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Robin Trower: Crossing the Bridge of Sighs
Interview and Photos by: Matt Pinson

 

 
   
   
   


The sound of one man’s sorrow, joy, pain, elation, and wistful regret being channeled, almost supernaturally, through a Stratocaster… This sound roaring through stacks of overdriven Marshalls and pulsing hypnotically, by way of Univibe, soaring above smoke filled air, across a sea of entranced fans, and, for those who truly know how to listen, through their very souls. A sound that never ceases to send shivers down my spine no matter how many times I hear it. This description serves two of my greatest blues-rock guitar heroes – Jimi Hendrix and Robin Trower.

While the similarities between these two icons have been stated (and at times, overstated) by shallow critics, the differences between these two gifted guitar heroes are just as great. It has been said that in our differences lies our own subtle beauty. The music of Robin Trower is full of beauty, both subtle and not-so. Offering a complexity of mood, a sophistication of harmony, and an otherworldly soulfulness that eludes most of his contemporaries, Robin Trower’s music touches on many facets of the human condition in a very real way, and in doing so, has become timeless.

Despite this timeless quality, time has passed since Robin first began his career in music. Forming his own band in the early Seventies, after deciding to leave the successful British pop rock band, Procol Harum, Robin has gone on to appear on over forty successful albums and compilations. His solo efforts number in excess of twenty-six studio and live records, beginning with 1973’s Twice Removed From Yesterday and culminating most recently with his long awaited first live DVD, Living Out Of Time: Live [soundtrack of this live performance is available separately on CD].

A soulful musician with a faithful muse, Robin has already been hard at work on another release for his own band, which is near completion but on hold for now as he focuses on a collaborative effort with fellow British music legend, Jack Bruce [Bond, John Mayall, Manfred Mann, Cream, BLT, West, Bruce and Laing, etc.].

It seems Robin is continuing to create new music while rekindling old friendships. During his recent tour, Robin proved to all that his guitar playing was as passionate, delicate, and incendiary as ever. Joined on stage by the incredible line up of Davey Pattison on vocals, Dave Bronze on bass, and Pete Thompson on drums, fans were once again reminded of what a rock concert should be.

Taking particular pleasure in this rare opportunity to talk to a true blues-rock guitar legend, MusicPlayers.com talks with Robin Trower and finds out what it truly means to be Living Out of Time.

"I want to write something that is deep and I want
to play some guitar that is soulful."

Theory and Approach

MPc: Your songwriting has always had a complexity in mood and color that is far beyond your rock and blues contemporaries. In particular, your chord choices and harmonic movements often invoke beautiful and often subtle shades of sadness, such as a feeling of wistfulness, painful regret, or somber realization. “I Want To Take You With Me” is a great recent example of this, and one of my all time favorites. “Daydream” has this quality as well, and is one of my earliest favorites.

RT: I suppose it really comes down to a very, very simple thing. It usually starts off, in fact it always starts off…  Now I won’t tell a lie… Sometimes I start off with a lyric that I like first, but 99% of the time I start off with a guitar thing that I like. In other words, I’ve come up with a guitar thing that speaks to me and I’m saying, “Yeah.”  I thought about this the other day, “What am I trying to achieve, in simple terms, with every new thing?”  I want to write something that is deep and I want to play some guitar that is soulful. So, those are the two things I’m looking for. You don’t always get it, but those are the things you’re sort of after.

MPc: Well, you seem to always get it, so that’s why we’re picking your brain. [laughing]

RT: [laughing] The thing is that my style or my creative side of the guitar style is steeped in blues, and rhythm and blues, and gospel, and soul music, and black America music from basically over the previous sixty or seventy years. So, I suppose it’s my love of that that’s fed into what I create myself. I’m looking to create something which I know I can’t emulate, but at the same time I’m looking to, in a way, achieve something of what I receive from black America music.

