Preview: Robert Randolph does it like 'Lickety Split'


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If "Lickety Split" sounds like something that was created on the spot in the studio, it's because it was.

The new album from Robert Randolph & the Family Band -- which headlines the Flood City Music Festival in Johnstown Saturday -- has a joyful party atmosphere to go with the fiery pedal steel guitar sound of its leader, who cut his teeth in the House of God Church in Orange, N.J.

It's the band's fourth studio album and first for Blue Note, and they came to it with a new attitude and energy, taking the lead production credit.

"The one thing I kind of learned over the years ... " he says and pauses. "If you go back to 2001, we were guys who came right out of the church, started playing bars and clubs, and we were just doing what we did in church, and everything was live. So going into the studio was this new thing.

"And then you wind up on this record label and they all have these other ideas. So it kind of throws you into this malaise when you start bringing in all these writers and producers and guys who are like, 'Oh, you should do this, you should do that, everybody will really dig it if you do this.' And you don't really feel comfortable.

"I've learned over the years," he continues. "I have to be in the studio with the band and we have to start playing music and the song titles and the verses and chorus will come after that. Because most guys will go, 'Oh, let's sit down with guitars and talk about chord structures.' It's like, 'Hell, no.' Hendrix didn't do that, Zepplin didn't do that. You gotta get in there and play."

He says he talked to producer Rick Rubin, who told him that "The Red Hot Chili Peppers get into the studio and they jam, and that's how every single last one of their songs came into play."

"Lickety Split" has that loose jammy feel, whether it's the band grooving to the high-energy funk of "Amped Up," blazing through the Southern rock jam "Get Ready" or striking a more serious tone on "Welcome Home," a song about the troops.

Of that last song, he says, "I kind of just started doing the riff on the steel and then everyone else was like, 'Man, that's such a cool riff. Let's try to put another part to it.' And then as we got in together and played it all, which was about an hour after that, it felt patriotic for some reason. Then we sort of broke for lunch and watched CNN, and they were saying, 'The troops should all be home by 2014.' I thought, maybe we call it 'Welcome Home.' It was written in the course of one day, really."

They went lively with the cover song choices, taking on The Ohio Players' "Love Rollercoaster" and The Rascals' "Good Lovin'." There's no worry of songs sounding too much like the originals when Mr. Randolph is ripping through it on pedal steel.

"My objective always when I do a cover is follow the chord structure and do that," he says, "but I've been in the studio with most guys that would be like, 'Whoa, wait a second, ho, Stevie Wonder didn't do that, the part really goes like this.' Well, the whole world already heard the part go like that! Why not do something else?"

A clear highlight on the album is the hot jams with guitar legend Carlos Santana on "Brand New Wayo" and "Blacky Joe."

"Out of the all the people I've been in the studio with, Carlos is one of the brighter musical arrangers," Mr. Randolph says. "He's phenomenal. That was the third time in the studio, but this time it was for my album. We spent two days in the studio with him. So we actually recorded about 10 tracks. It was funny, because I couldn't even decide which ones to put on the album, because some of the stuff was even more high energy and some was funky. It was like, 'Well, we can't have Carlos on five, six songs,' so we'll probably release them as B-sides later on."

It's been 12 or 13 years now since the Family Band broke out of the church and was introduced to the world through such musicians as John Medeski and the North Mississippi Allstars, leading to opening slots for the Derek Trucks Band and Dave Matthews Band.

It's all been kind of a blur for the pedal steel guitarist, who never planned out a career as a star playing such an unlikely instrument.

"I knew there was some interest," he says, "because we had this thing called the Sacred Steel convention in 1999. I was only 18 or whatever. This was the first time that all the guys from our church actually played in front of white people. The style of music and brand we were doing was only amongst our own selves. Me being a young guy, I realized it was much bigger. So I started playing bars and clubs in New York City.

"Still, up until about four years ago, I still really didn't understand the magnitude of what was going. We just thought it was all fun. You sign a record deal and go play, show up with Eric Clapton, it was all fun. Then, you think, 'Wait a second, this is kind of important.' I wonder how many other young musicians go through that."



Flood City Music Festival

Where: Peoples Natural Gas Park, Johnstown.

When: Friday-Sunday.

Tickets: $22.75 Friday and Saturday; $11.75 Sunday. Packages range from $49 to $128.75; www.floodcitymusic.com.

Schedule:

FRIDAY

Bud Light Stage

4:30-6 p.m.: Jazzam featuring Clinton Clegg

7-8:30 p.m.: George Porter Jr. & the Runnin' Pardners

9:30-11:30 p.m.: Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue

Spangler Subaru Stage

3-4:30 p.m.: Derek Woodz Band

6-7 p.m.: Cait Cuneo

8:30-9:30 p.m.: Funk Ark

Peoples Natural Gas Stage

3:30-5 p.m.: West Hills All-Stars

6-7:30 p.m.: Stephen Kellogg

8:30-10 p.m.: Kenny Neal

Atlantic Broadband Stage

2-3:30 p.m.: Black Cat Moan

5-6 p.m.: Well Strung

7:30-8:30 p.m.: Tiger Maple String Band

11:30 p.m.-1 a.m.: New York Funk Exchange

SATURDAY

Bud Light Stage

2-3:30 p.m.: 600 Lbs. of Sin

4-5:30 p.m.: Greensky Bluegrass

7-8 p.m.: Bonerama

9:30-11:30 p.m.: Robert Randolph & the Family Band

Spangler Subaru Stage

1-2 p.m.: Maddie Georgi Band

3-4 p.m.: Old E Allstars

5:30-7 p.m.: Sol Driven Train

8:30-9:30 p.m.: Kalob Griffin Band

Peoples Natural Gas Stage

1-2:30 p.m.: The Pawnbrokers

3:30-5 p.m.: Chuck Prophet & the Mission Express

6-7:30 p.m.: Johnny Sketch & the Dirty Notes

8:30-10 p.m.: Turkuaz

Atlantic Broadband Stage

2:30-3:30 p.m.: The Crew of the Half Moon

5-6 p.m.: Alexes Aiken

7:30-8:30 p.m.: Bastard Bearded Irishmen

11:30 p.m.-1 a.m.: Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds

SUNDAY

Spangler Subaru Stage

2:30-3:30 p.m.: Midnight Drive

4:30-6 p.m.: Snarky Puppy

7:30-9 p.m.: Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds

Peoples Natural Gas Stage

3-4 p.m.: The Weedrags

5:30-7 p.m.: Spirit Family Reunion

8:30-10 p.m.: Greensky Bluegrass

Atlantic Broadband Stage

2-3 p.m.: The Beagle Brothers

4-5 p.m.: Rumpke Mountain Boys

7-8 p.m.: Sol Driven Train

music

Scott Mervis: smervis@post-gazette.com; 412-263-2576. Twitter: @scottmervis_pg.


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