Growing up with the goal of becoming the best steel player in his church, Robert Randolph went on to become a four-time Grammy-nominated pedal steel guitarist. Randolph also became ranked 97th on Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Guitarists” list.
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Although he had a rough few teenage years, Randolph explains that he luckily received a wake-up call from his father and began to pour his focus into steel guitar. After a few years of dedicated practice, his church, coined Sacred Steel, began to record the music they were making.
“Our church music and our story started to get documented by a guy named Bob Stone,” Randolph began. “It was a record company called Arhoolie Records, which is like this folkloric record label, and they started to tell a story and print articles about the church’s music. Then, that led to the first-ever Sacred Steel recording and then there was a second Sacred Steel recording, which I was on, which then was a part of this sort of thing called the Sacred Steel Convention.”
This, he goes on to add, is how he was introduced to the idea of pursuing music outside of the church.
“That was the first time I said, ‘Well, wait a second, man. There’s white people that like this, this is much bigger. This music has a much bigger effect than what we’ve been doing in this little Chitlin’ Circuit. There’s a much deeper connection of connecting this music and who I am and who we are. Bringing love, and light, and joy to the world through this music that we’ve been keeping to ourselves for so long,” he said.
Although he left the church pews in favor of the club scene, his church upbringing has never left him. After a fruitful career making music, he boils down the music community to this: just one big church.
“I can’t write all the great love songs like John Mayer, I can’t be like Gary Clark Jr., I can’t be like Eric Clapton, I have to be who I am,” Randolph said. “Because this is my upbringing. It’s weird. You would hear people go like, ‘Hey, man, why don’t you really dig deep down into the blues?’ I’m like, ‘Well, bro, I didn’t grow up in the freakin’ Mississippi Delta with the blues and juke jazz.’ I grew up totally the opposite of that. Our juke joint was the church and it was like, you’re jammin’ and the songs are different.”
In essence, this is what sets Randolph apart. His willingness to stay true to himself always plays to his strengths. He doesn’t feel the need to conform, but instead to spread awareness. Exposing new audiences everywhere to his legendary steel guitar.
“In church it’s like, ‘Oh, Lord, save me. Pick me up. I feel good tonight.’ You know what I mean? That kind of stuff. So, I feel like that’s my duty coming into the music industry. That’s who Robert Randolph is,” he concluded.
To hear more of Randolph’s story and his fascinating take on artistry, check out the rest of the episode on the Stay Human podcast.