MPc:  Technically, I’ve noticed your frequent use of chord voicings that include the upper extensions such as 9ths, 11ths, and sometimes 13ths. I’ve also noticed that, sometimes, you leave the 3rd out, which allows for some ambiguity in terms of major or minor, which is left to be filled in by the melody. This is something that I particularly enjoy.

RT: I think a lot of good blues does have, as you say, that minor/major ambiguity. You listen to Howlin’ Wolf’s stuff, you know there’s both going on. You can put in either. It’s just coming from that really. When you can do that, to me, it can feel very, very soulful, particularly when bringing in a major note in a predominantly minor piece.

MPc: An example of this exists in one of your older pieces, “Daydream.” Here you’re going back and forth between those two feels, the major and the minor tonalities.

RT: Yeah, you’re right. That definitely is in between. It can’t make its mind up if it’s one or the other. But I think that’s because of the chord changes rather than, like you say, with some of the more simple chord things where you’ve got a bit more leeway. But it can’t make it’s mind up what key its in, that’s what makes that one so interesting, “Daydream.”

MPc: I really love that type of interchange, and that song particularly, because the moods oscillate between happy and melancholy. A lot of life is like that.

RT: Yeah, it’s that resolving from a minor thing and resolving to a major chord. There’s always a kind of uplifting-ness to that. I think it’s a sort of gospel-y thing when you do that. I think I’m right in thinking that “Daydream” sort of feels like its in c-sharp minor and that actually finishes up in b-major, if you see what I mean, the sequence. I think that’s where you get that and makes it sort of interesting. But I don’t reason it out. You’re asking me to reason out something which I just play instinctively and just follow until I’ve got something I like.

MPc: That’s completely understandable. A lot of great musicians do approach such things very organically. You are right, though, I am trying to have you reason it out. [laughing]  It’s just that for those of us trying to catch a little bit of that Robin Trower magic, we have to try to reason these things out.

RT: I don’t mind that. [laughs]  It’s just that I can’t work out why I’ve done it. [more laughs]  I fool around with stuff until I like it and that’s all it is. I’m never thinking about what the chords are, although I know you have to have an understanding of the relationship between chords so that when you’re looking for stuff you know where to search.

MPc: Exactly… It’s like an oil painter’s necessity for familiarity with colors, so that he can express with his brush what his mind’s eye envisions without having to search or experiment for too long or too often. Chords voicing all have their own very unique color. Do you have any favorite chord colors, such as min9 type chords or Maj7b5, for instance?

RT: Oh no, no. It depends on what actual key I’m in, I quite often work in what I call my E which is actually D because I’m tuned down a whole step. But it’s really the grooving of the notes. Like you said, sometimes you leave out the third or whatever. You’re looking for a sound on the guitar that’s saying something in terms of backing behind the vocal. You’re looking for something that’s got to do a really big job in a three piece. You’ve got to cover where the keyboards are missing as well as put in the guitar riff. You’re looking for it to do a big job.

MPc: In terms of lead work, you rely heavily on the pentatonic major and minor scales, often including the b5 of the minor [the blue note, as it is sometimes called]. You also sometimes reference Aolean [natural minor], especially in your most melodic moments, such as in the end of “I Want To Take You With Me,” where you alternate between D Minor Pentatonic, and D Aolean.

RT: Going from pentatonic to diatonic scales can make it slightly more melodic, can’t it? With those added notes, you’re going more into a melody than a strict blues thing.

MPc: Absolutely, and you have such a melodic flair in your playing that a lot of blues players simply don’t.

RT: I often think that a lot of the blues influenced players, the later guys, they miss the fact that BB King’s solos and Albert King’s solos are fantastic melodies. I think they miss that, they see it for what else it’s doing, you know, that it’s soulful and it’s intense and it’s blue. But I think a lot of them miss that they are creating great melodies. I think particularly, Albert King, some of his blues phrases… the melodies are just stunning. They’re up there with George Gershwin and what have you.

"Albert King, some of his blues phrases… the melodies are just stunning.
They’re up there with George Gershwin..."

