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New Groove

Published: 2001/05/22
by Josh Dunsky

Robert Randolph and the Sacred Steel

If you have not been moved by music in a while, then you should experience the growing phenomenon that is Robert Randolph. Backed by his cousins Danyell Morgan on bass and Marcus Randolph on drums as well as his other "cousin" John Ginty on Hammond B-3 organ, Robert has left no audience unimpressed, or unexhausted. Robert Randolphs sound is definitely unlike anything else out there.
Randolphs instrument of choice is the pedal steel guitar. The pedal steel guitar has no frets along the neck and is tuned to an open chord. The pedals and knee levers physically raise and lower the strings, and are used in combination to create the melodic sound that he masters. The pedal steel is played with a slide bar while picking the strings with the opposite hand and playing the pedals, and knee levels simultaneously, to get the right sound. It is an instrument that Randolph says, takes some time to grow accustomed to, yet is extremely fun to learn to play.
Robert Randolph is fairly new to the professional music scene, however he has honed his skills playing, since the age of 14, in a local church in Orange, NJ. He learned the joy that music could bring to others growing up within the House of God Church, wherein the steel guitar is the primary means of musical praise. Robert is almost like the pied piper, leaving behind a wake of devoted followers who have been inspired by his music and his smile. I asked Randolph about his goals are for the future and he told me that he just wants to keep playing his music, making people smile and getting them to dance. His innocence and joy are refreshing to see in the often-jaded world of musicians.
During performances Randolph often asks the crowd to participate in his songs. This is especially true for the show stopping I Dont Know What Youve Come to Do. It is during this song that you feel the true power of the music that Robert Randolph and his cousins present. When Danyell, asks you what youve come to do, you cant help but to stomp your feet, clap your hands and scream. Randolph himself can control an audience with the ease and grace that he controls the 13 strings on his pedal steel.. Such songs as You Gotta Move an Allmans-flavored gospel number, affirm that the bands music is inspiring and his sound can be downright soul quenching.
Robert Randolph is truly something very special. His ability to express his emotions through his instrument is a gift. With each performance you can see the band pushing the envelope and developing a greater stage presence. As it is, one leaves a Robert Randolph show, physically exhausted; yet emotionally and spiritually uplifted.
Over the past several months Randolph has become quite a phenom, drawing more and more people to his shows. He has become a regular at the Stanhope House, in New Jersey, where he fits right in amongst the legends of Blues and Soul that hang on the walls there. If you are anywhere in the tri-state area you should check him out. Randolph openly allows tapers so you should be able to find CDs of his recent shows. Perhaps most of all Robert Randolphs music will make you remember that no matter what’s going on in you life – "You’ve Got To Move." Be sure to visit his web site at
A brief Q and A with Robert
Who where you greatest musical influences? In the church:
Fred Beard, Chucky Cambell and Calvin Cook, these guys were all amazing. They were very important in developing my love for the sacred steel. Outside the Church: Players such as Robben Ford and particularly Stevie Ray Vaughan, he was absolutely amazing, I love his music and the soul that he put into his playing.
Robert went on to mention how inspirational it was playing on some of the same stages the Stevie Ray played on. He has played and both The Stanhope House and Antones, in Austin. TX, both former venues of Stevie Ray Vaughn. He noted that while performing there he imagined what it would have been like sharing the stage with his idol.

What are your musical goals and recording plans?
I really hope I can record a lot. I recently finished an album with John Medeski. I just heard the final mix and I am very excited about it. I would really like to make a video. At many of my shows people cannot see me play, I would like for everyone to get a good look at us playing. The Pedal Steel is an unusual instrument; many people are not familiar with it. A video would make them understand a little more about how it is played.
I really look forward to a time when I can play music full time. Working full-time makes it difficult to work on new material and develop musically. Soon I plan on being able to make my music my full time job that pays my bills.
Comment on what it has been like playing with musicians such as Derek Trucks and Stanley Jordan?
Absolutely amazing. I love playing with Derek, Danyell and I always talk about how fun it is to play with Derek. He is amazing, he plays with so much feeling and passion. We have discussed plans to work on some future projects together. Derek Trucks plays the type of music that Danyell, Marcus and I are all about.
I remember looking over and seeing Stanley Jordan playing next to me and I could not believe it, it was a thrill to share a stage with him.
I have been fortunate to play with some great artists recently, such as Victor Wooten and Karl Denson. Sometimes I cannot really believe it until I get home and think about who I just played with.
You have developed quite a loyal following in a rather short time, has that surprised you?
It has absolutely amazed me. We really feed of the crowd. The whole reason that I play is to make people happy. It inspires me when the crowd gets going. I am especially grateful the NYC Freaks and all of there support. I cant believe it sometimes when I look out in the crowd and I see people such as Vernon Reed and Warren Haynes in the audience, I am so honored that these people have come to my show to here me and my cousins play our music.
How has the members of your Church reacted to you playing professionally?
There has been a mixed reaction from the members of my church. The Sacred Steel style of Pedal Steel has always been something that was kept in the church. Some people have told me that they feel this music is sacred and should be played only in church. On the other hand many people have encouraged me to share this music with the world. The whole purpose of this music is to bring happiness to people. Ultimately that is my goal, to make people dance and spread the happiness that the Sacred Steel has brought into my life.

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