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Robert Randolph Returns To Gospel Roots On 'Brighter Days,' Talks Stevie Wonder's Genius, Basketball & More

Robert Randolph

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Robert Randolph Returns To Gospel Roots On 'Brighter Days,' Talks Stevie Wonder's Genius, Basketball & More

Legendary singer/songwriter and pioneering pedal steel master talks about making his new album ‘Brighter Days’ with Dave Cobb, what keeps him inspired to play his instrument and the most unexpected moments from his recent tour

GRAMMYs/Aug 24, 2019 - 01:59 am

There's no one quite like Robert Randolph. His signature pedal steel guitar style weaves blues, soul, rock and gospel together in an electrifying concoction that baffles and inspires even his heroes. Randolph and his aptly named Family Band have built a strong following on a strong catalog on their way to five GRAMMY nominations, the most recent for Best Contemporary Blues Album for 2017's Got Soul.

But Randolph and family have come full circle, and their follow-up album to Got Soul arrives with familiar gospel flair. Brighter Days, which dropped Aug. 23, delivers the spirit of hope and salvation you'd expect from Sunday service, pumped through Randolph's supercharged sound and rejuvenating inspirational message that can only be described as divine.

We spent some time with Randolph recently to hear about making Brighter Days with Dave Cobb, his eternal love of Stevie Wonder, phone calls from Eric Clapton, some surprising tour moments, his deadly three-point jump shot and more.

So, you're returning to your gospel roots on Brighter Days. What moved you and the family band in that direction after Got Soul?

It's really just accepting the time that we're in, and accepting who I am. I came up through the church, and having the blues and gospel all kind of meet and mix. Our church, Pentecostal music was always, is it blues, is it gospel? What is this? People jumping around and shouting, they having a great time.

And so looking at all of the current events that are going on today in the world, we just decided to really go in the studio and record something that would be inspirational. Especially for me, knowing better and growing up in church, and always being one of the guys that's always there to inspire somebody, and bring joy without being really preachy or down and out. You just always want to pick people up, you know? So, in making this record with the great producer, Dave Cobb, we just decided to do the songs, like "Baptize Me" and "Have Mercy," "Cut Em Loose," and "Don't Fight It." It's just so many great inspirational pick-me-up songs that will make you want to dance, smile, cry, hug somebody.

Why was Dave Cobb the right choice for this project for you?

He, too, grew up in a Pentecostal church in the South, in Georgia, and we had these conversations early on about me and my roots, and how, like I said, crosses over from blues and gospel and not only that, just having somebody that you could work with, that understands… He understands the roots of blues and gospel, and actually how to get the rawness of the gospel church-y feel.

The first conversation we had, when I reached out to him about producing this record, he immediately sent me these clips of these funky old gospel bluesy songs, from down in Louisiana, or Alabama, Mississippi somewhere. And he was like, "You see? You hit a choir sound, but you get a funky bass. And guitar, and it's got this rawness. We're going to do that. We're going to add this choir, we're going to bring in all these different sounds, but to have it sound big and inspirational." So that was the key in having him produce the record. And, such a great guy to talk about the history of music, the roots of it all... Keep going back to the roots, so that's what it is.

There's an optimistic theme to the album, and to the single "Baptise Me." Can you talk a little bit about that song, and do you think that this theme of love and optimism is especially crucial with what is going on in the world today?

Considering at the time that we're in now, where you got all these people crawling from underneath the rocks, and everybody's sort of surprised. I'm not really surprised, these people are there. You know, sometime we talk about history, we talk about the '60s, but it's not that long ago. We all got grandparents and parents that are still alive, most of us, right? And that's been true, that stuff. So, in some ways, I'm the kind of person to where I'm almost… I'm happy to see who the nasty, ugly people are so we can get more inspiration. Let's see who these enemies are. Whoever they are, right? Because we got work to do.

