set the music world on fire in 2000 when he began playing his first club dates in New York City.
started playing the instrument as a church-going teenager in Orange, NJ, a small city just outside of Newark. He regularly attended the House of God Church, an African-American Pentecostal denomination that had been implementing steel guitars (or "Sacred Steel") in services since the '30s, with the pedal steel in particular being introduced during the '70s.
learned to play by watching other steel players during church services; years later, he updated that sacred basis with a secular mix of funk and soul, giving a new multicultural facelift to an instrument that had often been associated with country music.
In early 2000, Jim Markel heard Randolph
play at the Sacred Steel Convention in Florida and subsequently introduced him to his friend, Gary Waldman
. Together, Waldman
and Markel began to manage Randolph
's career, which took flight after Matt Hickey, a talent buyer at Manhattan's Bowery Ballroom, signed Randolph
on as the opening act for the North Mississippi Allstars
. Within a month, Randolph
had graduated to the Beacon Theater, where he played alongside Medeski, Martin & Wood
. Keyboardist John Medeski
's playing so much that he asked him to record an instrumental gospel/blues album with the band. The resulting record, The Word
, was released in August 2001 to great critical and popular acclaim.Randolph
's own group, the Family Band
, includes cousins Danyell Morgan
and Marcus Randolph
(bass and drums, respectively) and John Ginty
(Hammond B-3 organ). The band's career began with opening gigs for a variety of blues, jazz-funk, and jam bands such as the Derek Trucks Band
, Karl Denson's Tiny Universe, and Soulive
; headlining gigs became the norm within a few months' time. Robert Randolph & the Family Band
released Live at the Wetlands
in fall 2001, capturing the band's live performance at the legendary Wetlands venue shortly before it closed. The group's studio debut, Unclassified
, followed in 2003 and introduced Randolph
to an even wider audience. One new fan was veteran guitarist Eric Clapton, who brought the band out on tour and appeared on Robert Randolph
's third release, Colorblind
, in 2006. In 2010, Randolph
teamed-up with producer T-Bone Burnett and released the album We Walk This Road which featured guest appearances from Ben Harper, Leon Russell and Doyle Bramhall II.