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Robin Trower explains how he came up with unique guitar sound

Tim Parsons in the Tahoe Daily Tribune • March 2011

Robin Trower, who on Wednesday celebrates his 66th birthday, is a rare musician who gets better with age. His innovative sounds were developed in his native Britain and are much in the same vein as Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. He was a member of Procol Harum from 1967–1972. He recorded three albums with Bryan Ferry (Roxy Music) and four with Jack Bruce (Cream). The Robin Trower Band has about 30 albums, including one released last fall, The Playful Heart, which he was accompanied in the studio by his touring bandmates from America. Trower is in the middle of a five-month United States tour, which included eight weeks off for “holiday” at his home in Britain. The Robin Trower band performs its first Tahoe show in more than five years this Saturday at Harrah's Lake Tahoe. He spoke earlier this week with Lake Tahoe Action's Tim Parsons.

Are you are playing so many shows because you really love to perform?

I keep coming up with new songs, new material. And when you write new songs, you've got to make a new album, and when you make a album you've got to go out there and promote it otherwise no one knows you've done it. So it's all generated from my creativity.

You have gotten better musically over the years while many of his [sic] peers have had the opposite occur. To what might that be attributed?

It's more the one thing. My love of it, for a start, is a big contributing factor. I count myself as really blessed to be born with some creativity. That's what I do. That's what I am. Everything I do is about creating stuff. It just keeps coming, so that's really what it's all about. So as a creative artist, you are always reaching for the stars.

Your tone is recognizable. I can tell Albert King, Albert Collins, Stevie Ray Vaughan, unless it's someone copying them. You tune down and use pedals to get your sound, right?

I tune a whole step down. It's part of that striving for something. Always striving, striving, striving and you tend to push, push, push when that's in you to do that, rather than I'd like to sound like so and so or I'd like to sound like so and so. You tend to always be searching all the time. That searching is what creates a distinctive tone, unless you're lucky enough to be like Albert King — him playing the Flying V (guitar), he probably stumbled across that and then he said, ‘Oh Yeah, that's the sound for me.' For me, it's a searching thing. I think with all guitar players, it is very much in the hands, the sound they make, the way they pick and all the rest of it. With Albert King, he played with his fingers, so that was very distinctive.

How did you come up with your style?

I started off playing guitar admiring people like Scotty Moore and Gene Vincent's (pedal steel) guitar player, Cliff Gallup. And then I graduated to BB King, so when I heard BB King, that was like a turning point. You are talking about the guitar as a lead voice. A real voice with almost a human quality. That's what BB King created. And then Albert King took it on even further, with even more beauty to it. And (Jimi) Hendrix is obviously a huge, huge influence. I think it's a combination of all those. And then you add in your own bit of creativity.

When did you start working with the wah-wah pedal?

I started using more effects in the '60s when I was with Procol Harum ... and it became a distinctive part of my sound with my own records.

Blacks for a couple of generations haven't embraced the blues like whites have. The British Invasion groups sold a lot more records than people like Albert King.

That's right.

What are your thoughts?

What the British guys did was take the blues and make it into pop music. They made it palatable for a much larger audience because real blues is much too raw for most ears. I can't think of anybody white, European or otherwise, that I would actually call real blues. I think you have to have African blood in your veins to play real blues. It's definitely a form of music that white people have taken and made it into something that they love. It's still that basic form but what I call real blues hasn't been around for a long time, really.

You were reunited in 2007 with Jack Bruce to make the record Seven Moons.

The great Jack. It was great. I love working with him. I mean if he's not the best musician in popular music, I don't know who is.

Your new album, The Playful Heart, features your touring band (Davey Pattison, vocals; Glenn Leitch bass; and Pete Thompson, drums). Will they be playing with you at Tahoe, and were you going for a live sound on the album?

Yes, they are coming to Tahoe. I thought I'd like to do something of what we put out live on this CD. So I brought the guys over from America and we rehearsed it in England and then I carried on working on it with the producer, and what you hear is the end product.

Will we hear songs from the new album?

We're doing two off the new CD. We don't like to put too many in because people don't know it. They like to hear the old stuff.

Are there any younger guitarists who have captured your attention? I know Derek Trucks is able to play and not have to sing.

He's one that I've listened to and liked what he does – lovely player. There's a few guitar players that I think are really good but unfortunately the music they are playing is not really my cup of tea. That's more important to me is the actual music, not the ability to play, because some of my favourite musicians could hardly play at all: Son House and Muddy Waters. That's the end that I'm looking at for satisfaction.

Robin Trower's page at BtP

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