An Interview With Robin Trower

With the passing of Chicago blues guitarist, Lacy Gibson, and the popularity of the “What Are You Listening To” post on this blog, it’s clearly time to try and increase exposure to a variety of guitar players throughout the world.

What I’ve seen is that, because I do this all the time, I’m a lot more familiar with many of the guitar players in the world that others have never heard of. Just the other day I was surprised to find out that my friend had not heard of Joe Bonamassa. I really thought he was a household name by blues standards.

This interview was done by Rick Landers and Matthew Warnock at over at Guitar International.[content_box_grey width=”90%”]

Originally grabbing the guitar world’s attention as a member of the classic rock group Procol Harum, Robin Trower has since become a household name for his own with trio recordings and tours, both as a band leader and with long-time friend and musical collaborator Jack Bruce. Known for his tone and unique approach to classic, blues-based rock, Trower’s guitar work is filled with an energy and creativity that have helped him build a fan base around the globe, creating a highly-successful career that has lasted more than four decades.

While many other guitarists would be slowing down after 40 plus years on the road, Trower is still a road dog, consistently touring the globe as he continues to bring his new and classic songs to his many fans. As well, Trower seems to possess an endless well of creativity in his songwriting as he regularly releases new albums of original songs, including 2010’s The Playful Heart. With the new album receiving rave reviews, fans and critics are already anticipating Trower’s next release, 2011’s Robin Trower at the BBC: 1973-1975.

Guitar International recently sat down with legendary guitarist Robin Trower to talk about his latest record, his signature guitar and life on the road.

Robin Trower

Robin Trower

******

Rick Landers: Your new album is titled The Playful Heart. How did that come about? Were you planning on a certain concept for that album or was this just a mix of songs that you like and you thought, “Hey, this is the right time.”

Robin Trower: It was a group of songs I had together. That’s pretty much the way I work. I get enough songs for an album and do an album.

Rick: How do you decide which song goes first and second and third? Do you get involved in that type of a sequencing thing?

Robin Trower: Oh, yes. That’s always my call, as it were.

Rick: When I listened to “The Turning,” and I actually listened to it on YouTube, I couldn’t tell whether it was one song or two, but you segued into a very bluesy sound.

Robin Trower: It was written to go into a slow section, because of the lyrics. I wanted to kind of extend where I thought things were going.

Rick: I like the difference between the beginning, which has a ‘60s feel to it and then you got into a great blues lead.

Robin Trower: Thank you very much.

Rick: “Dressed in Gold”, and I’ve heard a couple of other people say this, it’s somewhat similar to “All Along the Watchtower.” I wondered if that was intentional or did that just come out that way?

Robin Trower: No, I don’t think it was intentional. It’s got a similar chord sequence. That’s the thing, I bet there’s hundreds of songs with that chord progression. No, obviously if people hear that, that’s fine. I don’t mind that.

Rick: As I listened to some of the tracks, I wasn’t really expecting “Camille,” which is kind of a jazzy, almost a torchy type of song. Are you exploring the jazz arena more or do you think you would explore it more beyond this album?

Robin Trower: The thing is, it’s not about exploring. It’s always a matter of the music I come up with. It’s a matter of the songs I write. I’m not looking particularly in any direction at any time. It’s just the songs come to you, and if you like them enough to finish them off, you’re probably gonna end up doing them on an album. I’m driven personally by the ideas that I come up with. They drive you rather than you driving them, if you know what I mean.

Rick: Yeah. I see you’ve got Livingston Brown on the album as the engineer. How did you guys meet and what does he bring to the production side that complements your playing?

Robin Trower: He engineers and produces. That’s the key. His engineering is a by-product of him being the producer, basically. I met him when he was in the band on a thing called, Night of the Guitars. We hit it off and we’ve been working together on and off since then. At one time he did bass and vocals for me in the ’90s. He’s produced two or three albums for me now.

He’s also an incredible musician. He’s got much better ears than me. He has a real sense of music formally, which I don’t have. I don’t have any sort of understanding of harmony or anything like that. So, he brings all that besides his incredible ears.

Robin Trower

Robin Trower

Rick: I know that you’ve worked with Jack Bruce quite a bit in the past. Any chance that you guys are gonna get back together and do a project or even tour together?

Robin Trower: You never say, never. No plans at the moment, but you never know. I love working with Jack.

Rick: I asked one of our readers if he had any questions that he’d like me to ask and he said, “Hey, how about asking about the track, “Too Rolling Stoned.” He wanted to know what effects, what amps and what microphones you used on that.

