Robert Randoph: Born Again
Robert Randolph and Buddy Guy
In late May, pedal steel guitarist Robert Randolph was nearing the completion of his fourth studio album with the Family Band, a yet-to-be-titled effort being produced by Randolph due in late fall. “We’ve honed-in on 15 tunes,” he says of the approximately 30 that they cut. “But every time I say that, we go back into the studio and come up with two more tunes.”
If there’s a through-line for the conversation, then its Randolph’s disenchantment with his former record label Warner Bros., who he found to be creatively stifling and artistically misguided. (While not confirmed, the guitarist indicates that either Sony or Universal will be putting out the new record.)
However, one trend that does continue from the previous two Warner Bros. studio efforts is Randolph’s fondness for guests. This time, Carlos Santana gets top billing (rightfully so with a significant amount of co-writing), followed by Buddy Guy and some TBD guests who Randolph was mum about. (Though, he let it slip that Jack White was supposed to swing by when they returned to Nashville, Tenn.’s 16 Ton Studios where they recorded most of the album in early June.)
And while Randolph may be helming the production, he isn’t working entirely without a net: Legendary engineer Eddie Kramer has been on hand for all the sessions. “Some of the sounds he gets with the drums and the guitars are mind-blowing,” the guitarist says. “Of course, you argue with him like anybody else: ‘Eddie, what are you doing, man? You’re 75 years old! That idea don’t work these days!’” It’s fun and that’s what makes it cool.”
Me, myself and I [are producing]. Back to the funk—no fucking around. [Laughs.] It was good and bad [at Warner Bros.]. It started out good [there] and then, these labels turn over people. So [during] the course of recording—and you’ve signed that record contract—you’re in the hands of these labels and they can be all over the place with some of their advice. They throw you off: “Yeah, yeah. Try this,” “Do that” or “No, do this! This is going to work.” I finally had enough about a year and a half ago and said, “Look: bottom line is I don’t know why I’m having these conversations. If you want me to sound like some other guy, go sign that guy. That’s not why I came here, to be jerking around with you all.” Sometimes you let [your label] listen to something and they’re like, “What is that? I don’t know about that.” Well, that’s what we do! You want something else? Go find that guy!
From the time we started with Live at the Wetlands (2002), then Unclassified (2003) and then going on the road, we haven’t spent much time in the studio creating. Any other time we were creating, the label came in and went, “OK, go work with this songwriter.” What the hell, man? I’m not creating with the band. We gotta create and get in and see what’s happenin’. This is the first time since Unclassified that we’ve been able to go in, relax, and everybody just starts playing something and something catches on. That sort of thing—it’s been refreshing.
Back to the Roots
The new album is high-energy, Family Band music. We dipped into the roots of what we do—who we are—inspirationally. Sometimes you write a song and it’s meant to be short and sometimes it’s meant to be long. And that’s just how it is and that’s the way we’ve kept it. You don’t cut the damn song off [for radio play]. A great song is a great song. There probably won’t be a 10-minute jam but we wanted to make sure we got the whole feeling of the music with the words and the choruses and not have some producer chime in and say, “Well, it’s a little bit too much guitar.” Well, you’ve never seen us play, have you? You’ve never been to an Allman Brothers show, have you? You’ve been to a Jimi Hendrix show. You’ve never been to a Led Zeppelin show because that’s what they do: We are guitar players. What the hell do you think this is?
We jammed together years ago when we did a thing with me, him and [Metallica guitarist] Kirk Hammett for his album All That I Am (2005). One of the cuts (“Trinity”) made the album but there were another two or three things that we all created together [that didn’t]. As I started to listen to those again, I said, “Man, we gotta get back in and so something.” We talked about it last summer and we probably got into the studio around January. We hung out with no direction, just listened to some things and started jamming. When you put those guitar sounds together—[mine and Santana’s]—it’s mind-blowing when you listen back. We spent about three days in the studio and created about eight great tunes—me, the band and Carlos. [Carlos and I] were emailing Kirk to come by but he was out in Europe. But we can always revisit that. Which we might do it in the next month—we’re going to go down to Vegas again toward the end of June before [me and the band] head out to Europe in July.
Ninety percent of the songs are originals. I did record “I’m Going Down” with Buddy Guy and that’s great. It’s a great friggin’ guitar blowout version of it—high energy. Me and him going at it from the time the song starts till the song ends. To be able to be record with Buddy Guy, who’s really the last living blues legend who’s functional—B.B. King will be 90 soon and is on his way down—but Buddy Guy is the last healthy guy that’s got the stories of Muddy Waters, playing with Hendrix and all that kind of stuff.
There’s this new song we just finished called “Born Again.” The term “born again” is usually a spiritual term, but in this sense, it’s whether you meet somebody, you come up when you’ve been down and out—it could be anything. [Something where you’ve] found a new lease on life. The song is almost like “The March” and “Love the One You’re With” all in the same tune.
In honor of Umphrey’s McGee’s return to Summer Camp this weekend, we present the group’s Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger performing this version of “The Pequod” from UM’s Anchor Drops.
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The Milk Carton Kids share the first song from their new album, The Ash & Clay.
Here is the new video from Serbian guitar ace Ana Popovic. “Object Of Obsession” appears on her latest album Can You Stand The Heat.
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