A ‘Family’ trip to Northampton

By Bradley Farberman

Robert Randolph ‘ the Family Band

Pearl Street

Northampton

Tonight

8:30 p.m.

$17.50 advance $20 door

When pedal steel phenom Robert Randolph and his Family Band bring their unique bag of gospel-inflected funk to Pearl Street tonight, you won’t find a disbeliever in the house. These four young musicians have toured the globe, shared the stage with some of today’s biggest acts, even seen their video play on MTV. And tonight, they’re here to take you to church.

When the group released their debut album late last year, they had no idea what they were getting themselves into. “Live at The Wetlands” led them to commercial success, critical acclaim and to an opening slot on tour with the Dave Matthews Band. And now with “Unclassified,” released in August, the band has put out an airtight, studio vision of what the Family Band has become.

Interesting too, however, is how they got to this place. Irvington, N.J. native Randolph began playing the pedal steel in church when he was only 16. And while you might catch the band running through spirited covers of Sly Stone’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin),” Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze,” or Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called To Say I Love You,” Randolph’s formative years were spent ensconced in gospel music and the blues.

“I would say Stevie Ray Vaughn is probably one of my main influences,” Randolph said. “Also guys I grew up watching in church.” Those musicians include Calvin Cooke and Ted Beard, namesake for the group’s “Ted’s Jam,” a live staple (for readers unsure as to what the pedal steel sounds like, listen to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s “Teach your Children” or Eric Clapton’s “Tears In Heaven”; both feature the pedal steel quite prominently).

And just as varied as his influences are the musicians he likes to collaborate with, outside of the Family Band.

“People like Luther [Dickinson of The North Mississippi Allstars] and Kraz [Eric Krasno, guitarist for Soulive],” Randolph said. “Definitely playing with the Dave Matthews Band, they’re a tight band. Carter Beauford on the drums, unbelievable!”

Randolph’s praise for his fellow musicians doesn’t end there.

“He’s all over the place, he just loves to play music,” said Randolph of frequent collaborator Krasno. “He is a good guy, he fits right in musically.”

Other past collaborations include those with the Allman Brothers Band, Derek Trucks, and Warren Haynes.

But, as always, Randolph’s focus is on the band. Upon the departure of longtime organist John Ginty in October, multi-instrumentalist Jason Crosby was called upon to join Randolph, drummer Marcus Randolph, and bassist Danyel Morgan in their musical quest. Crosby, a former keys-man for Susan Tedeschi and Oteil Burbridge’s solo band, seems to be a great fit for the group.

“What Jason Crosby has that’s probably a little bit different [from John Ginty] is he’s a more diverse musician,” Randolph said. “He can be a great arranger of music. He can play fiddle, he can play trumpet, he can play keyboards and organ. Also, he sings backgrounds, which adds a lot. He’s like Danyel; they have perfect pitch. The two of them together adds so much.”

However, it seems to be the work of all four bandmates that has catapulted them to stardom. Heading to Germany next week and Japan next month, the Family Band has extended their tour of the country to include spots both big and small all over the world. From Madison Square Garden (where they opened for the Dave Matthews Band) to Tennessee’s Bonnaroo Music Festival (attended by 80,000 fans this past summer) and all points in between, however, it remains that the small, intimate venues are where Randolph and his Family Band thrive.

“Places like Pearl Street is a great gig, it’s a fun place,” said Randolph. “I remember when we played with Susan Tedeschi there and people got packed in. I can’t wait, it’s a great room.”

Touring in support of their newest release, “Unclassified,” Robert Randolph and the Family Band will take the stage at that fun place tonight, following opening act Los Lonely Boys. Tickets are $17.50 in advance, $20.00 up front. The show begins at 8:30 P.M.