As a child, Robert Randolph was a pedal-steel guitar prodigy at House of God Church in Orange, N.J., and in 2013, he celebrated Sacred Steel masters Chuck Campbell, Darick Campbell, Calvin Cooke and Aubrey Ghent with the album “Robert Randolph Presents the Slide Brothers.” But Randolph’s reputation extends well beyond the church. With his Family Band, he’s made six albums of funk, R&B and free-form jam music including last year’s “Lickety Split,” with performances by Carlos Santana and Trombone Shorty. He and his Family Band have been featured at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival and they’ve played Bonnaroo and other super-events. A die-hard sports fan, Randolph wrote and performed a theme song for his beloved New York Knicks. ReNewMusic editor Jim Fusilli spoke this afternoon with Randolph, who called from Livingston, New Jersey.
RNM: What have you been up to since the release of “Lickety Split”?
A: Running around like crazy. We’ve been on the road, getting that old Randolph style and energy back. It’s really been the fun. We turned on a lot of new fans. Now we’re gearing up to release another record. We’re shooting for a September release. No title yet, but hopefully I’ll have one soon. It’s weird because before I stated doing the recording, I wanted to do a Robert Randolph and Friends kind of thing. A Santana type of thing. I’d like to give it my own kind of twist. Maybe duets: a singer and my guitar. Country, blues, rock & roll. We’re probably do that in 2015. Everybody wants to collaborate nowadays.
But the next record is with the Family Band. We go in and start playing and we come up about 10 musical pieces that all work. It happens naturally: Somebody starts playing something and it gets going. Then you have to hone in and put the songs together. But you want to keep the best ideas. Get the best out of both.
RMN: You have to find that balance for your R&B, funk and jam-band fans.
A: That’s really who we are – all those things after all these years. We came from a gospel church, but it’s a rock & roll-style church. When you sign a record deal, you can get away from the roots. What you want is for the influences to come into your world and then you build on that. We figured out how to walk that the fine line that works it all in. It’s being who you are.
RMN: How much did you enjoy the Slide Brothers project?
A: That was really cool, doing that. It was natural. The Campbell Brothers grew up with my parents. We knew each other so well that that record was made in about a week. We did a festival two weeks ago in Portland. (Editor’s note: the Whiskey Fest Northwest in Oregon.) Still to this day, even though we’ve been exposed, our kind of music is still relatively new to a lot of people. That’s the exciting part. It’s the combination that gets to people. On the religious side is the honesty of it all. It moves you. Our church is like a joint juke. If you close you eyes in our church, you think you’re in a juke joint. You’re rejoicing.
RMN: I hate to bring it up, but what about the Knicks?
A: Oh, my Knicks. I just talked to the owner yesterday. I told him if the Rangers win the Cup, people can’t say anything bad about you, but still you‘ve got to deal with the Knicks. But I think we’ll be OK. Phil Jackson will piece it together. I’ve sat at the dinner table with him and I’ve spoken to him. We’ll be all right with him. James Dolan is one of the most passionate owners you’d want to know. But right now, nobody can beat the Spurs and the Heat.