Putting himself in the company of George Clinton and Jimi Hendrix might seem the height of hubris for Robert Randolph — if others weren't already doing it. Rolling Stone named Randolph the 97th greatest guitarist of all time for his work on the pedal steel guitar. Ahead of Robert Randolph & the Family Band's tour stop this Saturday at Culture Room in Fort Lauderdale, New Times caught up with Randolph on recording with Rock and Roll Hall of Famers, making music for the New York Knicks, and releasing a new album.
New Times: When did you first fall in love with music?
Robert Randolph: I started playing drums in church when I was 6 years old. My church was well-known for its slide guitar and pedal steel guitar from back in the 1930s. I grew up watching all these older guys playing pedal steel guitar. By the age of 13, I was playing that in church. By the age of 18, I went out and played secular in small bars in New York, this rock 'n' roll, church-style music.
It didn't take long for you to get known. At 22, Rolling Stone named you one of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time.
That's one of those things that keeps me going, trying to live up to those expectations. I was more shocked than anything to make that list, but it helped me push myself, and it really became a good thing.
You've recorded with some other guys on that list, like Eric Clapton and Carlos Santana.
That was really awesome, being in the studio with those guys, just getting all the knowledge and the experience, and to hear those guys' stories to try to help me along this long career path. You don't think you can keep doing it until you're 70 years old, but these guys are still playing live and have a great fan base.
It's been three years since the Family Band released an album. Are you working on new music?
We should finish the album in March, and it should be out in June. I recorded an album [Soul Food] with the Word two years ago with John Medeski and the North Mississippi Allstars that came out last year.
You've recorded a theme song for the NBA, and the Family Band plays before New York Knicks games. How did that basketball connection come together?
If you notice, most sports people are into music or rock 'n' roll. Especially people that work for the networks. Everyone is a hidden hippie. All these people love music, and they know I love sports. It was an accident that I got excited about, since we watch ESPN all day long when we tour on the bus.
Before I was a guitar player, I wanted to be in the NBA. I used to sit with my guitar and practice all day at my station with the TV and video recorder and watch all the Ewing/Knicks games against the Bulls. All my friends would come over yelling and screaming at the game, and I couldn't hear my guitar.
Is that kind of yelling and screaming from fans what we can expect at your shows?
It's Sly and the Family Stone meets George Clinton meets Jimi Hendrix meets church all in one. Expect new songs, old songs, improvisational songs. It's uplifting. People dance and sing along. Sometimes, we pick a guy out of the crowd; we see these guitar guys who want to play. I pick them out and put them on the stage to play. We keep it positive.
Robert Randolph & the Family Band
8 p.m. Saturday, February 13, at Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $25 plus fees. Visit ticketmaster.com.