Menu

Robert Randolph Interview

When I first photographed Robert Randolph at the House of God headquarters church in Nashville, he was a budding steel guitarist from New Jersey whose extended family included a number of ministers and professional musicians.  Three months later, he made his public debut at the First Sacred Steel Convention at Rollins College in the upscale Orlando suburb of Winter Park.  His flashy, pyrotechnic performance caught the attention of artist manager Jim Markel, and within a few more months, he landed Robert a rock star-magnitude recording contract with Warner Bros.  Robert has since appeared on several network television programs, including most of the major late night shows, and played for the Grammys award television broadcast.  Acknowledging his debt to the House of God steel guitar tradition and the musicians who shaped it, he has included veterans Chuck Campbell, Ted Beard, Aubrey Ghent and Calvin Cooke in concerts and national television broadcasts.  His album, “Got Soul” on Sony licensee Dare Records, received a 2017 Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Blues Album, Robert’s third Grammy nomination.   

– Robert L. Stone

Robert Randolph photo

The Robert Stone Sacred Steel Archive:
Robert Randolph Interview

00:00
00:00
  • The Robert Stone Sacred Steel Archive: Robert Randolph Interview 00:00
Interviewee: Robert Randolph
Interviewer: Robert Stone
Date: 8/31/2001
Location: Telephone interview
Language: English

For the archive overview:
The Robert Stone Sacred Steel Archive

This is an interview originally recorded for research purposes. It is presented here in its raw state, unedited except to remove some irrelevant sections and blank spaces. All rights to the interview are reserved by the Arhoolie Foundation. Please do not use anything from this website without permission. info@arhoolie.org

Robert Randolph Interview Transcript:

Robert Stone: 

The purpose of this interview is for the book that I’m doing for the University of Illinois Press on the Sacred Steel Tradition. And naturally, I will probably want to quote some of what you say, okay?

Robert Randolph:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Robert Stone:

All right. Well, tell me, I’m going to ask you a lot of questions that you’ve heard before, I’m sure. And they’re not in any special order. I did write some stuff down. But in a few words, what has it been like for you to be on this… You’ve been on a tremendously fast track. Do you almost get dizzy sometimes, or what’s it like for you? What’s it been like?

Robert Randolph:

Well, it’s kind of draining sometimes, but it’s fun. When I really get to go out there and just play music firstly, what we all enjoy doing. For me, that’s what I enjoy doing. But at the same time, sometimes I get tired. But everybody’s been through it before, so I can’t really complain when I think of all the other guys that I know. They’ve been through it, so they should… Some people never know what they get into until you get into it, and this is what it’s like. So you got to make sure you always enjoy playing music, which got us here and which we all love doing.

Robert Stone:

Okay. How about, I know you’ve played with Clapton and Santana and so forth. What’s that been like? And has there been any of those sorts of moments of playing with guys like that? Has there been any really special times that stand out?

Robert Randolph:

There are a bunch of times. I would say probably the first time that I actually got to either hang with both of those guys was special to me because it was… I got to hang with Carlos Santana first in a studio session that we were there for about two days recording some stuff for one of his albums. And we wound up probably coming up with about five or six different tunes, but only one made the album. But we wrote a bunch of different tunes. As a band, it was me, Carlos Santana and his whole band, and Kirk Hammett from Metallica got together and did a bunch of guitar masterpiece deals.

Robert Randolph:

So that was the most special thing, to be able to get into his creative brain, which was to see how he operates and what makes him different from so many of the other musicians out there. And I did a tour with him, and it’s like anything else. It was just getting a chance to do what we do and then having the chance to play with him on stage and across the country was a great thing.

Robert Randolph:

And Clapton’s thing was the same way. I had talked to him on the phone a bunch. But until we went out and met him up in Barcelona, Spain… The first day we were on tour with him, he stood in the dressing room as I was practicing playing acoustic Dobro before a show. And he came in and sat down, and from there we just talked. And he grabbed his acoustic guitar, and we came up with a bunch of ideas and talked about some things about music. So that’s more a special thing, which was to me, you can’t replace those kind of moments. You talk about it. It’s cool but-

Robert Stone:

Is it my understanding that Clapton’s really pretty interested in the history of the whole Sacred Steel thing, the House of God, and all that?

Robert Randolph:

Oh, yeah. Yeah. At first, he didn’t really know much about it. But now, he’s learned a bunch of stuff. Because you got to figure this guy, we were talking, and when he started to hear and then started to do some research about how this stuff went, what we did he… Here’s the guy that’s heard every great guitar player known to man. He’s known everybody. Not only has he heard everybody, he’s known all of them. He’s known Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan and Albert King and all these guys. You know what I mean? And Muddy Waters, he’s known all the great guys. And for him, to see a different type of guitar playing and things like that was amazing to him.

