Robert Randolph’s recent Grammy nomination in the Best Contemporary Blues Album category for his latest offering, Got Soul, should come as no surprise.
The renowned pedal steel guitarist—who’s already collaborated with such legends as Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr and Santana—is merely taking the next step in his journey toward becoming of the genre’s most spiritual and accomplished artists.
Having heard almost no secular music while growing up singing and performing the “sacred steel” at church, Randolph was eventually exposed to the blues of Stevie Ray Vaughan as well as soul and rock music in his late teens. The rest is history.
Randolph describes Got Soul as a soulful form of rock and roll. A kinetic, raucously energetic album that puts his pedal steel guitar front and center, it combines elements of blues, funk, jazz, soul and country with the gospel music of his youth.
Guitar World recently spoke to Randolph about the Grammy nomination and more in this new interview.
This is your fifth Grammy nomination. As an artist, what’s it like when you hear your name announced for a Grammy award?
Yeah, this is our fifth time. It feels good to know that you’re respected among your peers and are appreciated by die hard music fans. It also shows the hard work we put into making music and writing songs. It’s a nice payback.
Let’s talk a little about Got Soul. What themes did you want to explore when making this album?
I really wanted to give people good songs that have messages of love, happiness and inspiration and not focus on all the negativity that’s going on in the world. It’s music with big choruses, catchy grooves and rock and roll guitars that allows people to dance. It’s all of those elements put together.
What’s your typical writing process like?
The groove almost always comes first. I’ll usually sit down with the guitar and pull out all kinds of different riffs—dirty, funky, bluesy and edgy. After the music comes the chorus and then we’ll start work on the lyrics. Solos are more of an inspirational thing.
Let’s discuss a few tracks from Got Soul, starting with the title track. What can you tell me about it?
Musically, that song started out with just the edgy riff. I wanted it to be bluesy and funky with a Rolling Stones kind of vibe. Lyrically, I really wanted to write something that brings people back around to looking within themselves for inspiration.
What about “Love Do What It Do," with Darius Rucker?
That was actually the last song that we wrote for the record. I remember we were at the tail end of recording and that song got written as we were wrapping everything up. After we wrote it we thought, who can we get to sing on it? We wanted someone who had a country vibe but was also a soulful guy.
Darius really fit into what we were trying to say and do. That’s another song that reminds you of bringing people back to a peaceful state of mind. To get people feeling good about themselves and inspiring one another.
How did you become involved with pedal steel?
My Pentecostal church’s history is where it all started. It’s a long tradition that goes all the way back to the early 1930s. I grew up in a church organization where many guys played lap and pedal. So, for me it was normal. These were the guys who were my Muddy Waters and Albert King.
You’re a a big fan of Stevie Ray Vaughan. What was it about his music that attracted you?
His aggression and clean, soulful playing. Every note he played had meaning to it. Growing up playing in church, we always try to play with meaning and purpose and be as precise as possible. When I heard Stevie Ray Vaughn for the first time, when I was 17, my whole playing style and direction changed.
What other projects are you working on right now?
Right now, we’re doing a lot of writing and recording. We’re getting ready for the new record and seeing where that takes us. I’ll be doing the Train Sail Across The Sun cruise in March and we’ll also be doing a lot of concert dates on our own. I’m looking forward to building off the Grammy nomination by making a new record and collaborating with others. It’s a very rock and rock church experience.
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.