ROBERT RANDOLPH and The Family Band will be releasing their new album “Brighter Days” on August 23 via Provogue / Mascot Label Group. The album was produced by Dave Cobb (Chris Stapleton, Brandi Carlile.)
Rolling Stone Magazine has voted Randolph as one of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of all time and the band have earned three Grammy nominations.
We chatted to Robert, after he’d flown over to London, to talk about making the album:
RAWRAMP: Describe the House of God Church in Orange… Do you remember when you first heard Sacred Steel ? What did it make you feel?
“I always grew up as a child watching the older guys playing Sacred Steel in the House of God Church in Orange… its been there forever, certainly since the 1930s and my great-grandparents… everyone has been part of the church organization. I started playing when I was about fourteen, in the church.”
“Actually, I played the drums before then, and then I kinda got into lap-steel because I really wanted to be like the guys I saw play; guys like Harry Nelson, Calvin Cooke… so I wanted to be like them so I used to practic-and-practice until one day I saw Stevie Ray Vaughan play guitar on the Austin City Limits Show (television concert series) and I said, “Now wait… I wanna sound like that!”
RAWRAMP: On the new album you cover the Pops Staples number, Simple Man, are the Staples Singers your biggest influence?
“Yeah because the the Staples come from church they crossed over by writing songs that were uplifting and brought people together that had these different rhythms and vocals sounds and Pop was a writing genius. But in the church they were sort of ‘outlaws’ sort of — in a way — because he took his family out and started to write and perform with his family outside the church and they have been a world icon that touches all of us and talked to me.”
“And Sly and the Family Stone are the same thing: taking the gospel sounds from church and mix and pick and putting a spin on it… and that becomes a new style within blues, soul, gospel and rock ‘n’ roll crosses all the boundaries, it crosses all the different genres.”
RAWRAMP: Do you think of yourself as an outlaw?
“Yeah, you know, this was the thing about this record. It was like kinda being like that. Being the guy who wants to really accept the fact that we have this mission to be able to be who I am but understanding that it’s cool to be different and be the one who makes people wanna smile and dance and feel happy. And sweat, even. And go through the emotions. To inspire people and to spread love around the world.”
RAWRAMP: Would you explain your song-writing process? Is it collaborative? Which instrument do you work from, surely not the sacred steel?
“We pretty much collaborate together [as a family]. A lot of ideas, songs, or how a show is gonna go. We go through all these different things. And, yes, normally I work from a lap steel because when I get on a lap steel or pedal steel I keep playing forever-and-forever. And I write from that all the time. I was doing an interview just yesterday and I was on the lap steel and I was saying, hold on a second I am just about to write another new song!”
RAWRAMP: Where does the inspiration from new songs come from?
“Really just trying to appreciate what’s going on in the world. I try to figure out how I can combat that with something that can pick people up. I [ask myself] what could be something we can say right now? It could be something musical or vocally through songs.”
RAWRAMP: Tell us about zippy “Second Hand Man” then, what’s the inspiration behind that?
“Well that one was about a story that a friend of mine was involved in. It was about him in this crazy relationship trying to be the second-hand man. But finally, when you get to the end, you’ll hear that its kinda like the ghost talking to him, or perhaps him talking to himself and going: Dumb-ass man. I can’t believe I fell for this… what was I thinking? It speaks to the world at large too, everything seems fun at the time even when we know we’re taking a chance doing something wrong, so it speaks to so many things that we do in life.”
RAWRAMP: Tell us about working with producer Dave Cobb.
“It was great working with Dave, he was awesome, man. Such a great guy, he really understands the power of taking something that’s actually organic and real but making it sound big and cool and sort of ‘old school’ in a way that re-introduces the sound. And when you record with him you kinda go, “Wow.” It’s kinda like, hey here’s the song lets make the song. With everyone making music that flows together. And, anyway, that’s what you’ve gotta do live, so [Dave] makes it happen in the studio.
RAWRAMP: You play outdoors festivals, arenas and theatres… but would you rather play the House of God Church in Orange? What are the advantages of bigger venues?
“I like them all. I like festivals, I like theatres and I like small bars because they all try to make you feel a certain way. Of course, you can play way-louder at a festival. You say, “Right, here’s my chance to turn up the amp all the way...” But in a bar everyone is in your face so you’ve got that interaction, which is cool.”
RAWRAMP: You worked with Eric Clapton in the early noughties. Do you feel that he has belief and spirit?
“Yeah, I had a great time traveling and getting to know Eric and talking to him. Hanging out and doing all these things. Grafting with a great guy, man. I am gonna see him again in a few months at the Crossroads Festival [benefits concerts founded by Eric Clapton. The 2019 festival will be held September 20–21 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas] yes so we’re gonna be doing that one, but yeah, he enjoyed all the spiritual side and I don’t know if you remember but he recorded a version of [the gospel song] “Jesus Is Just Alright” [Arthur Reid Reynolds, 1966] and it was really fun doing that. It was great to hang with him and he’s always been a big inspiration to me because I’ve been a big fan of Cream, Derek and the Dominos and lot of the stuff that he’s done. And Clapton really stepped-up to take us in and really helped us and, I think, because he wants to see the blues torch carried on…”
RAWRAMP: What do you want audiences to say once they’ve listened to your new album. How should they react? What should they do right after?
“Well, they could dance and shout and hold their hands up into the air. And feel their spirits lifted and feel joyful. That’s the key man. Welcome to the church of rock ‘n’ roll , man…”
RAWRAMP: Thank you Robert and congratulations on a fine sounding and thoroughly uplifting new album.
ROBERT RANDOLPH was talking to Neil Mach.