Robert Randolph is a bit of an anomaly. The New Jersey born/based pedal steel guitarist grew up in the House of God church and wasn’t even aware of secular music until late into his teenage years.
His instrument of choice, while not exactly uncommon, is rarely found in popular music, and almost never front and center on stage. That is, until Randolph came along.
Unfazed by the public’s general lack of familiarity with what the Pentecostal Church calls “sacred steel,” or the unclassifiable mix of gospel, funk, blues, country, and rock that serves as his style, Randolph decided to blaze his own trail.
First taking up with John Medeski and the North Mississippi Allstars as gospel/jam supergroup The Word, Randolph and his Family Band went on to release seven albums of their own.
The most recent, 2017’s Got Soul, came on the heels of a three-year break and serves as a spirited return to the celebratory hodgepodge of sounds Randolph has spent years cultivating.
Darius Rucker and Anthony Hamilton lend vocals to a pair of tracks on the album, and Randolph joins forces with gospel musician Cory Henry on a driving cover of the Sam & Dave hit, I Thank You.
Got Soul also earned the band its fifth Grammy nomination, but the charismatic bandleader still prefers the journey to the destination.
“I’m just excited to keep recording,” Randolph said recently from his New Jersey home. “I’m excited to keep writing, to be on another creative music path. Keep it going. We just have so much more music.”
Fans won’t have to wait another three years for him to make good on that promise, as Randolph and his band are currently working on a follow-up to Got Soul.
Although the track listing isn’t finalized, the new material is already written and the band should be testing a good share of it on its current tour.
Recording sessions for the new album are tentatively scheduled for late September, or early October, and the only thing left to do is find the right producer.
Currently, the frontrunner for the job is multiple Grammy-winning, Nashville-based guru Dave Cobb. With credits that include overseeing albums for the likes of Chris Stapleton, Dolly Parton, Jason Isbell, Zac Brown Band, Miranda Lambert, Chris Isaak, and more, Cobb knows his way around a studio.
But for the pedal steel-playing frontman, Cobb’s allure comes from more than an impressive client roster.
“He’s a church guy,” Randolph explained. “But he’s also a big blues and rock guy. And a soulful guy, too. I think he can understand the scope of all we do.”
Understanding is one thing. But there’s also something else Randolph requires that’s a bit harder to define.
“I’ve made music with so many different people,” he continued. “And it really works best when you’re making it with a friend — someone who can relate to what you’re doing and who you are. Then, it’s automatic.”
And Randolph should know. He’s worked with everyone from T Bone Burnett, Eric Clapton and Carlos Santana to Ringo Starr, Ozzy Osbourne and Phil Lesh.
“I’m always learning and appreciating,” he said. “Not many people get the opportunity to play with these artists. And we get to collaborate, but these are also people who want me to succeed, go to the next level, and keep growing. And that’s the coolest part of it all.”
With a new album on the horizon, Randolph has already positioned himself for the chance at more success, leveling-up and growth. But with mentors that have spent a lifetime pursuing their craft, the bandleader is determined to look far beyond just the next project.
“I have so many different influences,” Randolph said. “But I like to tell people that I’ll be happiest in my career taking the BB King and Eric Clapton model — the ‘play music and tour until you die’ model. At the end of the day, I want to look back on a catalog that is full of different collaborations and songs.”
Robert Randolph and The Family Band
When: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 19
Where: Embarcadero Marina Park South, 200 Marina Park Way, downtown