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Robin Trower interviewed by Steve Janowsky

December 2009 • ReviewFix

After his early days as guitarist of neo-classical progressive rock band Procol Harum, Robin Trower branched out to forge a dynamic solo career that exhilarated the rock and roll world with his guitar excellence and dynamic song writing. From his classic Bridge of Sighs (1974) and In City Dreams (1977) CDs to the recent critically-acclaimed What Lies Beneath release, Trower has evolved as a guitarist and lyricist and continues to impress. One of the most underrated guitarists on the planet, Trower recently played BB King's for a two-night run and wowed the packed houses. ReviewFix interviewed Trower while he was on tour and spoke about his guitar influences, sharing a bill with Jimi Hendrix, recording and playing Shea Stadium in the 1970s 

Thank you so much for taking the time today. I know it’s been a very busy tour. I looked at your itinerary. Was it from June to now?

Robin Trower
We’ve done the U.S. in two sections: Seven weeks each section; first on the west and now we’re on the east as it were, and we had a break in the summer, but I was touring in Europe with Jack Bruce.

Seven Moons ( Jack Bruce and Robin Trower album ) was released as a CD and a DVD also?

There’s a Seven Moons live DVD, but Seven Moons the album was actually out a couple of years ago.

How has the tour been? I saw you at BB King's on 19 September and I thought the crowd was really enthusiastic, just fantastic.

I really enjoyed BB King's. It was great.

The tour, itself – just the different audiences – is it the same reception?

Yeah, pretty much universal.

How would you differentiate the response? And in Europe, I think, you played a blues festival in Italy, and played in Norway before that.

Yeah, very good, I mean not quite as vocal as the US.

David and Derek Sutton have been very accommodating. They sent me a copy of What Lies Beneath ( latest Trower CD), and I’m very impressed. It’s very atmospheric and the tracks flow together. Is that plan your idea?

I really wanted to make every track fit in terms of vibe. I think that’s why I wanted the tracks to flow together like that.

Why didn’t you use your touring band? I think you used David Pattison on backup vocals, but why didn’t you use the touring band?

It’s just convenience, really. Everybody on the road – everybody that played with me on the road – lives in America, and I was making the album in England.

Do you think the latest CD is a complement to your career or a new direction? I just love the sound; it has so many different elements of different styles of music in it. Do you think it is supplemental or some new direction?

A bit, I think. I won’t say it’s a new direction because the stuff I’m working on for the next album isn’t particularly like that, but there will be elements of it there.

What I like about it is that the instrumental work is fantastic as usual – some really great lyrics too on the tracks, fantastic lyrics.

I’m glad you like that. I worked pretty hard on that side of things.

And your vocals sound good on it, too.

Thank you very much.

How much have you sung before?

 Just bits and pieces over the years.

The members of the current band are a great bunch of musicians. Peter Thompson was in the band Silverhead and Davey Pattison was in the band Gamma. What makes this combination so special? I really like the way you guys sounded – fantastic; how long are you with this version of this band?

 We actually worked together for a while in the ‘80s, and this band has been together a few years now and that’s why I think you got that sort of real glue to the performance, because we have worked together so much.

I love the chronicling of the recording process in the CD notes , getting back to the album What Lies Beneath Was that your idea?

 Yeah, I just thought it might be of some interest, just to keep up to date of what I’ve done so far and I could look back and see what I needed to work on, et cetera.

Livingstone Brown (bass) helped produce it, right?

 Yeah, he produced it.

The sound is just fantastic. Did you have a very good relationship working with him and the other people on the CD?

 Yeah, definitely. I mean Livingstone was my bass player and vocalist during the ‘90s. I had a band together with him, and we worked on and off together, since then he sort of went into production; he’s a very gifted guy.

Can I go back to the past a little bit?


Is it okay with you?

 Yeah, of course.

You had a long relationship with Gary Brooker (Procol Harum keyboardist and vocalist). You started with him in a band called The Paramounts, right?

 That’s right.

What was that band like?

 It was mostly soul and R&B covers, Ray Charles, James Brown. Stuff like that.

Isn’t it interesting that your relationship evolved into being in Procol Harum which was an innovative band? I call them a neoclassical, classic rock band.

 Well the thing is after The Paramounts, Gary really started strongly becoming a writer, and that was what Procol Harum grew out of the fact that he got together with Keith Reid, the lyricist.

Didn’t Matthew Fisher produce later albums of yours?

 He produced my first three solo albums.

Did you feel the need to stretch your wings, so to speak, from Procol Harum? What led to leaving?

 I was starting to write more and more music, songs, and there wasn’t space for it in Procol Harum, so I had to get on with my own thing.

Why is Bridge of Sighs,which is your second solo album, a landmark recording? I got a re-mastered version with John Peel’s BBC radio sessions on it (the bonus tracks) Why does it hold up as such a classic? Well, in my opinion, I’m sure in almost everyone’s opinion.

 I think it was definitely a coming together, it was kind of like of peaking of everybody’s talents that were involved. That was the thing , the writing was very strong: The recording sound was sort of huge for that time. Everybody had a big part of it, and obviously the main thing is the songs and James Dewar’s vocals.

Oh yes, fantastic vocalist, and Reg Isidore on drums had just an incredible sound on the recording, too.

 He has a lovely feel, really lovely feel.

I’m actually reading a book about Geoff Emerick and his production of The Beatles (Here, There and Everywhere). How was it working with him?

 It was great.

You wrote in the liner notes of him miking the instruments in different areas of the studio?

 Yeah, I think he may be the first guy to record “loud guitar” well and create that huge sound. He was and is a wonderful engineer.

