became pals with producers Daniel Lanois (U2, Peter Gabriel) and Rick Rubin (Johnny Cash).
On the new Colorblind (Warner Bros.) he teamed up with Dave Matthews, Leroi Moore, Leela James and even Clapton (who joins him on a blistering remake of the Doobie Brothers' "Jesus Is Just Alright"). The player extraordinaire shared a variety of tidbits with Livewire's Andy Argyrakis about his celebrity friends, his band's diverse audience and what it was like back in the beginning.
Livewire: How did you get hooked up with so many famous friends?
Randolph: It's funny man. I don't know how it happened. I'm blessed with getting to hang out with those guys and I guess they take to me because I have something they find interesting. Guys like Eric Clapton and Carlos Santana have heard every guitar sound kind of up until now, but they find what we're doing something new to talk about.
Livewire: You've always been amazing on the road and the group's records have reflected those free sprits, but tell me about tightening up in the studio for this project.
Randolph: All the artists I've toured with have helped us get to this next level, and while people can always have fond memories of a live show, a studio record lives on forever. We learned a lot from Santana when it came to that, and he told us to take our time in the studio, really concentrate on the songwriting process and make the best quality project we can make.
Livewire: How has your upbringing influenced the band's current direction?
Randolph: I really got a sense of soul from [the House of God Church in Orange, N.J.] and the history of our church using guitars. We never had organs, so basically that led us to exploring the gospel and soul sides of Al Green and Aretha Franklin. Funk crept in mainly from James Brown and Sly Stone. There are parts on the record that you can link back to growing up in the African-American church and [also] the new choirs like Kirk Franklin. The songs kind of all mesh that together and a lot of people find it intriguing.
Livewire: What's the meaning of the album title Colorblind?
Randolph: [The album title] stems from how it used to be during the early days of the Beatles, Aretha, James and Al Green when their music was heard by everybody. Today we're in a world where music is put with labels, and people say "this music is for you." You see hip-hop people writing music for people in the streets and rock people writing for California or Chicago. We want to bring everyone in and close their eyes because music is a color-blind experience.
Livewire: How does that translate to the demographic at your shows?
Randolph: It's funny how we first started at church, and then as a bar band [in Jersey], but it grew nationally. Our crowds literally have a bit of everybody from 12 through 65 or 70. There's black people, white people, college kids, sheer music lovers and literally everyone. We're not pinpointing any genre, and we're at our best live.
Livewire: What's been your most amazing career moment?
Randolph: [Opening for Eric Clapton in England] was such a prestigious run of shows and was obviously a really good time. We didn't meet the queen, but we did wind up talking with Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney backstage, who came down to see the show and really enjoyed it. That was such a great moment, and it's always so amazing that a young artist can be appreciated by so many musical pioneers. That's really the ultimate highlight -- that I've been given the chance to call up Clapton or Steven Tyler anytime and [ask] "What are you up to today," and "what do you think of this idea?"
Livewire: What's on tap for you and the Family Band into the New Year?
Randolph: The plan is to just keep going and striving to write great music. I'll be working with Dave Matthews and Rob Thomas and continue to collaborate with different people. I've already learned so much, kind of like when you get your first computer and there's so much information to digest. There's a lot of positive stuff going down.
By Andy Argyrakis
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Robert Randolph and The Family Band
Concert review - Miwaukee, WI Aug. 3, 2006
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