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Photo by Frank White
How would you say your playing has evolved in the last decade or so?
I’ve learned a lot from being around great guitarists like Eric Clapton and Carlos Santana. Us young guitar players—people like Derek Trucks, Jack White, and all these young guys—we’ve all sort of grown, evolved, and gotten better, and most of us had time to be around legends like Buddy Guy, Clapton, Santana, or Kirk Hammett. One thing I appreciate about these older guys is they see us as the next group of guitar pioneers, and it’s great for them to be critical and tell us how to get better. I learned a lot from them in terms of really trying to stay original and do whatever inspires me to have that excitement at the beginning and keep that same vibe.
Speaking of Santana, you have a track with him on the album called “Brand New Wayo,” right?
Yeah. It was funny, because the chorus you hear was done after the music was recorded. We put up a mic and were doing the vocals while the music was playing back. We just left it all happening at the same time and there was this bleed of playback going into the microphone.
Do you get nervous when Santana’s watching you play?
I enjoy it. One thing I learned from these guys is that they’re watching you because they appreciate what you do. They want to see you rise, just like you want to see them. It’s great, because those guys don’t watch everybody.
Are you a gut-level player or does theory play a part in what you do?
I don’t even know theory, so for me it’s all about what goes together. In the studio, everything happens on the spot. I can never play the same thing twice the same way, really. We spent a lot of time with the great Eddie Kramer, and he said that Hendrix used to be the same way. Kramer said he always had to roll the tape when Hendrix was playing, because he would always forget what he played or it was never the same when he tried to play it again. That’s what happens with me.
What made you decide to record a cover of the Ohio Players “Love Rollercoaster”?
I had my iTunes going and the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ version came on, and I said, “Hey let’s see if we can beat the Chili Peppers’ version.” It came out really funky and punchy and dirty at the same time. I wasn’t even going to put it on the album, but people from the label heard it and said “You gotta put this on the album—this is cool!”
Is there a such thing as a sad Robert Randolph song?
[Laughs.] I don’t think I have any sad songs.
“Welcome Home” is sentimental, but it carries a positive message for veterans, right?
My house in New Jersey is by one of the armories. I talk to the guys there when I’m in my backyard, and I wrote that song in my living room after talking to them about what’s going on. Everyone’s starting to come home now, so that’s the story behind that song.
Let’s talk about your instruments. Are you still playing your 13-string pedal steel?
I have a new stand-up pedal steel now. It’s my original idea—it’s a 6-string Jackson Steel Guitar Company signature Robert Randolph pedal steel.
Has it been fun to switch from a 13-string to a 6-string?
It’s all relative, but the stand up looks a little more rock ’n’ roll—it makes me look sexier. [Laughs.]
You can’t kick your chair back now, though.
Yeah, but now I can kick the guitar around, y’know—like a regular rock ’n’ roll person.
This 2009 show is chock-full of shredding rock solos, call-and-response funk breakdowns, and intensely soulful jamming.