By Martine Ehrenclou
British guitar legend, Robin Trower is regarded as one of the most influential guitar players of all time. Trower’s signature fiery sound and style, once compared to Jimi Hendrix, transformed over the decades with his inspirational soloing style, his unique guitar sound. Revered as a masterful guitar player, the iconic bluesman roams the neck of his custom Fender Stratocaster, his music raw and real, accompanied by lyrics that go straight for the gut. So too does his playing, his soloing so distinctive, you could listen and know instantly it’s Robin Trower. His unique ability to convey emotion through song lyrics and fluid, powerful guitar playing, is known the world over.
Trower made his first mark with the R&B band The Paramounts, then forged his reputation over a five-album tenure with Procol Harum before embarking on his solo career in 1971. His gold-selling masterpiece Bridge of Sighs exploded in 1974 with highlights, “Day Of The Eagle” and “Too Rolling Stoned,” paired with his soul-drenched fretwork and emotive vocals of the late James Dewar. Released in 1974, Bridge of Sighs influenced generations of musicians. The wave of popularity carried Trower into a series of celebrated collaborations with Jack Bruce that began with B.L.T (1981) and saw him guesting on tracks for Bryan Ferry’s acclaimed Taxi (1983.)
Trower’s recent solo releases have been championed by both the press and public with Something’s About To Change (2014), Where You Are Going To (2016), Time & Emotion (2017) Coming Closer to The Day (2019) and his latest album with Maxi Priest and Livingstone Brown, United State of Mind (2021) out on Manhaton Records. Robin Trower has released 24 studio albums and shows no sign of slowing down. In his seventh decade, his drive to produce and perform music is inspiring, evidenced by his 25th upcoming album, No Worlds To Conquer to be released in 2022 and by his next tour planned for Spring of 2022.
Martine: One of the reasons I wanted to talk with you is because I love your album United State of Mind with Maxi Priest and Livingstone Brown. Please tell me how it came about.
Robin: Livingstone Brown, at one time or other, has produced myself and Maxi Priest. I was at Livingstone’s studio and working on some mixes, not my last album, the album before that. I met Maxi coming in as I was leaving, and Maxi suggested that we get together and do some writing. So we did. We got together and wrote a couple of songs and it started to feel really good. We said, ‘Why don’t we do an album?’ And one thing led to another and we had a great time doing it.
Martine: Can you tell me about your vision for the album?
Robin: I’m not sure vision is the right word. I think after the first song, as far as my end of it goes, I just started to write music, tunes that I wanted to hear Maxi sing. And then we would get together and work on the lyrics. Quite often Maxi would lead on what the subject of the song could be about. He would kick it off.
Martine: He has a beautiful voice.
Robin: He does indeed.
Martine: Was it a true collaboration between all of you?
Robin: No, I would come in with a complete piece of music and then we’d sort of build it up from the guitar part and the vocal melody. And then all of us would sort of chip in on the lyrics from there.
Martine: In the lyrics, there’s a sense of consciousness about what’s going on in the world.
Robin: Maxi was the one that quite often led what the lyrics should be or could be about. And I think he has a lot of feelings about what’s going on. That fed into what we started to write about.
I wrote all the music and the melodies. And then I would bring it in and Maxi would come up with an idea for the lyric more often than not. But because Maxi’s a singer, obviously he’s got to feel comfortable with every line. Even if somebody else suggested a line, if he wasn’t comfortable with it or he didn’t feel it, then we would look for something else or he would come up with something.
Martine: “Walking Wounded” is probably my favorite song on the album. It’s beautiful. Your guitar solo is one of the most beautiful solos I’ve heard. Very moving.
Robin: Thank you very much. That’s quite a compliment.
Martine: Did you come up with your guitar solo and riffs on the spot? You’re known for your love of improvisation.
Robin: That was purely free-form. Once we had enough of a backing track, probably had the vocals on there as well, I would put the lead in.
