Robert Randolph and his supreme backing band are hitting Workplay on Tuesday, October 12th. They will be playing selections from his new album, “We Walk This Road”, and some older favorites. When Robert Randolph comes to town, the discussion is never about the usual who produced the new album (T Bone Burnett) or where did he draw the inspiration for the new songs. It always comes back to ”How in the world does he do that, and what will he do next”?
Fans of Robert Randolph often speak of his records and concerts as an almost religious experience. There is a good reason for that, he grew up playing in his church and is still a fervent practitioner of making a joyful noise unto the Lord. His playing also would lead one to believe that if God didn’t make those hands hit those notes, who could have?
At this point in his career, Randolph has proven himself worthy of adulation, avid discussion and cooler friends. Habitual touring, coupled with a thirst for innovation and a drive to master his instrument have garnered fans from both the ranks of casual listeners and purists alike.
Steel pedal was never the sexiest choice for young upstarts, but when done correctly, it can incite goose pimples from even the grumpiest of musical snobs. This is where he has plied his trade, being so good at what he does that there is no discussion of who might be better or even if he is the best right now. No contest. The only question remaining might be how he got there? Was it practice, sheer will and a desire to outwork everyone or maybe divine intervention? No one really knows for sure, but your answer might be found in Birmingham on the 12th.
SIL. Your new record was produced by T Bone Burnett. Did you ever pinch yourself and think about how cool it is to work with him?
RR. It was such a great experience working with him. Being around a guy who is such a musical historian and loves to make great music and records is great. He cares so much about the musician and not damaging their career by chasing radio hits. He emphasized great playing, and the thought is that you can play these songs for the next 30 or 40 years.
SIL. My favorite song on the new record is the Prince cover,” Walk Don’t Walk”. Do you know if he has heard your version?
RR. He’s heard it, because we had to get it cleared from him. He loved it so much that he wants me to record with him on his next project. He liked it that we chose to do that song instead of one of his bigger hits. It’s a great song about people staying on the right path.
SIL. How was he when you met him?
RR. Great guy. He really loves music. There’s not many like him left. He has the whole package, he understands spirituality, he understands rock, and also the sexy part of it.
SIL. The song with Ben Harper is killer. How did you get him on your record?
RR. What’s funny is T Bone and I jammed to the loop at the beginning of that song and played with it for five or six months. I called Ben Harper and he came to the studio and T Bone suggested that he listen to that song. Ben ran into the vocal booth, and he was really excited. He started singing the chorus, and nailed it.
SIL. I love the video.
RR. The video really fits the song, because the setting is just like the song sounds. Kind of old. It taps into the joyful aspect of the song, but also the Blind Willie part of the song.
SIL. Where did you film it?
RR. It’s an old bar in L.A. I think it may have been around since the 1930’s.
SIL. You guys look really sharp in the video.
RR. Every once in a while, we get dressed up. Since we grew up and are still active in church, we have plenty of suits to wear. It’s hard to dress like that when we play, because we sweat so much.
SIL. Have you ever performed at Workplay?
RR. Yeah, we have. We played there not too long after it opened. It’s a really cool place. We’re looking forward to coming back.
SIL. Do you know much about Birmingham?
RR. I spent many summers in Montgomery with my uncle. He has a church in Montgomery. We would travel through Birmingham. So I spent a lot of time there.
SIL. You’re going on tour with Zac Brown this year. Who set that up?
RR. We all believed it would be a great fit. After we finished the record, we had to figure out who we would tour with. We like to be around bands that are soulful and also really good songwriters. We all love to jam together as two bands. We’re going to mesh the two crowds together and have a great time.
SIL. He’s a great artist. Other than Zac, who do you think are some of the younger bands that will carry the torch as musicians?
RR. I don’t really listen a lot of younger artists. When I talk to Clapton, he wonders who will carry the torch for the next 40 or 50 years. Who are the career artists? I think the torch is already in the hands of guys like me, Zac and Jack White and also Derek Trucks.
SIL. Are there any pedal steel guys out there that inspire you?
RR. There are a bunch of them. Paul Franklin, Jr. Jerry Douglas plays the dobro. I like a lot of guitar players. I like Derek Trucks and Luther Dickinson. I’ve learned so much from them. The tradition that I come from, The House of God church and their pedal steel players, those guys are like my Muddy Waters. Having Derek and Luther hear about my church pedal steel heroes helps them see where I’m coming from. We get together and have a slide guitar Thanksgiving.
SIL. Is there an older guy that has passed away that you would have liked to have a conversation with?
RR. I would love to have conversations with Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jimi Hendrix and Robert Johnson. If I had a chance to talk with Robert Johnson, he would have never, you know, sold his soul to the devil.
SIL. You would have stopped him?
RR. I would definitely have stopped him. Not a doubt in my mind.