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Robert Randolph--Going in the Right Direction
Cornerstone Festival Press Conference
Wednesday, July 2, 2003

I am Robert Randolph. I started out playing the steel guitar in church. There's been a long tradition of guys playing pedal steel guitar where I come from. It's called the House of God. It is all over the East Coast, mainly from the northeast to the southeast. There's some in the Midwest, in Detroit, and one in Chicago.

We were always taught to play like a singer. Like how maybe some of the great soul singers would sing like Mahalia Jackson or like Aretha Franklin. We were always taught to play like how they sing and with so much soul. Not like a regular country pedal steel player. We play very upbeat music. We use guitars, and we've got everything going; [we use] tambourines and everybody's coming out dancing and having a good time under the power of the Lord. That's the church background [that] I come from. That's what makes the music so unique.

So I came from that background. Some of the other guys, who started playing before me, I call them my guitar forefathers because they created a style of music that is only really heard in our church, as far as pedal steel and that whole thing. Those guys never had a chance to go out and do what I am doing. Because what happened is the church that I came from wanted to keep everybody, all of the talented people, I guess, in close to the church. You know, people will do that in churches [sometimes]. They don't want people to go out because they may be afraid for the person, think they may get a little weak or whatever.

But I got the chance to go out. I started playing in clubs and bars in New York City. And what happened? We started probably with this many people in the bar [20--laughs] one week; next week, it was about 150; next week it was about 250 in a small, I'm talking about small, bar. And from there, we started. Word got around about here we are, guys from the church, coming out and playing music, bringing people together of all races and ages. It escalated to where we became a traveling band for the first year and a half. Then we did a record, a live record, at a famous club in New York City called the Wetlands. We did Live at the Wetlands, which was a live CD, from there; that got my word out, and we just started playing all over the world.

Now we get people coming to the shows of all kinds, people who listen to all genres of music, and people come together and have a good time. We get e-mails all the time of people's lives being changed, in any type of setting. We play festivals [like] Bonnaroo [and] Music Midtown Atlanta, big, huge festivals where people was there doing all kinds of drugs and drunk out of their minds, doing ten different drugs. The next thing you know, we get an e-mail saying by listening to us, and listening to the CD, they felt like their life's been changed, right there. They didn't want to be a part of that kind of lifestyle anymore, which is great! It makes me feel good that we can help somebody at all times get through situations in their life. So that's who I am, that's what I do, that's what we do.

We've got a new studio record coming out, it'll be out August 5, and it's called Unclassified. Now we are a part of Warner Bros. Records. Word, the big Christian distributor, is also, so we're looking to really get into this side of the market. Because I come from a whole other side of gospel Christian music, which is, I guess, I don't know the correct term that they use, which is called like probably black urban gospel, whatever, which is like John B. Keene, Kirk Franklin, all those guys. I have no idea who a lot of these bands are and a lot of the singers are on this side, on the "Christian" side. I told them I wanted to be a part of this whole scene to get to know and reach out and spread the word to this scene as well. So that's what we do, and that's why I'm here.

You know, it's good to be here. And all the bands who come here and play, you know, I'm sure they're just as happy to be here, to contribute to something that's toward positive, that's toward the good things in life, because the good always outweighs the bad, especially in the time we are today, where there is so much bad music and so much negative stuff on TV and radio. And a lot of people now are looking for that other side.

A lot of people out there, and that's why we travel and do what we do, a lot of people don't even know where to start. They know about God, they know about the Bible, and they know about stuff like that, but they don't even know where to begin. If you never was brought up in this kind of scene, you would never know. So at least I like to start from kindergarten with some of those people and just say, hey, listen, you start from here and then you work. So basically [that is] what I do.

It's been mixed reactions, I would say [from his church leadership]. From day one, I would get calls from some of the bishops and elders around the church and they didn't like it at all. Then I would get some from other bishops and elders and they would say just go out and do what you are doing. I've gone out, and like I said, we get e-mails and we get calls all the time of peoples' lives being changed, and that's what you go by. I can't answer to them, I can only answer to God.


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