Robin Trower: Right. He’s talking about an album in 1974. Which I’m not sure I remember. [Laughing]

Rick: I didn’t think you’d remember it, but I thought I’d ask anyway.

Robin Trower: The thing is, I was definitely using a Strat and Marshalls. Probably a Crybaby Wah back then. And if I remember correctly, at that time I had an overdrive box that I had built for me because there weren’t many options in those days. I had to have an overdrive built. That space…Univibe was the thing on the instrumental section. I think the mics were two U87s, I think.

Rick: Okay, thank you. A lot of beginning guitarists cover other musician’s songs, and we end up getting sort of stuck in our own box. But, you’ve got your own style at this point. How do you break away from that?

Robin Trower: I was lucky enough never to have any need to learn other people’s songs or any other guitar player’s licks. I just never wanted to do that, so I never sort of ended up with other people’s stuff as it were.

Rick: Do you find it hard to play with other guitarists? Your style is so distinct. I would think it would be kind of hard not to overwhelm another guitarist’s playing.

Robin Trower: The thing is, I do like playing in the three-piece, because of the space it gives me. I don’t know about playing with another guitar player. I’ve never really thought about it.

Rick: I would think because of the style you have that it might almost overwhelm or overshadow another guitarist.

Robin Trower: I think playing in a three-piece, you’re having to make up for an instrument that’s not there and I think that’s natural to the way I want to play guitar, if you see what I mean. It does get rather large [Both Laughing].

Rick: I know that you’ve got a Signature Strat that came out several years ago. Have you made any modifications to that?

Robin Trower: No, I’m still using those. I’ve got four of them altogether. I really like them. I haven’t played anything else since really. Obviously the initial ones were built, actually, in the custom shop, but I’ve got one that is what you would buy in the shop, which is what they call “Team Built.” It’s every bit as good as the others.

Rick: I saw you play at the Birchmere in Virginia, a while back. That was a great show, by the way.

Robin Trower: Yeah, I like playing there.

Rick: Good club. They’ve got a great sound system. Have you ever thought about doing an unplugged album, where you’re doing only acoustic tracks?

Robin Trower: No, not really. I play electric guitar, see? [Both Laughing] That’s the thing. My music is very much dependent on the sound, on the noise I make.

Rick: Do you have any acoustics kicking around the house?

Robin Trower: I do. I have a really lovely Martin, which I sometimes use for writing.

Rick: Is it a D-28?

Robin Trower: I think it might be. I don’t know really know. I’ve had it for donkey’s years, since the ’70s.

Rick: Over the years do you find that you’ve got fans that show up every year and you actually get to know them?

Robin Trower: Not that I’m aware of. I’m sure there are, but I’m not very observant when it comes to who’s in the audience. I just concentrate more or less on playing.

Rick: After you finish up The Playful Heart tour, do you have enough songs for another album that you’re gonna start working on?

Robin Trower: I’ve got about half a dozen songs that I’m currently working on at the moment. I don’t know what I’m gonna do next, to be honest. I’ve got three different project ideas. I’m not sure which one will be the next one I do.

[/content_box_grey]

The original version of this interview can also be found at http://guitarinternational.com/2011/04/12/robin-trower-interview-the-playful-heart/.

Originally grabbing the guitar world’s attention as a member of the classic rock group Procol Harum, Robin Trower has since become a household name for his own with trio recordings and tours, both as a band leader and with long-time friend and musical collaborator Jack Bruce. Known for his tone and unique approach to classic, blues-based rock, Trower’s guitar work is filled with an energy and creativity that have helped him build a fan base around the globe, creating a highly-successful career that has lasted more than four decades.

While many other guitarists would be slowing down after 40 plus years on the road, Trower is still a road dog, consistently touring the globe as he continues to bring his new and classic songs to his many fans. As well, Trower seems to possess an endless well of creativity in his songwriting as he regularly releases new albums of original songs, including 2010’s The Playful Heart. With the new album receiving rave reviews, fans and critics are already anticipating Trower’s next release, 2011’s Robin Trower at the BBC: 1973-1975.

Guitar International recently sat down with legendary guitarist Robin Trower to talk about his latest record, his signature guitar and life on the road.

Robin Trower

Robin Trower

******

Rick Landers: Your new album is titled The Playful Heart. How did that come about? Were you planning on a certain concept for that album or was this just a mix of songs that you like and you thought, “Hey, this is the right time.”

