Robin Trower has set a new standard for blues and blues rock musicianship. Starting in the 1960’s with the group Procol Harum, Trower made a mark with a sound all his own. Riding into the 1970’s, albums like Bridge of Sighs saw Robin taking the influence of the great Jimi Hendrix and creating something new with it. That music can only be described as “Pure Robin Trower”, and Robin has cultivated that sound for the past several decades. Vocalists have come and gone in the Robin Trower Band, but the last few years have seen him taking on not only vocals and guitar, but bass on all of his albums as well. His most recent release, “Coming Closer To The Day” is one of his finest moments and shows Trower at the top of his game! While others may rest on their laurels at this point in their career, Robin Trower is currently at his most prolific, and his last few albums have been released steadily and show a wealth of quality material. I spoke with Robin recently and it was an honor to reflect on his early years, when he started playing guitar, and what keeps him going after all these years in the business. He was on the road and set to play a show in Austin, Texas the following evening. Thanks for a great interview and thanks for all the great music over the years Robin!
Todd Beebe: Hey Robin! So great to be talking to you today.
Robin Trower: My pleasure!
TB: I’d like to talk about your career and about your new album too.
TB: So on the new album, you’re playing everything on there except for the drums and it sounds great! This has been an ongoing thing, as your last couple albums have been this way. In the past you’ve had others handling the vocals, but your voice is great, so I don’t think you need to worry about that anymore!
RT: Well thank you, that’s a great compliment!
TB: Did you specifically plan to quit using vocalists or did it just kind of happen?
RT: Well, a bit of each really. I think the most important part of it is the fact that I started to write lyrics that were so personal to me that I felt to be able to deliver the truth of them, I would have to sing them myself. And I think that’s how that came about really.
TB: Your last couple albums, and this one in particular, lean heavily in the blues direction, which is great! Is that something you specifically set out to do?
RT: I think I did decide, about three albums back, that I would just let all of my influences that were so very strong early on in my musicianship, as it were, I’d let them breathe. I’d let them come through and just do what feels right and good to me, you know? I just wanted to make music that gives me joy, basically.
TB: Speaking of your early influences, I know you’ve said Scotty Moore from Elvis’ band was huge. What are your very earliest memories of music in general? Not necessarily blues or rock and roll, but when was the first time any music really grabbed your ear?
RT: Well the first memory I have of noticing music was when I was about six, and I remember it was the song called Blue Skies, which was an Irving Berlin song. And I remember distinctly thinking to myself “what’s that? I like that!” So that’s my earliest memory, but to be honest, I was very lucky. I had an older brother and he was buying records. So I got used to music very early. I remember him bringing in Hound Dog, Don’t Be Cruel, Gene Vincent’s Be Bop A Lula and those kind of things, you know, that sort of made me interested in playing the guitar really.
TB: What was your first guitar and how old were you when you got it?
RT: I think I was 13 and my dad bought me a guitar for Christmas, and it was a Rosetti.
TB: I believe you’ve said B.B. King was the first real blues you heard right?
RT: Yep. It was B.B. King, 3 O’Clock Blues on the Kent label. I think that would have been 1961, somewhere around there. ’61, ’62 maybe? And that was the beginning of a completely different direction for me on the guitar.
TB: I know you love Albert King as well. They are both so influential. I guess you would say B.B. had more of a major key sound, where as Albert was more minor key. The two were so different, but influenced everybody that plays blues!
RT: Absolutely! They are the two guys, aren’t they? Let’s face it! There’s a lot of, what I would call second tier players, that are great! I think of Otis Rush as being one. But Albert King is definitely my favorite guitar player of all time.
TB: Now how about Freddie King? So many other British players like Eric Clapton and Peter Green covered his instrumentals, particularly Hideaway and The Stumble. Was Freddie an influence on you too?
RT: No, I never got into Freddie King. It wasn’t quite blue enough for me, somehow. Fine guitar player obviously! But the thing about Albert King is it’s just so soulful! He’s the most soulful player. I think he stands head and shoulders above everybody, really.
TB: Yeah Albert was great! I know you are also influenced by James Brown. Did he influence you vocally at all?
