Robert Randolph and the Family Band

by Brett Lemke
June 2003

Robert Randolph & the Family Band on the cover of Maxmum Ink in June 2003

Robert Randolph & the Family Band on the cover of Maxmum Ink in June 2003

With the entrancing sound of Robert Randolph’s 13 string Pedal Steel, a brutally tight rhythm section, and a dynamic Hammond organ, Robert Randolph & The Family Band have blasted through the jamband scene. Their combination of Gospel, Blues, and relentless passion explodes with a burning fury onstage. All in all, they justly deserved their recent W.C. Handy award for Best New Artist. “We know what to play when it comes to gospel, and how you’re supposed to play it,” said Robert Randolph during a recent interview with Maximum Ink.

Years spent growing up in church in Orange, New Jersey and staying active in the musical community of his congregation helped 24 year-old Robert develop his skill playing the lap steel guitar. His two cousins, Bassist Danyell Morgan and drummer Marcus Randolph, along with longtime friend/organist John Ginty make the Family Band. “We used to play Ted’s Jam in church all the time,” said Robert, “The music at our church is truly unique. Everybody gets involved. They call it ‘dancing under the holy spirit.’ “

Most importantly, the Family Band’s rhythm section is one of the tightest in music today. After years of playing inside and outside of their church, they developed their unique sound. Marcus pounds relentlessly on the skins like a frenzied gospel powerhouse, grabbing every beat and throwing it back into the audience. Simultaneously, Danyell’s wizardry on both the slap bass and piercingly high tenor vocals will send a chill down your spine, and John takes his Hammond organ from the seediest Blues bars and Vegas lounge acts to the most prolific arena rock shows. Together their playing styles intermingle perfectly on stage with matching ferocity.

Their signature album “Live At The Wetlands” was recorded on the last night the bar was open to a capacity crowd. “The Wetlands was the most classic old dump in the world,” says Robert of the club, “Everybody played there over the years. [from] Dave Matthews Band to Parlaiment-Funkadelic , to James Brown. They shoved over 800 people in there that last night. There was no room to even breathe.”

Crowd participation becomes half of the show during their performances. During “The March”, Robert invites everyone to move to the music, and shows the audience the dance that accompanies the song. “They may not want to dance at first, but at our shows they just can’t be afraid to really get loose. We want the audience to really get up and [move].”

The Word is the compilation featuring Robert on lap steel, John Medeski on Organ, and the North Mississippi All-Stars as the rhythm section. Robert spoke very fondly of North Mississippi, citing past gigs and jam sessions. “We love playing with those guys, and they love playing with us.” said Robert, “They’re our sister band. They were the first band we really met. We’ve been helping each other out with our recordings, asking for opinions on what [sounds] good.” Robert assured us that there is much ahead for the Family Band as far as writing and producing. “We’re currently in the process of writing and putting together a studio album for release here in the near future.”

The jam-band scene has given them a good amount of exposure, working with artists like The Allman Brothers, Widespread Panic, String Cheese Incident, and Medeski, Martin & Wood . The Bonaroo Music Festival 2002 was also a recent highlight, as they got a chance to work with a wide variety of musicians. “There were definitely a lot of people that helped me spread the word.” Says Robert. “Dave Matthews Band [especially] when we opened for him. They’re all great musicians.”

Robert Randolph & The Family Band will be spreading the music around the areat in November 2003. 11/4 Duke Ellington Ballroom - Dekalb, IL; 11/6 Canopy Club in Urbana, IL; 11/12 The Rave in Milwaukee; 11/13 The Orpheum Theater in Madison; 11/14 House Of Blues in Chicago.

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Robert Randolph and the Family Band Online:

Robert Randolph and the Family Band
CD: Live at the Wetlands Record Label: Warner Bros / Wea
Purchase Live at the Wetlands on Amazon