The band version with Dewar and Isidore,What made it so special? Was there any difference playing with Reg Isidore or Bill Lordan ( Trower’s two drummers at different times)?

 Yeah, there’s a quite a bit of difference. Bill was more technically gifted, if you like; he was quite more complex rhythmically. Isidore was a soulful drummer with a unique sound.

Was it true that the album was recorded in two weeks?

 Yeah, I think it was 17 days or something like that. A few of the tunes, we were already playing live, you see, so they were more or less complete.

Also, when I’m looking inside the CD, was that picture taken by London Bridge?

 Yes, on the Thames.

Yes, a great shot, just a wonderful picture.

 I think it was a TV show we were miming to.

Were they great guys to work with? Were they great people, too?

 Absolutely; they were really wonderful.

Did you ever visit the Bridge of Sighs in Venice?

 No, I never did.

You did a big Shea Stadium show in 1976 with Jethro Tull and Rory Gallagher?

 That’s right.

Before that, I guess The Beatles and Grand Funk Railroad were the only bands that had played Shea, which no longer exists. You have Citi Field, the new home of the Mets; but what was that experience like playing in this giant stadium ?

 You’ve got to remember that we were already used to playing big places. For instance, when I was in Procol Harum, we did the Isle of Wight Festival (in England), which was huge. It wasn’t that much of an eye opener as it were. It was great; I remember it being a great night.

When watching you play at BB King's, I just have the impression that you really enjoy playing a lot. Now does it ever grow old? You really seem to be relishing it, and are just very happy in the moment.

 Yeah, that’s right. That’s the thing that keeps the whole machine running, the fact that I love to play so much.

Early influences on guitar: Were they many? A few?

 Well, really, the first big influence on me was Scotty Moore (Elvis Presley’s guitarist )That’s really why I wanted to have a guitar in the first place, because I loved this playing.

I’ve heard Jimmy Page say that in interviews, too; Scotty Moore was a major influence on a lot of people. What was it about his playing?

 He was a fabulous guitar player. He was inventive, as well, and great sound, great feel. The next great influence was BB King and Otis Rush and Hubert Sumlin, Albert King and of course, the big one was Jimi Hendrix, a very great influence.

Did all the Hendrix comparisons help or hurt your career, do you think? I see it in some ways, but also see you’re such an original on your own.

 I think it clouds the issue. It is a fair comment, but I think it does cloud the issue of what I created myself.

Did Procol Harum share a bill with Hendrix, by the way?

 They did before I joined them. I did one show with Procol, and Hendrix was on the bill, but it wasn’t really anything to judge him by; it wasn’t a good night for him.

The Isle of Wight Festival was, I think, the month before he died in September of 1970. With your soloing, how much of it is instinctive? How much is planned? I mean I’m a frustrated guitar player. I have a guitar signed by Les Paul. So is your soloing some instinctive, some planned? What percentage, would you say?

 I’d say it was 50/50. I sort of got an idea roughly the area I’m going to work in for each song, and it’s sort of whatever happens from there.

Why is your guitar of choice a Stratocaster most of the time? Am I right about that?

 Oh yeah, I mean that’s basically all I’ve played for 30 odd years, but now the last four or five years – I think six years, it might be, I’ve used a signature model that Fender makes of mine and they’re sort of made to my specifications and they just fit the bill perfectly.

Have you played Gibsons in your life?

 When I was in Procol Harum, I played Gibsons.

I have a Les Paul Custom, it is such a heavy duty guitar.

 Yeah, backbreaking.

I just wanted to ask you about your writing technique. Is it music first, lyrics to follow, or both?

 Yeah mostly, but I have done it the other way. On a song called Another Time, Another Place, the lyrics came first. There have been two or three that start with a guitar.

If you had to give the Robin Trower of 40 years ago some advice, what would it be?

 I would probably tell him to look for a better manager.

Could records like BLT be released today with record companies looking for one big hit? To me, the music industry has changed so much in a negative way. Do you know what I mean? Is there room for creativity and innovation as it was in that golden era of music?

 I do think in the main, you can’t sort of completely generalize, but I do think music has become more formulized, if you know what I mean. And I think people are putting together music to fit into a slot now. You know, “I’m going to do this kind of thing” and I think the consequences of that is that it has become more shallow.

RF: That period through the '60s early '70s is such a golden age for a lot of English musicians actually. Why do you think so?

The people in the '60s , the British musicians were influenced by the most incredible music that was coming out in America, and that was an incredible era for music so and that can’t happen again. That’s already happened, so now you’ve got people being influenced by music that was influenced by music that was really great music. When you think of the rock and roll era ,for instance, what unbelievable talents were coming out at that time, and you add in some James Brown and Ray Charles. These were the things that inspired the British players and singers, and Motown on top of that; unbelievable stuff.

I read an interview once: Paul McCartney saying he would hear standards, he would hear Skiffle, he would hear – like you’re saying – R&B and such incredible influences.

Very potent stuff.

When you play certain songs now, do the lyrics mean different things to you now than they did?

No, I don’t think so. It’s never come to mind, that it is.

We were talking about the Shea Stadium. Were there any memorable venues that you played, that gigs or audiences that are just imprinted in your mind like the “Fillmore East” and “Fillmore West?”

I remember playing the Winterland in San Francisco, and having some wonderful nights there.

So your tour goes 'til 18 October in Fort Lauderdale?


I actually know some people down there that actually might be going. I was just really impressed when I saw you – fantastic – and it’s been a pleasure.

Thank you very much.

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