RT: No, I don’t think vocally. I think it’s just overall. His early stuff is so powerful, in a soulful way. “Why does everything happen to me?” You know, those kind of things. He was coming from more of a gospel blues thing before he got into the dance stuff. I’m talking pre Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag, you know? James Brown Live at The Apollo, that live album, was such a huge, kind of eye opener, of how good music could be, you know! (laughs) And be exciting and soulful! But really good music! I don’t know anybody in Britain that wasn’t influenced by that album! You know, who was alive then, obviously! (laughs) That was a long time ago!
TB: Did you ever get a chance to see Peter Green?
RT: No, I didn’t, I never saw them. You’re talking about Fleetwood Mac aren’t you?
TB: Yes, or with John Mayall before Mac?
RT: No. I have never been really interested in British music, besides one or two things.
TB: It’s amazing how the British, obviously yourself included, have such a grip on American Blues. It’s just kind of amazing that something made it overseas so many years ago, and you guys had such a great command of it. It’s pretty amazing!
RT: Yeah, I don’t know why that should happen! I guess it touched a chord in us, us Brits you know? It touched a chord and we responded to it!
TB: Looking back on your early years, when was the first time you felt like “I’m actually getting into the big time here with this!”?
RT: Well, I had a band with Gary Brooker, called The Paramounts in the early ’60’s. But I wouldn’t say I was starting to really feel professional until Gary asked me to join his band later on, which was Procol Harum.
RT: My main memory of working for Bill Graham was one day in the dressing room, just before we were going on, he told me a story about Jimi Hendrix at the Fillmore East, when he recorded the Band of Gypsys album. I think he felt I needed to hear that story!
TB: Did you ever get to meet Jimi at all?
RT: Very, very briefly said hello. We were on the same bill in Germany. He was a huge influence on me, definitely! Albert King was my favorite guitar player, but Jimi Hendrix is definitely my favorite rock and roll player!
TB: Now on your new album, I know you’ve said Diving Bell is your favorite song? Some of the lyrics seem very personal. Is there anything particular that inspires you lyrically, or is it just things you experience on a daily basis?
RT: Yeah, I think that’s it. These days I tend to write lyrics more about what’s on my mind or in my heart. So quite a lot of things about me, yeah.
TB: I love Tide Of Confusion! That’s about the internet?
TB: I was going to ask your feelings on that. How do you feel about the whole “downloading versus buying” music issue?
RT: I don’t really have strong opinions about that really. It’s just another way, it’s a new way, but it’s just another way of getting music. I don’t have a strong opinion about it. But I will tell you what I do feel, is that the music of today, it really suits this highly disposable way of dealing with it, of receiving it and listening to it. I think it is very disposable, most of what I hear today.
TB: Definitely! There’s some good stuff, but so much of it is pretty sad!
RT: Yeah, I don’t know where the tide turned, but it certainly got very thin!
TB: What do you think of the blues in 2020? In my opinion, they’re calling so much “the blues” when it isn’t really.
RT: I agree! I agree about that!
TB: So much is just somebody wailing away, doing a long, long guitar solo.
RT: What you’re talking about is what it’s morphed into. Yeah, you’ve got to talk about the guys that had the roots: Howlin’ Wolf and Robert Johnson, you’ve got to talk about those guys. That’s what blues is! Everything else is just stuff that’s influenced by it. I mean, what I would say about myself is that I’m a rock and roll player who’s influenced by blues. And I feel that applies to all the British players as well.
TB: Your guitar tone on the new album is great! Always has been, but it just seems to keep getting better! I know you used your signature Stratocaster and gear which is relatively new. So I think you’ve definitely disproven the myth that you need to use vintage gear to have a great tone. So many feel they need all vintage gear for great tone, but your gear is all fairly new and you’ve got one of the best tones around. Do you have any comments about that?
RT: Well, yes I do use pretty much all new equipment. My Marshall amps are all new and, as you say, the guitar is new. I think it’s just a matter of your own ears really. I mean the thing is, I’m always working on trying to improve my sound anyways. I’m always messing about with different amps and different combinations of amps and pedals, but always the Strat obviously. But I think you know, when you say about somebody’s music, the sound they’re making is a big part of that. It’s part of the creative process, and I consider myself to be very creative. So I think that’s a big part of why it sounds the way it does.