Robert Stone:

Refreshing, I bet. I bet it was pretty exciting for him.

Robert Randolph:

Yes.

Robert Stone:

And, like I said, I’m going to be jumping around. How did your experience as a church musician prepare you for going on stage? Can you talk about that a little bit?

Robert Randolph:

Well, being in church, the difference is when you grow up in… At least our church, I’m not sure of most churches. But most Pentecostal and Baptist churches, the kids are featured a lot, and you’ve been brought up to just always do something in front of a audience of people, whether it was five or it was a hundred, whether it was 500 or whether it was 5,000, you’ve been brought up to either do a Easter speech or play a song or do something.

Robert Randolph:

And so, that helped prepare me for going out, just on that sense, in terms of performing and being in front of people. Just letting you know that when you go and… For me, when I’ve always been in front of people, I’ve never got nervous about anything because we were taught from a young age to always do stuff in front of people in church. But in terms of the playing side, being able to learn to play with the steel in the House of God Church, you’re taught to play, and you learn from the other guys who I watched playing, like Ted, Cal, and all them. You’re taught to play with a certain improv but also following along what’s going on and not get too far out of context of what’s going on.

Robert Randolph:

And that’s what prepared me for going out and do what we do. That’s on the performance side, so it’s helped out a lot.

Robert Stone:

I would think that playing in a church where you watched the preacher and watched the congregation and all that, it’s my perception that you guys are really good at picking up cues from other band members or from whatever. You pick up on the cues.

Robert Randolph:

Yeah. It’s the shift… Like see, the music, the Sacred Steel, we all know what it is. The church people, some of the older members in the church don’t understand how special the thing is. Me and some of the other players, some of the people who’ve been out there, The Campbells, Calvin, and Ghent, and whoever else, now we understand how big of a role it plays. The church people don’t really understand that.

Robert Randolph:

I’m not saying that one thing is more important than the other, it’s just something about churches. Everything works together. When everything is working together, and everything is on one accord, whether it’s the singing, the music, the preaching, the clapping, it creates such a great spiritual atmosphere for anybody just to feel free and just let go and let whatever happens, happens. You know what I mean?

Robert Stone:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Robert Randolph:

And that’s what usually happens during that service. When you go to church, you’re going to church to open up and let God into your life so you can release whatever you’ve been through that week or that day or that month or that year before leading up to that point. And sometimes you could be in church, you could be pissed off at somebody, and something may happen. Somebody may sing a song, which triggers off somebody else clapping their hands, which triggers off the music being on one accord and somebody yells. Next thing you know, you realize that you shouldn’t have been that pissed off at that person. And now, it’s time to let the whole spiritual, great, and joyful noise, joyful sound, joyful singing, let it into your heart. And then everything will come out you from that standpoint.

Robert Randolph:

And some people really understand, that’s what church is for. You know what I mean?

Robert Stone:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Robert Randolph:

That’s when the music comes into play. But in our church, the music is so big of a thing. That’s one of the things that all of us miss who don’t get to play there anymore, because in our church it was such a tradition by the way that we played music and by the way that we were taught to play music. It’s the tradition in where there’s nothing, nothing, no Clapton playing, no being on tour with Santana, there’s nothing better than playing in the great service at House of God Church. Nothing. If somebody told you that, they really would be lying.

Robert Stone:

Yeah. No, I hear you. I’ve heard this sort of thing before, and I can certainly believe it. And I tell people all the time, Sacred Steel on stage is great, but in church is where it really lives.

Robert Randolph:

Yeah, because the church, there’s nothing you could practice, nothing you could do, nothing you could anticipate. Because when it happens, it all happens at one time. They got an old saying called the bomb drop. When the bomb dropping there, it’s over. That’s all she wrote. And certain players have a tendency to always drop a bomb more so than some of us other players. Ted has dropped more bombs in the church throughout history. I’ll say Ted, and Henry Nelson, and Calvin have dropped more bombs, more people have gotten relieved and revived off them playing a service than any other player.

Robert Randolph:

I can’t speak to Lorenzo Harrison, because I don’t know what those guys are doing right now. Calvin Cooke told me, “You got to be in the church while Lorenzo Harrison…” He was just telling me two weeks ago. And I was just like, “Man, well I don’t much about him.” But from where I’m from, there’s nobody that drops more bombs, especially in Nashville. Ted is the king of that thing. You’re talking about throughout the ’80s and the ’90s. And I can’t speak for the ’70s, but he dropped more spiritual bombs than anybody.