I think right now we're going to the next phase of, "How can we do this?"… Everybody's sort of struggling looking for answers, and it's up to all of us together, to come together for a new cause of togetherness, and love, and hope, and joy and, "How do we learn to accept everybody's culture and religion, and where you're from, and all of these different things?"

So, it was important for us to write these songs. Like the song "Baptise Me," you listen to it, you get caught up in the funkiness of it. I'm not tooting my horn, but it's kind of funky and dirty. See the term baptize is really kind of being dipped in the water. If you come from the church, or wherever you get baptized, you get dipped in the world and all of a sudden, you [think], "I supposed to be a new person." So, that's what we're all looking for, the new. It's for everybody who look deep inside and find a new person, like you would do at a New Year's resolution. "I'm not going to eat donuts anymore. I'm going to go to the gym." Right? All of these different things. So, that's kind of what that song is about.

Very cool. Eric Clapton's Crossroads Festival is coming up. What does being on such an incredible bill mean to you?

Man, I'm so happy to be a part of the Eric Clapton's Crossroads festival. This would be the third or fourth one that we done. It's just so great to be a part of that. Eclectic class of guitar players, and musicians, and artists, and to actually get the call from Eric Clapton himself, inviting us again. It's just important for me, to... When you look at these guys, at 70 years old, Buddy Guy, and Eric Clapton, and Joe Walsh, and all of these great iconic guitar players, Peter Frampton.

And to follow in those footsteps, and not only to just watch them, but to be able to talk to them. Find out, first of all, how to stay alive that long. because there's so much partying you can do, but also how do you get better at guitar playing, and songwriting, singing, playing... kind of recreating a new Robert Randolph.

But, it's also the pressure of all these guitar players. It's kind of [competitive] like this... the NBA finals right? Now, everybody's like, "all right, I'm gonna kick your booty. Check out my new guitar tone, check out my new pedals, check out this, check out that." But it's all done in love, and it's such a great weekend, and I can't wait for it. It's going to be a great time.

You mentioned basketball. Are you a sports fan?

I'm a big sports fan. Yeah. First thing, ESPN is on. First thing I do, wake up in the morning, [put on] ESPN, see what's going down.

Did you ever play, or do you play now?

When I grew up, I was a basketball player in high school. I was the man, but you know, guitar.

Same here. What position?

I was a shooting guard. I had a deadly three. More deadly than Stephen Curry, by the way.

All right, well we got you on tape on that one.

Get me on tape. All of my prayers growing up. Although, I got kicked off the high school team, at the beginning of the senior year, because I was just too A.D.D., which led me to the guitar, to a pedal steel guitar. Because you got to have A.D.D. to be able to play that thing. It's two hands, two feet, two pedals, two knees… 10 fingers.

Like a one-man band.

Yeah. And then you got to try to sing in the same key, and move around, and stay in tune.

And no frets.

And no frets. So, one little half, a little millimeter off, and it's kind of like, "Oh, what's going here?"

Sounds athletic in its own way, too.

Yeah, yes.

I also want to call you out on a tweet that I loved about Stevie Wonder being the greatest musical artist of all time. I don't think you're going to get many arguments on that, but with what you just described, and what you do, specifically with pedal steel, what did you learn from him? What did he teach you as a musician?

Man! So, I tweeted out, "Stevie Wonder is the greatest music artists of all time." This guy has... First of all, he could sing over any group of chords and make it the coolest thing ever. And his voice has changed the history of singing, his keyboard playing has changed the history of keyboard sounds, and playing. His musical styles... he's covered everything. "Boogie On Reggae Woman," "Master Blaster," "Talking Book"... this, that. You see, I don't know if you follow me on Twitter, but everybody started chiming in, and we started like "All I Do. This, that song. That's all, Superstition..." All of that. It's just so many. Even when you go back and you listen to "Part-time Lover." We all... that was almost like Beverly Hills Cop or something. And everybody... A lot of people didn't really like the song, because it's got that... But when you listen to it now, it's like, "Man, what is wrong with this guy, man?"