TB: Did you ever get to play with Albert or B.B. at all?
RT: No. I got to see Albert King live! And for about a year after that I wanted to give up playing the guitar, to be honest! (laughs) He was so good!
TB: Both those guys used super, super light strings and the tone they got was unbelievable! But then guys like you use heavier strings. It’s very interesting to see how people can come from totally different sides of the spectrum and get amazing tone. So I think tone is really in the players hands.
RT: Yeah, I think it’s just a matter of what sounds right to you really, and what feels good.
TB: You’ve been very prolific with your song writing, especially in the last few years. And it’s great to hear the new songs. Obviously though, when people go to your live shows, they’re expecting to hear Bridge of Sighs, Day of The Eagle, all the classics. They’re expecting those songs. How do you keep tunes like that fresh and exciting for you, when you know they’re expected night after night?
RT: Well the thing is, you’re talking about pieces of music that have a real potency to them. And they play you, you don’t play them! That’s the strength of them you know? And they’re a challenge! They’re a challenge to pull off. And that’s why I love working in a three-piece, cause it is a challenge to make it work, when you’ve got an instrument missing basically. So it’s a challenge every night!
TB: The new album’s cover art was done by you. Do you do quite a bit with art outside of music?
RT: No, I only do my album covers, cause quite a lot of work goes into those. That’s several days work. And that’s all I have time for. If I wasn’t doing music, I would probably go into that side of things more or less full time. But because music takes up pretty much my whole life, I don’t have time to do more. But I do love doing it!
TB: Now when you write, do the lyrics come first or the music?
RT: It’s always the music! It always starts off with a guitar idea, a guitar part. Which usually, if it catches my heart and soul, I’ll go on and complete it as a piece of music, while at the same time maybe working on what the vocal line should be. When I’ve completed that, I start on the lyrics. And usually it takes me two or three days to complete a lyric, working on it sort of non-stop basically.
TB: When you’re off the road do you have a regular practice routine you stick to everyday or do you kind of step away from the guitar for a little while?
RT: No. For the last couple of years I’ve only done one American tour which is 6 to 7 weeks. That’s all the road I do. So the rest of the time, I’m working on the next album, basically writing, and I like to pick up the guitar every day and play. But I don’t have a sort of practice routine or anything like that. I just like to play for my own enjoyment, and that’s when you stumble across ideas!
TB: Right! Do you ever have a desire to do any acoustic music at all? Or do you specifically want to stick with electric?
RT: No. The electric is what gets me going! Electric guitar, the Strat. Wound up! (laughs) That’s where I get my joy from!
TB: Well your attitude is very inspirational! It’s great to see you keep striving to do better and better stuff all the time. So many people just sort of coast at a certain point in their career. But this new album is just unbelievable! It’s great to see that you keep on pushing the envelope and trying to better yourself, year after year.
RT: Well I think my attitude is if you are not striving to move forward, you won’t be standing still, you’ll be going backwards! There’s no standing still you know? That’s the thing. You can’t just coast. There’s no coasting! Coasting means you’re going backwards!
TB: As far as keeping your voice and yourself in shape, do you stick to a workout routine at all? I’m sure that’s kind of hard when you’re out on the road and you have to watch what you eat, etc.
RT: Yes! I exercise twice a day, morning and night: nothing drastic. It’s more of a stretching, exercising kind of thing, but yeah I try to keep my body moving as it were. Yeah, you’ve got to make an effort to eat well.
TB: Now, you’re on the road right now. Where are you at?
RT: Tomorrow night we are in Austin, Texas. That’s the next gig.
TB: Well thanks so much Robin, it’s been great to speak with you! I guess my last question for you would be how does Robin Trower want to be remembered?
RT: I think I’d like to be remembered or thought of as somebody who tried something difficult. I think I took on something quite difficult to do and had a good go at it. Whether I achieved it or not, that’ll be judged by history I think, in the future.
TB: I can say, without a doubt you’ve achieved it Robin! Your legacy is permanent, I can assure you. Your music has touched so many of us and will continue to, I guarantee.
RT: Thank you! Thank you very much!
TB: Thank you very much for your time today Robin!
RT: Thanks a lot Todd! Bye!
Pick up the new album and check out all things Robin Trower on his website and Facebook: