From choir to concerts: Robert Randolph’s musical journey
Everyone is familiar with gospel music, but how many have really, truly listened to it?
Growing up, Robert Randolph had no other option.
He spent much of his younger years exposed only to music that was performed in his church in New Jersey, and more often than not it was his own family performing it.
Randolph’s intense study of the genre grew to a passion, and as he got older he realized that the art of gospel and soul was largely lost on the world outside the Southern church, so he formed the Family Band — a secular blues ensemble featuring a steel guitar native to gospel music.
Robert Randolph & the Family Band play the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater stage for the Moe’s Original Bar B Que Hot Summer Nights free concert series on Tuesday, Aug. 21.
After Randolph decided to take his musical skills beyond the church choir, he came across lots of different kinds of music and people, but soon noticed striking similarities in the songs he grew up with in church and those they were playing late at night in bars.
“All music is related. Gospel is the same as blues,” Randolph said. “The only thing that changes is in hardcore gospel people are singing about God and Jesus and in the blues people are singing about ‘my baby left me’ and whiskey.”
The scene was certainly different, but Randolph was eager to play for bigger audiences and share his steel style.
“When we first started out, guys really weren’t allowed to leave the church. I was the one that stepped out and started this thing,” he said. “My dad would say, ‘Why do you come home smelling like beer and cigarettes?’ Well, we just got done playing some smoky club till 2 a.m., it was all foreign and different.”
People gathered to hear what Robert Randolph & the Family Band was all about, and word spread quickly about the band and their musical gospel truths.
They began selling out clubs in New York, and they recorded their first album in 2002. They’ve since recorded five more studio albums, frequent festivals and tours and play alongside some big names.
Their first really big break was when they got the chance to tour with music star Eric Clapton.
“We’d get told, ‘You guys are going on tour with Eric Clapton,’” Randolph said. “I thought, ‘this guy must not have a clue who I am’ but the first time I met him we talked for about an hour and played music backstage.”
Changing it up
Recently, the band has been striving to try new sounds and challenging themselves artistically.
Randolph explains that they could definitely be put into the “jam band” category, because they like to experiment on stage and thrive in front of live audiences.
“The jam band scene has that name but it’s really a true music art form scene where you can just be who you are,” Randolph said.
Jam with Robert Randolph & the Family Band at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 21, at Moe’s Original Bar B Que.