So, he just re-invented, over and over again, new rules of music. So... and he's been doing it so long, he has so many great songs. And by the way, it is the best live show you could ever go see, because the whole crowd knows all of the songs. I don't care what song it is, everybody's singing nonstop. And you'll notice, you'll say, "Wait a second. I love that song!" Right? "I forgot about that one!" The whole time, for two and a half hours.

And he's been an inspiration to all of us. And once again, there is no... Stevie Wonder doesn't fit into any genre. "What is this, R&B? Is it rock and roll? Is it blues...?" No, it's Stevie Wonder, that's what it is, right? You and I... so many songs, it's like... it's a rollercoaster, man.

Yeah, and he'd be a genius if he'd just written one of them.

Exactly. If he just did "Happy Birthday," I mean, who can else can do "Happy Birthday" and it'd be like "Whoa," right?

You know, you mentioned something there about pushing the instrument forward, You've pushed pedal steel to a new place where nobody has. But specific to your instrument, what are you interested in, and working on, and studying, and expanding as a player these days?

So, my pedal steel guitar, it's trying to imitate guys like Stevie Wonder vocally, like [singing], which is the hardest thing to do. So, that's always a challenge, is to really try to take this instrument that was known first as a Hawaiian instrument, which then went to country music twinging and twanging and swinging, and our church music history created this whole other sound of it. It's almost like a Bo Diddley meets Mahalia Jackson singing, and Stevie Wonder, and all that. So, it's all of that.

And I tried to play it like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix would play their guitars. So, that to me is always a challenge, it still is. I'm still growing and learning every day, because that's what a pedal steel can do to you, it'll drive you nuts. And it's all these different chord combinations, and you forget them today, and you'll forget them tomorrow, so you kind of got to keep refreshing your brain, you know?

You've got some dates coming up the rest of the summer, in the fall. Are you going to be playing a lot of the new material? What can fans expect from the next run of shows?

Man, the next run of shows... First of all, the last month of shows has been great, because we've been planning these new songs, and people just been really digging them. Everybody's singing. Just a few days ago, we performing "Baptise Me," and the stage, it was actually on this float on the lake. So there was some water. So as we're playing "Baptise Me," people jumping in the water, laying in the water. It's like, well, "what's going on here, man?" Then they splashing water, splashing it on people... "Get baptised!" and it turned into this 15 minute jam.

But, between that, "Don't Fight It," and "Cut Em Loose," and all these new songs from off this great record, you could see the sense of joy that kind of reminds me of the beginning of my career, how we kind of introduce all these sort of inspirational, joyful, spiritual tones. But it was also rocking, and you dancing, and you feel good, and that to me is what Robert Randolph and the Family Band is all about, bringing joy to everybody's hearts and minds and souls, and making people smile.

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

Rotimi

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2019 - 10:04 pm

In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.

"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.

Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.

"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."

Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American. 

"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."

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Cuco On 'Para Mi,' Musical Tastes, MC Magic & Lil Rob | Up Close & Personal

Cuco

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Cuco On 'Para Mi,' Musical Tastes, MC Magic & Lil Rob | Up Close & Personal

Cuco's debut is here and he talks to the Recording Academy about one of the most meaningful songs on the albums, the sounds he's featuring and more

GRAMMYs/Aug 30, 2019 - 09:51 pm

Cuco's debut, Para Mi, meaning "for me" in Spanish is exactly that: a 13-track album made by him, for him. 

We've gotten to know the artist from Hawthorne, Calif. through his mostly dream pop singles and EPs and on his debut he highlights his diverse musical tastes even moreso.

"I like samba, salsa music, funk, jazz, soul, I like everything. I'm just learning to produce," he told the Recording Academy for Up Close & Personal about adding different sounds to his album.

 "'Bossa No Sé,' I had that for three years," he added about the bossa nova inspired single. The album is the first with a label and while he's not longer indie he says: "I learned to value myself" about being independent.