Robert Stone:

Yeah. I hear you, man. I can believe that.

Robert Randolph:

That kind of stuff, which is the people, you can’t come and replace that scene. Now, we can go out, and we could all do what we could do out. That’s why I don’t really… It’s just my opinion, for some of the people to try and go out and try to, I would say imitate what you would play in church, to try to imitate… And that’s the only thing that I could agree with what the church would say, is why try to go out and imitate something that you would play in the church out in the atmosphere that’s not really church? That’s not my style. I don’t really do that. I do something way, totally different.

Robert Randolph:

Some of the other people, somebody else could come behind me and say what they say. And hey, that’s just my opinion. You know what I mean?

Robert Stone:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Robert Randolph:

And that’s why sometimes I can understand where the church is, but church don’t really understand some of the other things, too.

Robert Stone:

How about young people? Obviously, I’ve written things a couple times about comparing the young people that are inspired by you, the young steel players, to other kids that shoot hoops and hope to be the new Shaquille O’Neal. There’s all these guys that want to be the next Robert Randolph or whatever they think that is. But are there any young people that you’re actually working with? Or do you interact with them-

Robert Randolph:

I haven’t heard anybody… You guys forget, I’ve been the person who’s the least going to that church in the last nine years. I don’t really know. I’ve been the first one kicked out of there. So for me, I’ve only been to church maybe four times in the last seven years, so I don’t really know. I would figure… I’ve heard some of the tapes and stuff from some of the younger people. Of course, there’s going to be somebody who come along and do what we do because that’s the way… And do what we do and do it probably 50 times better or have something that’s different to contribute to the music business. Something that we all say, “Man, I’ve been playing steel 40 years. I never thought about doing that.” Or somebody says, “I’ve been playing for 15 years,” or whatever. And you know it’s going to be some kid.

Robert Randolph:

But some of the other players, I hear them, and they’re doing great-

Robert Stone:

… I was just wondering if you had anybody, a kid that you’re mentoring or anything like that? Or if there’s been some that you’ve spent some time with or anything like that, too?

Robert Randolph:

… Well, I haven’t really listened to them, because I hadn’t really had the time to even look around. What I do is, I donate a bunch of steels and strings and bars. I just send them to people. People like my father or somebody else will tell me some other people that still go there. Or Calvin is like, “Hey, so and so is playing.” And I’m like, “Oh, what do we need? Do we need a steel or something or…” I’ve got little cousins in Florida. I gave them some steels. I would say the other best steel player, he’s not young but we the same age. The best steel player that goes to that church now is David Fonville from Atlantic City.

Robert Stone:

Yeah. I’ve heard a lot about him.

Robert Randolph:

There’s nobody better than him. He’s the best one there. He’s the best one that still play there. Nobody else is even close. That guy knows everything. He knows how to play. He knows songs, he knows the thing. When you listen to him, you hear something different. Some of the other people, you’ll hear some people with [inaudible 00:16:08]. It’s like when I used to be around Calvin and Ted and them, that’s what I like about them. Now, they never gave me credit for being good until I actually became good. They didn’t care really about the speed picking up. They were like, “Well, you play fast, but the notes ain’t really born. So you got to get those right, and then you’ll understand how to play.”

Robert Stone:

Okay. How about, do you feel like you have a mission with your music or a particular message you’re trying to get across?

Robert Randolph:

Well, for me, my whole goal was to just take the pedal steel guitar and take it as mainstream as possible so the world could understand. Like say for instance me, I listen to… It took for me to listen to Stevie Ray Vaughan to understand everywhere else where Stevie Ray Vaughan got his music from, right?

Robert Stone:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Robert Randolph:

He got it from Hendrix, and then he got it from Albert King and Albert Collins and Muddy Waters and all those guys. So it took him to be the outlet for me to learn about all that whole blues music scene of everything that was going on before him. It took Stevie Ray. So somebody sees me playing, and then somebody will go, “Oh, wow, was Robert Randolph playing a pedal steel guitar? Where does he come from?” And they read he comes from Sacred Steel scene. And they hear the Sacred Steel scene and they go, “Wow, I actually may like this better. This sounds a little bit more my taste.” So they may hear The Campbells and go, “Wow, I like this better.”

Robert Randolph:

Or they may hear Ghent and go, “Oh, wow. He’s a little more traditional.” You know what I’m saying?

Robert Stone:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Robert Randolph:

So that’s what the purpose of the whole… for me really focusing my energy and putting the thing as mainstream as possible. Because I can’t play like none of those dudes. All those dudes got their own color and their own flavor. And it’s really a shame that people like Henry Nelson are dead and gone, and people like Ted and Calvin are old and way out of their prime. It’ll never be documented right how bad those guys was. There’s tapes of Muddy Waters. There’s tapes of Stevie Ray Vaughan when he was young. There’s tapes of Albert King and Albert Collins and Robert Johnson throughout their whole life, right?

Robert Stone:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Robert Randolph:

And tapes of Burnside from Mississippi, you know what I mean?

Robert Stone:

Yeah.

Robert Randolph:

Other than a church tape, there’s no professionally recorded tape or CD or album, whatever, of Ted, Calvin, Henry Nelson, Lorenzo Harrison, all those dudes. You know what I’m saying-

Robert Stone:

Yeah. Now, that first project I did, we barely caught Henry. He sounded pretty good, but actually they told me he wasn’t even sounding his best then. And then right after we recorded him in 1993, he started having strokes. That was it.

Robert Randolph:

And what needs to happen, in order for somebody to really understand, the people should know Henry Nelson was the first guy who ever moaned on a guitar. First guy who ever moaned on a guitar, who really made it sound like somebody was really moaning and whistling and blowing. And for that not to be documented all throughout his life is just such a shame, you know?

Robert Stone:

Yeah.

Robert Randolph:

So that’s why I just totally, when I started playing, nixed the whole… It’s a different thing when you can say that you nixed God or you nixed a certain group of people telling you what you shouldn’t do. See, I didn’t nix God. I nixed a certain group of people who said, “You know what? You shouldn’t do this because you really belong here.” But they don’t really even know what’s going on. You know what I mean? Because those group of people are over there, and the whole rest of the world is out there. So I nixed the group of people, still kept God in my life and went forward and said, “You know what? Somebody needs to know now. Not no slow thing that’s supposed to happen over the next 15 years. This thing, somebody needs to know now and as fast as possible.” And boom, there I went. That was my goal, for somebody to hear and go, “Where’d he come from?”

Robert Randolph:

That’s why they hear an article on Sacred Steel and go look it up, go find out where it’s at, you know?

Robert Stone:

Uh-huh (affirmative). Speaking of which, when I was talking to Marco the other day, he mentioned something. I was going to ask you… You’re a hard guy to keep up with because things happen fast. And what’s your plans? Marco mentioned that you might be exploring some gospel stuff, getting more into that and…

Robert Randolph:

Well, yeah. I’ve always been in touch with a lot of people. See, what people don’t know is I’ve done a lot of stuff with a lot of gospel artists, wrote some songs with some of the bigger names out there and wrote some stuff. I’ve been going and doing some recordings. We actually already did a whole gospel CD with a bunch of the big gospel artists out there. And I think we’ll probably release it soon.

Robert Stone:

That’d be interesting.

Robert Randolph:

Yeah. That’s the-

Robert Stone:

Can you tell me who some of the artists were?

Robert Randolph:

… Well, what we did was we got all kinds of artists. I got Marvin Winans. I got Karen Clark from the Clark Sisters. I got Bishop Eddie Long, Bishop Noel Jones. I had Wynonna Judd sing a song. I had Alicia Keys on a song. And this was just everybody contributing to a gospel… It’s going to be a big deal.

Robert Stone:

That’s interesting. That could be really cool.

Robert Randolph:

So that’s been where I’ve been going.

Robert Stone:

Let me ask you this, and at any point… Because I’m fixing to ask you a question about your father being a minister and all. If there’s something that you don’t want to talk about, just tell me, and we won’t talk about it. Has your father, he’s still a minister, right? Has he had to deal with any restrictions or heat or anything because of you?

Robert Randolph:

Well, yeah. My whole family had for a while. But see what’s happened now is… See, here’s what people don’t understand, that over time that I first told people, when the church was first really coming down on everybody, and they saw I just went out and just really didn’t give a hell and went out and did whatever. And all the people in my family did. People would come at them, the bishop, the people would try to talk to them and say, “Listen, he’s a grown man. He’s going to do whatever he’s going to do. You can’t…” Whatever.

Robert Randolph:

So my father and them, they know, and I told them way back. I said, “Y’all don’t understand. I’m going to a church where they’re telling somebody…” And I’m not even going to get into talking about the church. “But this is the part of the organization where you go. Now understand, they’re not saying anything that applies to somebody in Europe, somebody in Japan, somebody in freaking Africa. They’re telling somebody something that only applies to these people here in the church that y’all are going to.” I said, “Understand that I’ve been out already across the whole world already, right?”

Robert Stone:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Robert Randolph:

“None of that what they was telling me growing up applies to any of these people out here. So you can take that and run with it. Whatever you want to take it as, you can take it. But I know what’s out there, and I know what needs to happen.” So they took heat, but what can you do?

Robert Stone:

Yeah. Right. No, I figured they probably did. Do you have any idea where the music might be going, both inside the church and outside the church? Maybe you don’t know-

Robert Randolph:

Inside the church, as far as I know, it’s going nowhere right now. That’s from the feedback that I’m getting from everybody that it’s really going nowhere, because there’s no more original players. There’s no more original style or stuff going on. It may take a while for somebody else to come along and create something that all those guys did, something that Ted did, something that Calvin did, something that Henry Nelson did, something that Chuck [Kane 00:25:10] had done. So it’s going to take a while. I don’t know, because right now it’s dead. You got a bunch of guys who can’t… And see, what’s happening now in church is the kids are coming up playing just not even really learning music. They just learning maybe how to play steel guitar but don’t understand how to play music.

Robert Randolph:

And that was the one thing with when I started to spend time with Ted and started to spend time with Calvin, when I was coming up 18, 19, 20, and I started to spend time with those guys, they always reiterated to me, “You got to play music. You can’t just play Sacred Steel. You can’t play steel guitar. You got to play music, have to sound good.” You know what I mean?

Robert Stone:

Right.

Robert Randolph:

There’s a certain way to play music to play a song. And from what I hear… Now I could be totally wrong about somebody that’s playing in a storefront church in Jacksonville, Florida, or something. You know what I mean? Maybe that’s the guy or the girl or whoever’s playing. But what I’m hearing so far is going nowhere. That’s in terms of influential people, you know what I’m saying?

Robert Stone:

Yeah. Yeah, new developments, new things going on.

Robert Randolph:

Yeah, new-

Robert Stone:

There’s no Henry Nelson or Calvin or Ted developing right now among those young guys is what-

Robert Randolph:

No, and-

Robert Stone:

… I hear you saying.

Robert Randolph:

… No, and that’s the thing that needs to be told. I could be totally wrong, but I don’t see it. Somebody will tell you, “Yeah, so and so is coming up and he’s good.” But I haven’t heard it. Maybe Calvin might have known of somebody else or something, but I don’t know.

Robert Stone:

In fact, it’s my impression that since a lot of the top guys aren’t in anymore, that there’s a lot of second-string guys playing.

Robert Randolph:

Man, it’s not even second string. It’s more like fourth-string dudes. The people who they saw me playing here, the fourth-string dude… And here’s what happened, it’s almost not even like they’re fourth-string dudes. And anything that you’re dealing with, you have people who… Say for instance, you got a McDonald’s company, right? At the year-end meetings that they have and wherever the heck a McDonald’s is, you don’t see the store manager from the branch in Ocala, Florida, going to the year-end meeting out in Brazil somewhere. You understand?

Robert Stone:

Right.

Robert Randolph:

So the guy who’s playing, who’s not as good as the people who’s supposed to be playing is what’s going on there. Now, everybody has a purpose. Some people are local musicians. Some people are state musicians. Some people are national musicians. Now, everybody might not understand that, right?

Robert Stone:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Robert Randolph:

I almost didn’t understand it until later on when I started playing, right?

Robert Stone:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Robert Randolph:

I didn’t understand it. Well, you grew up and you’re a kid, and you go, “Well, I’m good enough. I can play a song about blah.” Until you really start to get into music and you go, “Well, you know what? I’m not good enough to play in that.” Because it’s more than just a… You have to understand the service, the songs, and all of that thing. In our church, that’s what you got to do. So that’s what’s going on now. Now, because all the big guys are kicked out, all the main guys, the national guys, you got a lot of local dudes playing. That’s what’s been going on. A lot of local dudes are playing, not…

Robert Randolph:

You’ve been to enough of those services to know that there’s-

Robert Stone:

No, I know who they are. I know who they are.

Robert Randolph:

… So you hear some of the people, and you just know. And from what I mean, there’s people like Calvin telling me a story saying, “Man, you know, they think…” See, here’s what a lot of young kids think, and I was one of them too growing up, right? Every time when something happens… And see this was what Henry Nelson would not do. When something happens, say the preacher get up there and go, “Everybody lift your hands and say ‘glory, Jesus, hey,'” some people think it’s time to jam right there. And see, that’s what people don’t understand is time for jamming music, player’s music, which we call jamming music, a.k.a. Then there’s times of the right musicians understanding either you play some kind of praise music, some kind of interlude or something that just puts people in that frame, you get out. Or maybe you go for the jam after that but it’s a certain build that happens-

Robert Stone:

You got to read what’s going on and-

Robert Randolph:

… Yeah, man-

Robert Stone:

… react-

Robert Randolph:

… Only the professional dudes know how to do that. And that’s just it, that’s just hands down.

Robert Stone:

… That comes later. That’s what takes a while to get to that point as a church musician.

Robert Randolph:

Yeah. And see, there’s what happens. Here’s where taking all these guys like Calvin and Ted and Aubrey Ghent… Now, Aubrey Ghent, he’s a older guy now. So you take all these guys and Chuck and them, and you throw them out, now who are these kids going to learn from now, right?

Robert Stone:

Right.

Robert Randolph:

Nobody’s ever going to learn that, because now the kid that’s… I won’t even say a kid now, because now you’ve got some of these guys that are 45 years old who are local musicians now playing as a national musician. So now, this guy’s 45, he’s been playing the same messed up way, his whole thing. He don’t understand. So now a kid goes up, he’s 15, 16, 12, 13, 14, growing up, and sees this guy. Well maybe this guy… Because that’s what happens in our church. You do what you see somebody else do, you know?

Robert Stone:

Yeah. No, exactly, it’s a lot of imitation. Another question, and I can anticipate what you might say about this, but the music is obviously… It’s been a great experience for you, taking the music outside of the church and all the things you’ve done. Do you see any downside to this, or is it all positive?

Robert Randolph:

Here’s the downside. The downside with me taking out and doing what I’m doing, is you’ve got all these other people trying to do the same thing but don’t have a concept of what they’re actually doing-

Robert Stone:

… So you’re saying they don’t have a concept of what they’re doing. Now, who do you mean by all these other people, people from the church or-

Robert Randolph:

… Well, yeah-

Robert Stone:

… or other musicians?

Robert Randolph:

… Yeah, musicians and players and people now going, “Well, you know, Robert or whoever’s out there playing and doing his stuff. And Robert left for whatever reason he left for. And man, the church…” Somebody told me a story. They said, “Man, we played a whole state assembly, and the church only gave me $30 for playing the whole week at the state assembly. So I decided to take my equipment and walk out the church.” Now, these guys are older than me that’s been playing longer than me. “Well, how come all of the sudden now it’s such a big issue to you now if you’ve been playing it all these other years, right? Do you not see what y’all been doing?” I said, “But that ain’t no reason to do that.” You know what I’m saying?

Robert Randolph:

So now this guy don’t even want to play no more in the service because of that one thing, but he’s been playing, getting the same amount of money for how many years? You got guys up there who’s trying to form bands and trying to play and just rebelling and doing all this kind of stuff but don’t have no concept of where they’re going-

Robert Stone:

I know, boy, tell me about it, man. People have no idea. And the other thing is, they think if they’re on any record, they should be getting rich.

Robert Randolph:

… Yeah, that’s what it is. So they don’t understand that you got these people out there. So whoever I would talk to, if somebody may have a issue about something, and I have to tell them, “You don’t really understand.” I’m like, “What you’re trying to do is you’re trying to enter the world of artists, right, recording artists and music. There’s much more than to you just playing your freaking steel and your guitar in the music world, in the music business. It’s got nothing to do with what you thought might happen when you were looking at TV or what you’re looking at other people doing. You’re about to get a big surprise because it’s a business out here, and you need to understand what the business is. And you’re running around now trying to do this and do that and go, ‘Wow, we could play songs, too. And I guess we can go out and do that.'”

Robert Randolph:

Well, you know what? If that’s what they want to do, then that’s what they want to do. You know what I mean?

Robert Stone:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Robert Randolph:

After a while, they’ll get tired and something may happen, who knows? But I’m sure you see them out there. They’re-

Robert Stone:

Oh, yeah. It’s like I can’t go- They think because they’re “a Sacred Steel player” that all they got to do is make some kind of recording, and they’re going to be big time.

Robert Randolph:

… And that’s what I try to tell these dudes. It’s like they think, “Oh, we’re Sacred Steel because Glenn Lee and Chuck and them did, Robert and Aubrey Ghent did, so maybe we can go out. And we’ve got the Sacred Steel, so everybody’s going to be interested.” I’m like, “Man, nobody’s going to be interested in that. That’s not how it works.” It don’t work like that. Some of these people have found out real fast.

Robert Stone:

Yeah. And some of them still don’t have a clue.

