Robert Randolph & the Family Band
The leading unit in sacred steel has fans, like Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, John Mayer and Susan Tedeschi. Three members of the six-piece band come from the Randolph-family and the star is Robert, “the Jimi Hendrix of pedal steel-guitar”.
Sacred steel is gospel that’s played in black American Pentecostal churches featuring, unusually, steel guitar. Its real home base is Florida, though the Family Band comes from New Jersey. With the band Robert has started to extend the style by adding songs and elements from secular rock, blues, funk, soul and country, while still retaining its roots.
Sacred steel, and especially Robert Randolph, found a larger audience in 2001, when keyboardist John Medeski (of Martin & Wood-fame) asked him to participate on The Word album with himself and The North Mississippi All Stars. At the same time The New York Times praised a Family Band gig. Soon they were playing clubs and stadiums, instead of churches, supporting famous rock/blues artists.
Their fourth album, We Walk This Road, proved to be special for Robert, who had grown up listening only to gospel. Producer T-Bone Burnette schooled him in the secular roots and figureheads of African-American music, like Hendrix. Now the band plays Purple Haze as well as Blind Willie Johnson’s If I Had My Way alongside original material.