Robert Randolph & The Family Band
Robert Randolph & The Family Band
Performing Saturday August 13th
When Robert Randolph talks about his new album, Lickety Split, a few words come up over and over—”joy,” “freedom,” “energy.” Which is no surprise, really, because those are the same things that immediately spring into a listener’s mind when these twelve tracks from the virtuoso pedal steel guitarist and his longtime accompanists, the Family Band, explode out of the speakers.
“My thing is really upbeat, uptempo, with great guitar riffs,” says Randolph, summarizing his musical ambitions, “but also catchy choruses and lyrics that someday will make this music into classic tunes.”
“Robert Randolph is an American Original,” says Don Was, President of Randolph’s new label, Blue Note Records. “He has mastered what is, arguably, the most complex instrument in the world and developed a unique voice that is equal parts street-‐corner church and Bonnaroo. This album finally captures the energy and excitement of his legendary live performances.”
But for Randolph, the road to Lickety Split—his first studio recording in three years—wasn’t an easy path. Though his distinctive mix of rock, funk, and rhythm & blues continued to earn a rapturous response from a fervent, international audience, he felt that he had lost some of the enthusiasm and intensity that had driven him to make music in the first place. “We just weren’t being creative musically,” he says. “Being on the road 280 days a year, you wind up playing too much and it isn’t fun anymore. Soon, you stop being that concerned about how good you can be, how important it is to create and write. You kind of lose sight of that, of being focused on your craft and spending time with your instrument. I’ve become more in love with my guitar now, and staying relaxed and practicing and trying to create different sounds.”
Robert Randolph & The Family Band first gained national attention with the release of the album Live at the Wetlands in 2002. The band followed with three studio recordings over the next eight years—Unclassified, Colorblind, and We Walk This Road—which, together with tireless touring and unforgettable performances at such festivals as Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits, and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, won them an expanding and passionate fan base. Randolph’s unprecedented prowess on his instrument garnered him a spot on Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” list, and also attracted the attention of such giants as Eric Clapton and Carlos Santana, who have collaborated with him on stage and in the studio.
Most recently, Randolph has attempted to amplify the tradition from which he came by executive producing the Robert Randolph Presents the Slide Brothers album, a recording which features some of the older “sacred steel” players from the House of God church who inspired him to pick up an instrument. “This is part of my whole story, which a lot of people don’t understand,” he says. “In our church organization, playing lap steel in church has been going on since the 1920s. These guys were my mentors, my Muddy Waters and B.B. Kings. Thinking that I started this style is like saying Stevie Ray Vaughan was the first guy to play the blues. I wanted to do this record so that everybody could understand the story and start connecting the dots.”
With a new label, a new dedication to his craft, and a new sense of responsibility in his life off-‐stage, it seems like Lickety Split might also represent the urgency Robert Randolph is bringing to all of his efforts these days. “I’m still undiscovered, and that’s really the best thing about it,” he says. “Now we have the chance to present the music right, and have the story told right, and for me to be focused on being an ambassador for inner-‐city kids and a role model, and also an ambassador for my instrument and as an artist. As all these things happened, it got fun again.”