Robin Trower: It was a group of songs I had together. That’s pretty much the way I work. I get enough songs for an album and do an album.

Rick: How do you decide which song goes first and second and third? Do you get involved in that type of a sequencing thing?

Robin Trower: Oh, yes. That’s always my call, as it were.

Rick: When I listened to “The Turning,” and I actually listened to it on YouTube, I couldn’t tell whether it was one song or two, but you segued into a very bluesy sound.

Robin Trower: It was written to go into a slow section, because of the lyrics. I wanted to kind of extend where I thought things were going.

Rick: I like the difference between the beginning, which has a ‘60s feel to it and then you got into a great blues lead.

Robin Trower: Thank you very much.

Rick: “Dressed in Gold”, and I’ve heard a couple of other people say this, it’s somewhat similar to “All Along the Watchtower.” I wondered if that was intentional or did that just come out that way?

Robin Trower: No, I don’t think it was intentional. It’s got a similar chord sequence. That’s the thing, I bet there’s hundreds of songs with that chord progression. No, obviously if people hear that, that’s fine. I don’t mind that.

Rick: As I listened to some of the tracks, I wasn’t really expecting “Camille,” which is kind of a jazzy, almost a torchy type of song. Are you exploring the jazz arena more or do you think you would explore it more beyond this album?

Robin Trower: The thing is, it’s not about exploring. It’s always a matter of the music I come up with. It’s a matter of the songs I write. I’m not looking particularly in any direction at any time. It’s just the songs come to you, and if you like them enough to finish them off, you’re probably gonna end up doing them on an album. I’m driven personally by the ideas that I come up with. They drive you rather than you driving them, if you know what I mean.

Rick: Yeah. I see you’ve got Livingston Brown on the album as the engineer. How did you guys meet and what does he bring to the production side that complements your playing?

Robin Trower: He engineers and produces. That’s the key. His engineering is a by-product of him being the producer, basically. I met him when he was in the band on a thing called, Night of the Guitars. We hit it off and we’ve been working together on and off since then. At one time he did bass and vocals for me in the ’90s. He’s produced two or three albums for me now.

He’s also an incredible musician. He’s got much better ears than me. He has a real sense of music formally, which I don’t have. I don’t have any sort of understanding of harmony or anything like that. So, he brings all that besides his incredible ears.

Robin Trower

Robin Trower

Rick: I know that you’ve worked with Jack Bruce quite a bit in the past. Any chance that you guys are gonna get back together and do a project or even tour together?

Robin Trower: You never say, never. No plans at the moment, but you never know. I love working with Jack.

Rick: I asked one of our readers if he had any questions that he’d like me to ask and he said, “Hey, how about asking about the track, “Too Rolling Stoned.” He wanted to know what effects, what amps and what microphones you used on that.

Robin Trower: Right. He’s talking about an album in 1974. Which I’m not sure I remember. [Laughing]

Rick: I didn’t think you’d remember it, but I thought I’d ask anyway.

Robin Trower: The thing is, I was definitely using a Strat and Marshalls. Probably a Crybaby Wah back then. And if I remember correctly, at that time I had an overdrive box that I had built for me because there weren’t many options in those days. I had to have an overdrive built. That space…Univibe was the thing on the instrumental section. I think the mics were two U87s, I think.

Rick: Okay, thank you. A lot of beginning guitarists cover other musician’s songs, and we end up getting sort of stuck in our own box. But, you’ve got your own style at this point. How do you break away from that?

Robin Trower: I was lucky enough never to have any need to learn other people’s songs or any other guitar player’s licks. I just never wanted to do that, so I never sort of ended up with other people’s stuff as it were.

Rick: Do you find it hard to play with other guitarists? Your style is so distinct. I would think it would be kind of hard not to overwhelm another guitarist’s playing.

Robin Trower: The thing is, I do like playing in the three-piece, because of the space it gives me. I don’t know about playing with another guitar player. I’ve never really thought about it.

Rick: I would think because of the style you have that it might almost overwhelm or overshadow another guitarist.

Robin Trower: I think playing in a three-piece, you’re having to make up for an instrument that’s not there and I think that’s natural to the way I want to play guitar, if you see what I mean. It does get rather large [Both Laughing].

Rick: I know that you’ve got a Signature Strat that came out several years ago. Have you made any modifications to that?

