Get the Blues

Robert Randolph enjoys opportunities to collaborate

Advocate Staff Photo by HEATHER MCCLELLAND Crowds gather under shade provided by a large oak tree and seating area in Town Square.
Advocate Staff Photo by HEATHER MCCLELLAND Crowds gather under shade provided by a large oak tree and seating area in Town Square.

The Baton Rouge Blues Festival returns to downtown’s Town Square on North Boulevard from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, April 13. Performances will take on place on the Galvez Plaza Stage and the Swamp Blues Stage. Interviews with and informal performances by artists appearing at the Blues Festival will be conducted in the Old State Capitol’s second floor Senate chambers.

Admission is free.

Robert Randolph, a genre-splitting singer and pedal steel guitarist extraordinaire, believes there’s not enough collaboration in music these days.

Newly signed to the musician-friendly, legendary record label, Blue Note, Randolph is finally getting his chance to let his collaboration-loving flag fly.

The next Robert Randolph and the Family Band album, Lickety Split, includes collaborations with Buddy Guy, Carlos Santana and New Orleans’ Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews.

“I was in the studio with Buddy Guy and we recorded six songs in a day,” Randolph said last week from his home in New Jersey. “With Carlos Santana, we recorded nine songs in two days. I can’t put all of those on my record so, hey, that’ll be a cool EP somewhere down the line.”

Randolph is also joining Guy and Jeff Beck at this week’s Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival at Madison Square Garden.

Looking at music’s past, Randolph cited great studio collaborations by now classic acts.

“Like Duane Allman with Aretha Franklin, Duane Allman and Eric Clapton,” he said. “So I tell everyone, ‘Look, we gotta collaborate.’ ”

Randolph blames the music business for discouraging collaboration.

“People mess a lot of that stuff up, labels and some people’s crazy managers who say, ‘Oh, why would you do that? He’s not as cool as you.’ That’s so stupid.”

Clapton’s long and varied career, Randolph added, is one he wants to emulate.

“He’s been able to create this long list of songs that he’s recorded in so many different formats, from Cream to Derek & the Dominos, the Yardbirds, solo. All this stuff. That’s the direction we’re going in now.”

Raised in the sacred steel tradition of the House of God Church, Randolph moved his instrument into the secular world, melding his church’s African-American Pentecostal music with funk, blues and rock.

Guitar virtuosos Clapton, Santana, Guy and Beck all appreciate his innovative style with pedal steel guitar and music in general.

“Blues and growing up in gospel in the church were influences,” he said. “Me having all that, those guys just really love it.

“They say they can’t stand to listen to the same old thing over and over. Somebody goes, ‘Oh, check out these blues licks. This Albert King lick.’ But it’s like, ‘Well, don’t you wanna play something else, man? We already heard Albert King do that. And we already heard a thousand other people try to play it like him.’

“So what we’re doing is really refreshing for a lot of those guys, at least that’s what they tell me.”

Randolph’s greatest influence is the late Stevie Ray Vaughan, a singer and virtuoso guitarist who’d been touched and shaped by the blues.

Nineteen years old when he witnessed Vaughan in concert, the inspired Randolph left the show determined to make a new path for pedal steel guitar.

“He really opened me up, especially as a pedal steel slide guitar player,” Randolph said. “I’m a big Stevie Ray Vaughan fan. I listen to him every day. Every day.

“He was known as a rock ’n’ roll musician, even though all of his influences were blues. It’s the same thing with (Jimi) Hendrix. Hendrix always said he was playing the blues.

“And if you look at guys like me and Derek Trucks and the Black Keys and Jack White, all we listen to is old blues records. People can call us whatever they want. We’re still listening to the blues.”

Randolph expects Blue Note Records to release Lickety Split in July. Meanwhile, Robert Randolph and the Family Band, featuring family members Marcus Randolph, Danyel Morgan and Lenesha Randolph as well as guitarist Brett Haas, keep doing their thing on the road.

“We just grew up together, started playing music,” Randolph said.

“It’s kind of hard to explain. It’s so funny when, say if I want to add a guitar player or a keyboard player to the band, and they’re like, ‘What am I supposed to do?’ I’m like, ‘Man, you just gotta feel it. If you don’t feel it, we gotta find somebody else.’ ”