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Music Journeys: Robert Randolph

Feb 25, 2021

Credit Robert Randolph

Robert Randolph joins the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland Friday for a virtual performance and conversation. The event takes place at 7 on the museum's Facebook and YouTube pages. The pedal steel guitarist will collaborate with the Rock Hall's educational platform and donate one of his guitars to the museum's exhibit It’s Been Said All Along: Voices of Rage, Hope, and Empowerment, which explores social justice and equality.

Randolph spoke with Music Journeys about the event, his career, how he carved out his own sound, the bond he’s formed with Eric Clapton, his thoughts on social justice, and how music serves as therapy. He also shares some of his favorite songs in the Fast Five. Thanks for listening.

Ted's Jam plays...

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the recording of Robert Randolph and the Family Band's Live at the Wetlands. 

"You kind of forget that it's been 20 years," Randolph reflected. "That was the beginning of our career, and we didn't even know what we were doing at the time. We were just playing jams. It just turns out that it became such a magical night."   

The March plays...

"I was born and raised in Newark, New Jersey," Randolph said. "My church was in the next town over in Orange, NJ. My church is a very musical church with pedal steel, guitars, bass, and drums. That's where me and most kids growing up in church get that love for music. You just want to be like the older guys who you grew up watching and idolizing. As I got older after becoming the sort of church star, then you want to go out and see how to grow in terms of songwriting, playing, arranging, and so forth."   

Rude Mood plays...

"I got a tape of Stevie Ray Vaughan when I was 16," Randolph recalled. "That was the first time I thought I could do something different with the pedal steel. I wanted to play like Stevie Ray Vaughan on the pedal steel. I just worked at that every day and on bringing something new to the instrument."

Good Times 3 Stroke plays...

"That led to worldwide notoriety from guys like Eric Clapton and Carlos Santana," Randolph continued. "I wound up going on tour with Clapton, one of the greatest guitar players, singers, artists of our time. And then over the years becoming close with him and just doing that whole thing, it got me down all these other different paths."      . 

Baptize Me plays...

"Being a part of the Rock Hall and Rock Hall EDU, their big educational program and curriculum is just really cool," Randolph said. "Anything to get me to support anybody's music educational program portal, especially something as great as the Rock Hall's, which reaches out to 700,000 kids especially when music and the arts have been taken out of schools which I know firsthand helps change lives. Being a part of that and donating my guitar and the outfit I wore the first time playing the Grammys will be great. I told people years ago that being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is kind of my goal. That thing sort of lives on forever, that exhibit, your legacy, and what you have there. You have people get to see that one day, and who knows how that will inspire a new generation." 

Strange Train plays...

"Each group of the world's greatest musicians are attached to their favorite roots artists," Randolph continued. "That's when it all starts to make sense. You see why Led Zeppelin made this song, and why the Rolling Stones wrote songs like this because they were inspired by Chuck Berry and this one and that one. You see why Stevie Ray Vaughan played the guitar this way because he was inspired by Albert King and Albert Collins. So it all sort of makes sense." 

Ain't Nothing Wrong With That plays...

"If there wasn't a pandemic, then the rest of the world wouldn't have been as focused on the racial injustices and inequalities of the world because everybody would have been too busy," Randolph said. "If you're black and you have a big family like me and you come from these neighborhoods, all of these things are nothing new. It's been going on forever. It's just a blessing that others get to see and hear and focus on what these problems are, how others can help, how people can come together, and what roles they can play in helping get over this. That has been part of the optimism while being confined to our houses and televisions and phones. We now get to see and hear all these stories. As my grandmother and her sisters say, they never could imagine the number of white people marching the streets in regards to these issues. This is sort of the new step. Seeing all these people united and wanting to see the ugliness that's been haunting this country for so long finally get exposed because that's just not the way people want to live on. To my grandmother and her sisters still around, it's refreshing to them. And it's great that the Rock Hall and many others have come forward to say we're not going to stand for this nonsense anymore. We want to be of help in changing these narratives and helping with these social justice and racial injustice issues."

I Need You plays...

"For all of us that work in this music industry, it's all our own version of therapy," Randolph reflected. "For me to make music and then record it and want to play live, that's just therapeutic. It helps us tick. We know the therapy it gives us and others when you're out playing and seeing the smiles, the dancing, the gratitude. It puts it all in perspective. Without that, there's just a big void left in life, as we can all see now. We've been hearing about a lot of music artists struggling with mental health during this time we're in. I totally understand it, because some people just live for this. It brings you joy to see what you've created brings joy to others. It's just part of who we are as human beings." 

Robert Randolph said his next music release will be something loud, gritty, and dirty. His virtual conversation and performance with the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland takes place Friday night at 7 on the museum's Facebook and YouTube pages.