Robin Trower: No, I’m still using those. I’ve got four of them altogether. I really like them. I haven’t played anything else since really. Obviously the initial ones were built, actually, in the custom shop, but I’ve got one that is what you would buy in the shop, which is what they call “Team Built.” It’s every bit as good as the others.

Rick: I saw you play at the Birchmere in Virginia, a while back. That was a great show, by the way.

Robin Trower: Yeah, I like playing there.

Rick: Good club. They’ve got a great sound system. Have you ever thought about doing an unplugged album, where you’re doing only acoustic tracks?

Robin Trower: No, not really. I play electric guitar, see? [Both Laughing] That’s the thing. My music is very much dependent on the sound, on the noise I make.

Rick: Do you have any acoustics kicking around the house?

Robin Trower: I do. I have a really lovely Martin, which I sometimes use for writing.

Rick: Is it a D-28?

Robin Trower: I think it might be. I don’t know really know. I’ve had it for donkey’s years, since the ’70s.

Rick: Over the years do you find that you’ve got fans that show up every year and you actually get to know them?

Robin Trower: Not that I’m aware of. I’m sure there are, but I’m not very observant when it comes to who’s in the audience. I just concentrate more or less on playing.

Rick: After you finish up The Playful Heart tour, do you have enough songs for another album that you’re gonna start working on?

Robin Trower: I’ve got about half a dozen songs that I’m currently working on at the moment. I don’t know what I’m gonna do next, to be honest. I’ve got three different project ideas. I’m not sure which one will be the next one I do.

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    Reply Reply January 5, 2013

    I had to chuckle when I read Lorenzo’s comments as they almost perfectly reflected my experiences back then. My van was a Ford Econline all made to be a shaggin wagon complete with the sound system and bunk in the back. I am and always was enthralled with Robin Trowers playing, up there with Jimi Hendrix for sure. I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing him live but maybe some day soon……….

  • LORENZO OYLE

    Reply Reply May 6, 2011

    I first heard Robin in the 70’s. Had his Bridge of Sighs and another one on 8 track tape. Had a 1968 GMC cargo van that i “customized” with a lime green paint job and carpeting all over the inside–pink, lavender, yellow and back shag carpet. Had a mattress in back. I built a “head-ache” shield out of plywood behind the driver’s seat where I mounted a big speaker. I used to roll a fat one, fire it up, make sure my cooler was between the front seats, full of ice and a six-pack of Bud. I would roll the front windows down to let the incriminating smoke roll our, put her in drive, slam Robin Trower in the 8 track, turn the 8 track up to 10, and the van up to 70mph, head due south on I-69 towards my then girl-friend’s home 100 miles away. After arriving at my destination, parking and locking the van, after a two cold Bud foreplay (one fer me and one fer her) I still had his screaming wah-wah and Strat-Marshal vibe echoing in my head later as I made lust to my sweet hot honey. Hmmm, them was the days!

  • Jim Wollard

    Reply Reply April 20, 2011

    I discovered Robin’s music as a kid when I was walking down an alley delivering papers and found a dewey wet cassette tape on the ground. I had a player with me that I had rigged up (well before the walkman) so I popped it in and WOW! I was hooked. Saw him a few years back at the crappy old Juke Joint in Spfld Mo. The sound system sucked so bad that all he could do to beat the feedback and hum was crank it up and play non stop.That in itself combined with that classic focus on the music made for one hell of a show. We could tell he hated the system but he played the hell out of it anyway.I had a front rail spot not five feet away and the man was amazing. He is one of my influences and a big reason I learned to play. God bless you Robin.

  • Abel

    Reply Reply April 19, 2011

    the man is a master..pure soul……..god blessed him …..but we all know that took a lot of hard work……hall of famer big time nobody plays like robin…………………

  • Reg Anderson

    Reply Reply April 18, 2011

    Followed R.T. from his early days. Loved his music especially in the years with James Dewar and Bill Lordan. A power trio with massive vocals and guitar riffs that ranged from a heavy blues to melodic and mystical passages that left you awestruck!! Would also love to see him back with
    Jack Bruce another great voice and bass player.

  • tom webb

    Reply Reply April 17, 2011

    nothing too say except who much i love this mans playing and writting..i would also love for Robin and Jack Bruce to work together again..two of my all time favs

  • Bruce

    Reply Reply April 16, 2011

    I have seen robin at arena shows in the 70’s and at a niteclub, so close I could have touched him. no matter what the venue was , ATwrower gave it everything he had and I was never disappointed. As an electric guitar player myself, I am i awe of his skills and talent. God bless you, Robin Trower.

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