Robert Randolph:

No, some of them don’t have a clue, and they’re running around real fast. And sometimes they’ll call me and go, “Hey, man, we’re trying to do what you do, and blah, blah, blah.” I’m like, “Man, to tell you the truth,” I’m like listen, “I don’t even know how I lucked out and got a major label deal to begin with. To think that may happen to you, you’re talking about trying to make it… You can probably make it to the NBA faster than that, buddy.”

Robert Stone:

It ain’t easy. Even when you get a lot of good breaks and all that, it still is real hard, I know. I know people that-

Robert Randolph:

No, it’s more than that. It’s much more than going out. Even me, it’s much more than going out and saying, “Well, hey, I played with Eric Clapton. I toured with Carlos Santana.” After a while, if you aren’t making good music or out here being able to go out on your own and sell out the places that we’ve been doing and selling records and doing the stuff we’ve been doing, after a while, you can’t make no name for your own self or somebody only you making right music or whatever. Somebody’s going to say, “Well, that ain’t the same kind of stuff.” It just happens. So I’m like, whatever.

Robert Randolph:

Because what’ll happen is… Here’s the great thing about it, there’s nothing better to me than when I hear somebody tell me, somebody go, “Man, Robert, I kind of like what you do, man, but I sure love freaking Calvin Cooke, man. Or I sure love The Campbell Brothers. Or I sure love Aubrey Ghent. I like that stuff a little better.” And I go, “Oh, that’s great, man. You know what? That’s really cool.” You know what I’m saying, because that’s the way it should be.

Robert Stone:

… Right. Everybody’s got their own taste, and everybody’s looking for something different.

Robert Randolph:

Yeah. There is no guide. It’s like this, just like there’s somebody… You can go to a record store. If you go to a record store, and you see all the different genres of music, there’s everybody of each genre of music over there. Somebody’s trying to pick out folk. Somebody’s trying to pick out a jazz CD. Somebody’s trying to pick out a gospel, bluegrass, hard rock, soft rock, you know what I mean?

Robert Stone:

Yeah.

Robert Randolph:

And that’s what it is. So there’s going to be somebody who goes, “Well, you know, we don’t like Robert Randolph, but maybe we like Aubrey Ghent. Or we don’t like this one but maybe like that one,” as long as people are providing good music. And that’s what it is. But you’ve got some of these people out here who don’t have it, and that’s the real downfall of it. The only maybe good part about it is, is letting people know where we come from, who we are. And it may trigger somebody’s mind to maybe want to be a part of a church some day. That’s the only good part about it.

Robert Randolph:

If our church were any more open so much as some of these other churches, we would have probably one of the largest organizations just from the Sacred Steel music being out there. You know what I mean?

Robert Stone:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. I’ve been thinking about… That’s one of the thoughts I had lately. Somebody might start up a church that’s a little more liberal about the musicians playing out and so forth, and they might get a lot of good musicians in there.

Robert Randolph:

Well, look, at any point in time see… Because I’m going to do a big thing. And that’s one of the things that Marco was probably telling you about is we’re going to do a huge thing, because we’re going to do a huge series of things that involves the gospel and blues and bring it all together, whether it’s a series of concerts or whatever. And I’m talking about these will probably be 10,000 to 20,000 people concerts or services or whatever. But we’re just putting it all in context now from all these people. I met mayors and presidents and senators and all kind of people, huge bishops and pastors from all over the place who all have come to say, “Hey, we want to do this thing, man, for the church, and we want to do this.”

Robert Randolph:

And I go, “Wait a second. Hold up. We’re going to do it, so we’ll do it right.” And that’s the way it is. It’s all coming together now. That’s what he was probably telling you about more.

Robert Stone:

Yeah. It wasn’t real specific. He said something like you’re investigating a gospel avenue, and that it looks pretty good and there might be some big things happening soon. That’s about all he said. Hey, this is-

Robert Randolph:

That’s the one thing that’s been missing from this whole thing, this whole Sacred Steel thing. The one problem is that it has not translated over to the mainstream gospel world, yet. It has for some of the players in the blues or some of these dudes traveling in Europe or me selling records or being on the Grammy’s or doing all that kind of stuff. There hasn’t been a huge church thing, which we’re doing right now.

Robert Stone:

… Yeah. Right. No, that’d be a major breakthrough.

Robert Randolph:

Yeah. On the gospel side, because it really needs to be attached to the mainstream gospel side because that’s where we’re all from. We all believe in God, know God, and do all that whole thing. So that’s what it is. For most of the world out there right now, Sacred Steel has been attached to music that’s been taken in some context outside of the church, but it hasn’t been done in a big context church thing, yet.

