A Conversation with Robert Randolph
Puremusic: You know, it's just amazing, taking the world by storm with a pedal steel guitar. I mean, nobody even bothered to say that couldn't be done. Everybody knows that can't be done!
Robert Randolph: Yeah, it was--we're just having fun, man, playing, recording, and making a record. It's been great.
PM: It's just unbelievable. I was rooting around on the net this morning. I'm a big pedal steel fan--I'm a Nashville guy, you know. But is it known for sure who actually invented the pedal steel guitar in its more or less current form?
RR: I'm sure it is. I don't know that much history on the instrument, and which guy--it was one of the country music guys.
PM: It wasn't one of the Hawaiians but a country western cat who came up with it?
RR: The pedal steel, yeah. The lap steel was a Hawaiian instrument. But pedals and all that, it's country. I'm not sure if it's Alvino Ray or Buddy Emmons or one of these other guys. I'm not sure which guy it is.
PM: Right. I think Alvino Ray may be taking credit, but I thought that, oh, it must go back before that. But yeah, maybe that's it after all, him or Emmons or somebody.
PM: But it was a Mr. Eason who brought it into the House of God, is that right?
PM: It's an unbelievable and unpredictable tradition that sprang up. Was it just in that part of Jersey that the pedal steel was brought into the House of God, or was it kind of a national thing?
RR: No, it was more sort of a national thing. That's how it is today, where there's different churches and things like that that go on, and people play pedal steel. It's more a national thing.
PM: And it's the worship instrument in the House of God more than the organ, is that right?
RR: Yeah, exactly.
PM: That's interesting, because I've always thought that it's an eerily human sounding axe. I mean, it really sounds like somebody crying and somebody laughing, you know.
RR: Yeah. I mean, that's the way we was taught up to play it, like a singer moans and groans and weeps and hollers and screams, like the old Southern Baptist singers. You know how people in church go [singing] mmm-hmmm, and do a lot of moaning and carrying on.
PM: Right. [laughs]
RR: That's how like we was taught to play, off those singers.
PM: Well, you're making it do all that and a whole lot more today. I'll tell you, wow.
PM: So tell us please about the project--that I haven't been able to lay my hands on yet, but I'm working on it--called The Word, that brought you together with John Medeski and the North Mississippi Allstars.
RR: I think those guys had heard me play on one of the old recordings--I mean, not that old, but like a couple years. It was 2000 or something like that.
PM: Was that live at the church?
RR: Yeah, yeah. So what happened, they had this idea of recording this record, and then they needed another guy to like make it all happen. I think once they heard that recording I was on, they basically asked me to come on board and do it with them. And it turned out to be cool.
PM: In helping our readership to find that record, do you know what label it's on, or the easy way to get that?
RR: I'm not sure if there are many copies still printed up out there. I'm not sure.
PM: Right. Okay. Well, I'll track that down and make sure everybody can find it who's got to get it, because I know I'm one of the people who's got to get it now.
RR: Yeah, I don't think there are many copies out there, because there were some business things that went on with that, some bad decisions that some people in that company made.
RR: But you should be able to find some somewhere. [try Amazon.com]
PM: So yeah, from the House of God to the club and right to the top of the huge and enthrallable jam band scene, and then right to VH-1. Lord in heaven, that's a hell of a ride.
RR: Yeah. It's... [laughs] Yeah, it is.
PM: [laughs] What's it like and how are you processing that meteoric rise?
RR: It's fun. It's every day, a process, and you just got to kind of stay focused and keep the love for music and keep it all rolling.
PM: Yeah, because with such a fast growing list of people blowing smoke every day--
PM: --you really got to keep your head straight, know that it's just really about God, it's about the tunes and it's about the band.
RR: Yeah, basically. And it's about still standing true to who we are, but at the same time, keeping the music rolling and making people happy and things like that. continue