“This record is a record about me,” says Roosevelt Collier. “It’s telling a story of who I am, where I’m from, and where I’m going.”
A transcendent talent on pedal and lap steel guitars — and so proficient, he’s affectionately known as “The Dr.” — Collier’s debut album Exit 16 on GroundUP Music is a potent mix of blues, gospel, rock and, in his words, “dirty funk swampy grime,” as overseen by producer and bandmate Michael League (from the Grammy-winning Snarky Puppy).
It’s also a brilliant reflection of Collier’s life. All of it. Brought up in the House of God Church in Perrine, FL, Collier built his “sacred steel” guitar prowess alongside his uncles and cousins in The Lee Boys, known for their spirited, soul-shaking live performances. On his own, Collier’s become a sought-after talent both on record and on stage, performing alongside musical luminaries in the fields of rock, blues and pop, including the Allman Brothers, The String Cheese Incident, Buddy Guy, Umphrey’s McGee, Los Lobos, Robert Randolph, the Tedeschi-Trucks Band, and the Del McCoury Band, among countless others.
“Roosevelt channels something spiritual,” says League, who was instrumental in getting Collier to (finally) craft his own album after decades in the music scene.
“He’s a reason I’m talking about this now,” says Collier. “I’ve had offers to make my own music before. But when Mike came along, it just felt right.”
Exit 16 was recorded over three days of marathon sessions by League and a bevy of talented sidemen, including JT Thomas on drums and Bobby Sparks on organ. “You gotta be able to trust your bandmates, and Mike knew the right guys and knows what I’m about,” says Collier. “This could have been a star-studded thing. But that would have overshadowed what we wanted to do here.”
And what Collier wanted to do was encapsulate all of influences and experiences. “I’m rooted in a lot of genres, so I’ve never really had a focus or to buckle down,” he says, laughing. So on Exit 16 you’ll find an infectious track like “Happy Feet” sitting happily nearby “Spike,” wherein Collier shreds with the spirit of Hendrix. “I actually think a song like ‘Spike’ is about my future,” says the guitarist. “My goal there was to see how we can expand this guitar, this steel.” And, reflecting on his early days, “Sun Up Sun Down” and “Supernatural” feel like joyous, spiritual workouts.
And then there’s the title track, which Collier refers to as “dump truck funk.” Says the musician: “That’s the old do-not-enter gate type of funk — it’s dangerous! Beware of dogs out there.”
Hopefully, you’ll get a chance to see Collier on tour later this year for Exit 16 — if he’s not too busy going with the music ensemble Bokanté or his own Roosevelt Collier Trio Tribute to Hendrix. You can actually look at those two groups and envision Collier’s future: It was the guitarist’s work with Bokanté, an international music ensemble also featuring Michael League, that won Collier early acclaim in Europe (along with an international agent). Seems much like Hendrix, the recognition of Collier’s musical mastery got an early start across the Atlantic.
But Collier’s certainly excited to play his new music live, in any shape or form. “If I can snatch Mike for a tour for this album — well, if Mike can, he will,” says Collier, laughing. “But I’d also be excited to get some of my hometown, South Florida guys to do this with me. It’s my first record, so it’s a big thing there. I mean, it’s why I call this Exit 16 — that’s literally where I’m from, off the turnpike.”
If you do see him live, be prepared for some serious energy on stage — even from Collier’s seated position. As the Miami New Times noted about a recent gig: “The pedal steel guitar can be the basis for some dirty, down-home blues … even from the seated position, Collier still sweats enough to make a CrossFit instructor proud.”
In the end, Exit 16 might serve as a beautiful summation of Collier’s life. But the guitarist thinks his album — and all of his music — also serves a higher purpose.
“My mission is touch and heal people through music,” he says. “That’s always been my mission, whether it’s in the church or in a club. I think people feel better about themselves after I play. That’s powerful, my man! I’ve been blessed to have that going for me. That’s my gift.”