Despite being midway through a tour of the American West supporting Snarky Puppy, pedal and lap steel guitar ace Roosevelt Collier chats as if calm and unhurried. Having released his debut album with GroundUP music last year, the Florida native is playing eight consecutive dates with the GRAMMY award-winning fusion outfit, but the rigours of the road pale in significance to the happiness he feels being out with them. ‘We’re on tour now and I couldn’t be more thankful for this opportunity,’ he confirms, shortly after arriving Las Vegas, Nevada. ‘These guys, they have been nothing but great, and this tour, each night has been such a wild night: great crowds, great people. Being inside of this family now is a treat, y’know.’
Prior to recording Exit 16 with bassist/producer Michael League, Snarky keys player Bobby Sparks and FORQ drummer Jason ‘J.T.’ Thomas, Collier’s inventive, funk, soul, blues and gospel-infused playing style had seen him approached by numerous musicians, but it was League’s approach in particular that felt like the right fit for him.
‘Exit 16 was a story about who I am, where I’m from and where I’m going,’ he states with conviction. His roots lie in the House of God Church in Perrine, FL — an environment which actively shaped his sound. ‘Being raised in the church was the best thing that could’ve happened for me,’ he explains, ‘because I learnt to play with feeling, y’know, play with a certain spirit that comes with it — playing from your heart. It’s definitely in me, so just by nature, anywhere that I play, it comes out. I’m able to adapt to just about any environment.’
Collier’s command of the lap and pedal steel (the key difference being that the pedal steel has levers to alter string pitch with the feet) has enabled him to take an instrument often in the background, and through a combination of inventive pedal use and playing techniques, make it a lead instrument as compelling as Hendrix’s stratocaster. While his embellishments are important, Collier suggests that the key to his tone lies in hardwork and hand technique, more so than effects. ‘My natural tone is in my playing — it’s in my hands, y’know. Just being around certain guys, like a Derek Trucks or people of that nature, gives you another way of hearing your tone. So I’ve spent many years playing very stripped down with no pedals, just amp and steel to find my tone, y’know. That’s how I found my natural sound. Decades of just amp and steel.’
A modest musician and willing collaborator, Roosevelt has naturally picked up some valuable guidance during his journey so far. ‘The most valuable piece of information that I’ve had, that I cannot recall which artist or friend of mine said, was: make sure that you get your rest. That was the best thing, the most valuable piece of information, for a guy touring make sure that you get your rest, y’know.’ Mindful of the fatigue that artistic expression, coupled with the demands of modern life can cause — Roosevelt powers forward in his quest to make the world a better place through music. ‘I’m out to heal this world with music,’ he concludes, ‘that’s my mission; that’s my goal.’
Catch Roosevelt Collier and his first-class band at Band on the Wall on 18th July 2019.