Martine: You’re known for your incredible guitar tone. Can you tell me how how you arrived at that?
Robin: I’ve always felt that the way to get a good guitar tone through an amp is to make sure the guitar itself acoustically has a good sound. And I think that’s what I put together, a way of getting a good sound acoustically out of electric guitar.
Martine: Have you always played Fender Strats? Have you tried other guitars?
Robin: When I was in the band called Procol Harum, I played Gibson guitars. Towards the end of my time with them, I just fell in love with the Strat and have been using them ever since.
Martine: You use 100 watt Marshall amps and you detune your strings and use heavy gauge strings.
Robin: That’s right. I tune down a whole step to D. And, as you say, use heavy gauge strings. Really heavy on the top two, but those are the ones that you want to pull out the most sound from really.
Martine: You use a variety of pedals as well. Tell me about those.
Robin: I get all my pedals from Mike Fuller in California. There’s a company called Fulltone. And I’m always throwing out the latest thing that he comes up with. I do switch around quite a bit.
Martine: You have a new album coming out in 2022, No More Worlds to Conquer. Can you tell me about the album?
Robin: It’s not finished yet. I was about to finish it when the pandemic happened. I haven’t been able to get back into the studio since because of it. So I’m hoping to get it finished by September. By the end of September. I’ve still got quite a bit of work to do. In actual fact, because I’ve had so much time away from it, I realized I had a lot more work to do than I thought. Because once you get away from something and listen to it a year later, you start to see all the flaws.
Martine: Is it blues rock or more R&B groove-oriented like United State of Mind?
Robin: I think it will be quite R&B, but everything I do has a rock and roll kind of edge to it. I definitely toned that down a bit for the music I came up with for Maxi to sing. I tried to come up with stuff that really suited him.
Martine: Are you going to be touring for United State of Mind with Maxi and Livingstone and also on your own for your upcoming album?
Robin: I’m going to come out to the US in the spring next year with the new album, hopefully. Not touring this year. It’s too unsettled at the moment to really think about planning anything for this year.
Martine: How was the pandemic for you? Was it a creative time?
Robin: In actual fact, not being able to do anything else, I’ve done a tremendous amount of writing. From that point of view it’s been great. I’ve never spent so much continuous time working on material. I’ve written the rest of the tunes that I need for No More Worlds to Conquer. I’ve written enough for another album with Maxi and Liv. And I’ve also written enough songs for another album for me. That gives you some idea.
Martine: You’re known as an all-time great guitar soloist. Can you tell me what inspires you to play a guitar solo?
Robin: Well, you have to be inspired by the piece of music you’re soloing on. I think that’s the main thing. Obviously, I’m very fortunate that I write all the music that I’m going to play solos on. I’m in my comfort zone.
Martine: I read that you don’t listen to your album, Bridge of Sighs.
Robin: I haven’t listened to it in a long, long time. There are parts of it which bother me. I know there’s some very, very good stuff on there. Some of it’s great, but there’s just some parts that I just can’t listen to. I know I should’ve done better, sort of thing. There’s a lot of solos on Bridges. I think that makes me uncomfortable now. But that’s with hindsight, isn’t it. It’s easy to do that. But there’s pieces of music on there I’m really, really proud of.
Martine: Are you a perfectionist when it comes to your music?
Robin: I think I probably am. But that doesn’t mean to say that you make anything that’s perfect. You’re just trying to make something that’s great, but quite often falls a very long way short.
Martine: You’re quoted as saying that you can’t stop making music.
Robin: I’ve been very fortunate that the ideas just keep coming. I think a lot of it is the fact that I love to play the guitar and most days when I pick up a guitar, some ideas will easily come up. And that’s how you get started on a song.
Martine: Are you driven to write and play music, such as you couldn’t stop even if you wanted to because you love it so much?
Robin: That sums it up very well. I’m a music junkie. (laughs.)
Listen to “Walking Wounded” on United State of Mind by Robin Trower, Maxi Priest, and Livingstone Brown.