Robert Randolph and the church of rock ’n’ roll

by DGO Web Administrator

The music of Robert Randolph began in a church. But your stance on the god, and heaven and hell thing won’t infringe on your inclusion in this fan club. Worship who or what you want, read the Bible from cover to cover or ignore the whole thing altogether. As a music lover, you’re welcome into Randolph’s church.

It’s a place with a gospel and rock ’n’ roll soundtrack where pedal steel is the instrument of choice and high energy blues and funk ring from the stage. If you can’t find your way to liking his sound, then perhaps you do need a prayer, some salvation, a little help or perhaps a trip to the record store.

Robert Randolph & the Family Band will perform at the Animas City Theatre on Saturday.

Randolph’s career as a musician started as a player in “The Church of the Living God,” a nationwide Pentecostal branch found throughout the Northeast and into the Midwest. It was this church that made Sunday Mass musically interesting, ditching the traditional organ for the pedal steel guitar, and elevator-music-style hymns for high-energy gospel tunes. Music is a major factor in these services, a mix of traditional gospel and high-energy blues. The world may be a better place if all churches put music at the forefront.

“Growing up in my church, (pedal steel’s) the main instrument. I grew up watching the older guys playing pedal steel, and I always wanted to be like those guys and wanted to develop my own style like Stevie Ray Vaughn; I wanted to play like that on the pedal steel,” said Randolph. “It was always this high-energy style of music that a lot of people compare it to blues, and the early days of Elvis, rock ’n’ roll, Chuck Berry and all of that. That’s how we grew up. It’s a cool thing, you know?”

The music has become so ingrained with the church, its been given its own name; “Sacred Steel” is the genre classification for the gospel music played in these churches, and Randolph was a prodigy and young contributor to the albums the Arhoolie record label released 20 years ago that showcased this style. It’s what got him noticed by Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi All Stars; Dickinson was putting together a project that recorded under the name “The Word” with John Medeski and they needed a pedal steel player. That was the start that pulled Randolph from his day job and into various clubs in New York City.

The Family Band came soon after, which is now a six-piece funk, rock, and blues powerhouse, featuring multiple members that share the name Randolph.

Your church can be wherever you need it to be. While Randolph’s church, the actual building he first began playing pedal steel in back in Newark New Jersey, may not have him attending like he had in the past, he’s still a member and gets there when he can. He hasn’t turned his back on those early days, he’s just found his church now can exist where he plays.

“Getting out and playing for the world, playing all over the place, now that’s my church. We travel to various cities, rock concerts, festivals and all that, and bring forth this rock ’n’ roll, bluesy, and spiritual experience,” said Randolph. “It’s a wonderful thing.”

Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. [email protected].

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