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Guitarist Robert Randolph describes his experiences

Observer Scene | Wednesday, November 19, 2003

The first thing you notice when talking with Robert Randolph is how vibrant and passionate he is about music and life. The man genuinely loves what he does and makes this very clear as he describes his music and career thus far. Randolph and his cousins, Danyel Morgan and Marcus Randolph, along with John Ginty (who was eventually replaced by Jason Crosby) released Unclassified earlier this year. The four of them, along with Joey Williams accompanying on guitar, have been touring ever since to promote the album. Randolph’s tour has taken him from coast to coast and will soon bring him overseas. I caught up with him during the Midwest portion of the latest leg of his tour.Randolph began his musical career as a teenager playing the steel pedal guitar in The House of God Church in Orange, N.J. After honing his craft, he was asked to record an instrumental album with the famed blues band North Mississippi All-Stars. The humble beginnings of his younger days, coupled with his unique instrument choice, makes one wonder who Randolph considers to be his influences. “Definitely Stevie Ray Vaughn,” was his response, without hesitation. By combining many different genres of music, Randolph has created a diverse form of music that appeals to the masses and has artists jumping at the chance to work with him. “The other day I got a call from John Frusciante [of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers], who was interested in collaborating. Jack White [from the White Stripes] and I have also talked about working on some things together,” Randolph said.A man as talented as Robert Randolph must listen to musicians as uniquely talented as himself. I was not surprised to hear the eclectic variety that he listens to on a daily basis. “Every day, I listen to Sam Cooke. I listen to Led Zeppelin, Stevie Wonder and Joss Stone,” Randolph said. It is evident that his unique sound allows him to appreciate everything from a black man who fused elements of gospel and secular music in the 1950’s to a white girl from the U. K. who is resurrecting soul music. It is this appreciation and free-thinking that has allowed Randolph to cross all barriers with his music and has helped set the table for his debut album. In 2002, Robert Randolph & the Family Band released Live at the Wetlands. Following the massive appeal and success of the record, they decided that a studio release was in order and tapped famed producer Jim Scott to bring the live and energetic sound of Robert Randolph & the Family Band to the studio. Randolph said that “about 90 percent of the live steel pedal sound is captured” on the band’s debut Unclassified. But, Randolph’s fame grew from his legendary live performances. His unique sound blended with his longer than average sets typically leave fans exhausted after a show. In regards to what people should expect from his live shows and current tour, Robert said that “[he tries to] bring a lot of energy to the shows. You can expect a mix of things on the album as well as some covers.”Randolph has clearly experienced much in his brief career, but the future looks even brighter. Dave Matthews recently said that Randolph was the greatest musician he has played with thus far. “That is a great compliment, coming from someone like Dave. Dave and [Dave Matthews Band drummer] Carter [Beauford] are great musicians and the best I have played with,” Randolph said.Accolades seem to be coming to Randolph everywhere you turn these days. Rolling Stone recently named him one of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time. This borders on frightening, considering that Randolph has only one studio album of his own under his belt. Randolph says that “it was an honor” for Rolling Stone to put him in a class with such legends. Randolph has been all over the U. S. on tour for the past couple of years. He has opened for The Dave Matthews Band and says “that Madison Square Garden is the best venue to play at as far as arena, but as far as playing our own shows, it’s the Chicago House of Blues.” Randolph seems to have his foot in the door in the U. S., or rather his finger on the pulse, but his tour will soon take him across the Pacific to Japan later on this month. “Japanese people love true music; they love real rock music,” he said. “Anybody who likes to rock out and play great rocking music goes over well there in Japan.” The future appears to be bright for Robert Randolph as he tours the world, spreading his music to people of all different cultures.

Contact Brian Foy at bfoy@nd.edu