Robert Stone:

Right. That’s right. That’s exactly right. I hear you-

Robert Randolph:

That’s one of the problems, too-

Robert Stone:

… Yeah, or a challenge-

Robert Randolph:

… You have to tell that to some of the other players. I’m like, “Dude, y’all don’t know what y’all doing. You don’t even know what you’re doing. You try to go out here and play the jam band stuff and do all this kind of stuff. You’re totally missing out on this whole thing. You know what I mean? That’s where you should be at, over there.”

Robert Stone:

… I’ve got just a couple of quick questions. One of them is, and I hope you don’t laugh at this, but I assume you’re pretty familiar with Buddy Emmons.

Robert Randolph:

Oh, yeah.

Robert Stone:

Is the hats that you wear, is that any kind of a nod to Buddy Emmons, because he wore derbies all the time.

Robert Randolph:

Yeah. He was the first… He gave me a derby, sent it to me in the mail.

Robert Stone:

Oh, really?

Robert Randolph:

Yeah. He told me that I was the first person that he heard that could probably take the pedal steel guitar to a main level. Now, this was in 2000. You know what I mean? This was before-

Robert Stone:

Right. Right. This is when you first started getting out.

Robert Randolph:

… So for him to send me that and say that… He said, “Listen, you don’t even understand what’s about to happen to you.” He’s like, “Don’t be like me,” because he’s known for being this selfish, arrogant guy who was always the baddest steel guitar player. That’s what Buddy Emmons was. He was just like, “Well, just do something that’s different.” He’s like, “In 10 years, you’re going to understand what I just told you.” I’ve been understanding for 14 years.

Robert Stone:

That’s great. I didn’t know any of that. That’s great. I’m glad I asked that question.

Robert Randolph:

Yeah. He was the first one. He sent it to me in the mail in a box and told me that.

Robert Stone:

Wow, that’s great. That’s a great story. And some of your other country influences, I think one time you mentioned Julian Tharpe.

Robert Randolph:

Oh, yeah. Julian Tharpe, Lloyd Green, even people like Hank Williams and stuff like that, just from the music side that I listen to.

Robert Stone:

Yeah. Hank’s steel player is still alive. I forget his name right now, but he’s still alive. He plays non-pedal, you know?

Robert Randolph:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Robert Stone:

Have there been any people that have reacted specifically to your music? People say in a secular setting that have reacted very much in a spiritual way and maybe even had something that they thought was some sort of a conversion, have you had any of that?

Robert Randolph:

Oh, man, you can’t even imagine how many times that has happened. Emails that I’ve got from people saying they were going to commit suicide, and they heard a song of mine. Matter of fact, this is a story that’s not even that far… Three months ago, I had a guy come to the show. Matter of fact, he didn’t even come to a show. I ran into this guy at a Walmart. We were on the road, and he started freaking out. There was a guy who says, “Listen, I just got out of jail for…” He was going to murder somebody. When he was in jail, somebody sent him a tape, sent him one of our CDs. And he heard the song Going in the Right Direction. He said from that point, that got his whole life together. It totally changed him. He just said, “Man, I just want to hug you, and I really don’t even want to let go.” He said, “Can’t even imagine, you’re the reason that I changed my life around from hearing that song.” So that’s the kind of crap…

Robert Stone:

Yeah. That must’ve been a big deal.

Robert Randolph:

Yeah, for him. And look, you could save one person’s life that’s enough, you know?

Robert Stone:

Right.

Robert Randolph:

But that’s probably happened hundreds of times already from people from suicide to drug addicts to people at shows crying and whatnot, almost like there’d be a church service with you playing and then somebody just busts out crying. What happens here is somebody just totally just gave up everything that they thought they would never give up. They gave it up right there, and the Lord blessed them right there on the spot. So that’s what happens in church, though.

Robert Stone:

Right. Well, Robert, the longer we talk, the more I got to transcribe and all that. So I really appreciate you taking time out, and it’s been good to talk to you. It’s been too long.

Robert Randolph:

Oh, no, cool man.

Robert Stone:

And hang in, keep on working, and you’re doing a lot of great things.

Robert Randolph:

I’ll probably invite you to one of these deals or something when we have one of these church things or whatever.

Robert Stone:

That’d be good. That’d be good. Because after this, I’m doing a photo book after this book.

Robert Randolph:

Oh, cool.

Robert Stone:

Okay, Robert, thanks a bunch and take care.

Robert Randolph:

All right.

Robert Stone:

All right. Bye, now.

SIGN UP FOR OUR NEWSLETTER

Stay in the loop on our latest news, events, and website additions.