Watch the video above to hear Cuco talk about one of the most meaningful songs on the album and working with idols MC Magic and Lil Rob.  

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Quarantine Diaries: Joan As Police Woman Is Bike Riding, Book Reading & Strumming D'Angelo

Joan as Police Woman

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Quarantine Diaries: Joan As Police Woman Is Bike Riding, Book Reading & Strumming D'Angelo

As the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock the music industry, the Recording Academy reached out to a few musicians to see how they were spending their days indoors

GRAMMYs/Apr 7, 2020 - 07:21 pm

As the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock the music industry, the Recording Academy reached out to a few musicians to see how they were spending their days indoors. Today, singer/songwriter Joan Wasser of Joan as Police Woman, whose forthcoming covers album, COVER TWO, includes tracks by The Strokes, Prince, Talk Talk, and more, shares her Quarantine Diary.

Thursday, April 2

[10 a.m.-12 p.m.] Went to bed at 4 a.m. last night after getting drawn into working on a song. Put on the kettle to make hot coffee while enjoying an iced coffee I made the day before. Double coffee is my jam. Read the news, which does not do much for my mood. Catch up with a few friends, which does a lot of good for my mood. Glad it goes in this order.

[12 p.m.-2 p.m.] Make steel cut oats with blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, fresh ginger, fresh turmeric, a sprinkling of cinnamon and cardamom, and of course, coconut butter to melt on top. If you’re not into coconut butter (sometimes marketed as coconut "manna"), I’d suggest just going for it and getting it (or ordering it) and putting it on your sweet potatoes, your oats, anywhere you’d put butter. I’m not vegan but I do enjoy hearing the tiny scream uttered by a strawberry as I cut into it. 

Contemplate some yoga. Contamplate meditating. Do neither. Resume work on the song I want to finish and send today. I have a home studio and I spend a lot of my time working on music here. The song is a collboration sent to me from Rodrigo D’Erasmo in Milano that will benefit the folks who work behind the scenes in the music touring system in Italy. 

[2 p.m.-4 p.m.] I traded in a guitar for a baritone guitar right before all this craziness hit but hadn’t had the time to get it out until now. I put on some D’Angelo, plugged into my amp and played along as if I were in his band. Micahel Archer, If you’re reading this, I hope you are safe and sound and thank you immensely for all the music you've given us always. 

[4 p.m.-6 p.m.] Bike repair shops have been deemed "necessary," thank goodness, because biking is the primary way I get around and I need a small repair. I hit up my neighborhood shop and they get my bike in and out in 10 minutes, enough time to feel the sun for a moment. 

I ride fast and hard down to the water's edge and take in a view of the East River from Brooklyn. There are a few people out getting their de-stress walks but it is mostly deserted on the usually packed streets.

[6 p.m.-8 p.m.] Practice Bach piano invention no. 4 in Dm very, very, very slowly. I never studied piano but I’m trying to hone some skills. Realize I’m ravenous. Eat chicken stew with wild mushrooms I made in the slow cooker yesterday. It’s always better the second day.

[8 p.m.-10 p.m.] Get on a zoom chat with a bunch of women friends on both coasts. We basically shoot the sh*t and make each other laugh. 

Afterwards I still feel like I ate a school bus so I give into yoga. I feel great afterwards. This photo proves I have a foot. 

[10 p.m.-12 a.m.] Record a podcast for Stereo Embers in anticipation of my new release on May 1, a second record of covers, inventively named COVER TWO. Continue to work on music (it’s a theme).

[12 a.m.-2 p.m.] Tell myself I should think about bed. Ignore myself and confinue to work on music. 

[2 a.m.-4 a.m.] Force myself into bed where I have many books to choose from. This is what I’m reading presently, depending on my mood. Finally I listen to Nick Hakim’s new song, "Qadir," and am taken by its beauty and grace. Good night. 

If you wish to support our efforts to assist music professionals in need, learn more about the Recording Academy's and MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund.

If you are a member of the music industry in need of assistance, visit the MusiCares website

Report: Music & Culture Infrastructure Can Create Better "Future Cities"

Hero The Band perform at the Recording Academy Atlanta Chapter Annual Membership Celebration
Photo: Marcus Ingram/WireImage

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Report: Music & Culture Infrastructure Can Create Better "Future Cities"

How sound planning for a creative future in our urban areas makes all the difference for artists and musicians

GRAMMYs/Oct 24, 2019 - 01:27 am

The future, as they say, is now. And for music makers around the world, building a future for themselves often starts at home, in their local creative community and in the city where they live. While technology has expanded communication and made the world smaller, cities continue to grow, making planning for the future a critical cultural mission of the present.

To that end, a new report by global organization Sound Diplomacy titled "This Must Be The Place" examines, "The role of music and cultural infrastructure in creating better future cities for all of us." The 37-page deep dive into community planning and development highlights the importance of creative culture in what it calls "Future Cities."

"The government defines ‘Future Cities’ as 'a term used to imagine what cities themselves will be like," the report states, "how they will operate, what systems will orchestrate them and how they will relate to their stakeholders (citizens, governments, businesses, investors, and others),'"

According to the report, only three global cities or states currently have cultural infrastructure plans: London, Amsterdam and New South Wales. This fact may be surprising considering how city planning and sustainability have become part of the discussion on development of urban areas, where the UN estimates 68 percent of people will live by 2050.

"Our future places must look at music and culture ecologically. Much like the way a building is an ecosystem, so is a community of creators, makers, consumers and disseminators," the report says. "The manner in which we understand how to maintain a building is not translated to protecting, preserving and promoting music and culture in communities."

The comparison and interaction between the intangibility of culture and the presence of physical space is an ongoing theme throughout the report. For instance, one section of the report outlines how buildings can and should be designed to fit the cultural needs of the neighborhoods they populate, as too often, use of a commercial space is considered during the leasing process, not the construction process, leading to costly renovations.

"All future cities are creative cities. All future cities are music cities."

On the residential side, as cities grow denser, the need increases for thoughtful acoustic design and sufficient sound isolation. Future cities can and should be places where people congregate

"If we don’t design and build our future cities to facilitate and welcome music and experience, we lose what makes them worth living in."

For musicians and artists of all mediums, the answer to making—and keeping—their cities worth living in boils down to considering their needs, impact and value more carefully and sooner in the planning process.

"The report argues that property is no longer an asset business, but one built on facilitating platforms for congregation, community and cohesion," it says. "By using music and culture at the beginning of the development process and incorporating it across the value chain from bid to design, meanwhile to construction, activation to commercialisation, this thinking and practice will result in better places."

The report offers examples of how planners and leaders are handling this from around the world. For instance, the Mayor Of London Night Czar, who helps ensure safety and nighttime infrastructure for venues toward the Mayor's Vision for London as a 24-hour city. Stateside, Pittsburgh, Penn., also has a Night Mayor in place to support and inform the growth of its creative class.

Diversity, inclusion, health and well-being also factor into the reports comprehensive look at how music and culture are every bit as important as conventional business, ergonomic and environmental considerations in Future Cites. Using the Queensland Chamber of Arts and Culture as a reference, it declared, "A Chamber of Culture is as important as a Chamber of Commerce."

In the end, the report serves as a beacon of light for governments, organizations, businesses and individuals involved in planning and developing future cities. Its core principals lay out guideposts for building friendly places to music and culture and are backed with case studies and recommendations. But perhaps the key to this progress is in changing how we approach the use of space itself, as the answer to supporting music may be found in how we look at the spaces we inhabit.

"To develop better cities, towns and places, we must alter the way we think about development, and place music and culture alongside design, viability, construction and customer experience," it says. "Buildings must be treated as platforms, not assets. We must explore mixed‑use within mixed‑use, so a floor of a building, or a lesser‑value ground floor unit can have multiple solutions for multiple communities."

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