Influences

MPc: You’ve obviously taken blues influence from a lot of places. Where do you find some more of that melodic influence?  Is it from classical music, or from anyplace we wouldn’t expect?

RT: Well, I have to say that for my own listening, in other words, music I put on in the car or just for my own pleasure… unfortunately, anything with electric guitar in it I have to listen to it from a guitar player’s point of view… I tend to like a lot of stuff from the 30’s and 40’s. That’s been my mainstay for the last 15-20 years.

MPc: Jazz from the 30’s and 40’s?

RT: No, I would say pop music. Obviously a lot of jazz artists did do what I call popular music, like Billy Eckstein and Ella Fitzgerald. I particularly like Al Boley, he sang with a band for a lot of his career called Ray Noble.  Now Ray Noble wrote songs like The Very Thought of You and stuff like that. To me, I can listen to that and I enjoy it because it’s beautifully played, and has wonderful arrangements. They are the greatest songs ever written and there’s no electric guitar in it. I haven’t got to sort out or work out what they’re doing. I can just enjoy it. Take off the producer’s hat or musician’s hat. That to me is still… the best popular music ever made was from that period.

MPc: You’re able to listen appreciatively rather than analytically, which means that you can enjoy it in a more relaxed way. One of the beautiful things about that type of music is that it’s all about the melody, where everything supports that melody the whole way through.

RT: Yeah, you think about the playing as well. I mean, they swing and they jump like mad and it’s just some of the greatest playing you’ll ever hear. It’s just fantastic, fantastic stuff. Don’t get me wrong, rock and roll is something else and it’s great in it’s own right and all the rest of it, but I feel if you go back there it’s a limitless supply of ideas.

MPc: Let’s talk for a minute about what contributes to your own signature sound. I believe that a lot of the things which contribute to our unique voice, or which make up our sonic fingerprints, have to do with the more subtle nuances in our playing. For instance, if someone else were to play your licks and your songs, even note for note and through your equipment, it still wouldn’t sound exactly like you. I attribute a lot of this to inflection. We have it in our voices, for instance, and that’s one of the ways that we can recognize whether it’s our friend or a stranger when they call on the telephone. In terms of guitar playing, this can translate to how we vibrato, how we bend, how we end phrases, etc. Do you think that the inflections that you have in your own playing are something that you innately started doing or is this something that you developed over time from listening to guys like BB King and Jimi Hendrix and getting that particular combination of this vibrato and that bending technique, etc?

RT: I think when I first heard BB King I was already starting to vibrato myself just naturally. But it was the bend up and vibrato that opened a whole new bag of tricks. That’s what made that real crying thing, it’s the bending up and then vibrato-ing it. But I have to say overall, although BB King got me started and Albert King is probably the best guitar player I’ve seen live, I have to say Hendrix is a constant influence on me. I think it’s his vibe if you like. That sort of feeds into, not everything, but a lot of what I do on the guitar is coming from his influence. He was a genius as far as I’m concerned. He was a creative genius, not only was he a wonderful player in the technical sense, he was very soulful. The creativity that he brought it, that’s what sets him apart from everyone else.

"What you’ve got to do is sit down and play things of your own,
and keep playing until you come up with stuff that you like
that touches something inside you."

MPc: Over the years, there have been a lot of comparisons between yourself and Hendrix. However, I also hear a lot of unique characteristics in your own playing.

RT: Yeah, I think a lot of people maybe don’t hear what I’ve brought to it myself, what I’ve added of myself to it as it were.

MPc: What would you say if someone were to say to you, “I hear the similarities, tell me about the differences?”  Where do you think your voice differs?

RT: I would have to say I think my stuff is a lot moodier than Jimi Hendrix. Most of his stuff is pretty joyful, although he did have that dark side. I just think I went maybe into a more atmospheric, semi-movie score kind of place with it.

MPc: Interesting…  that’s a great way to put it. Being a long time fan of both you and Jimi, I can hear the similarities, but the differences ring through equally clear to me. Sometimes I’m asked to describe that to listeners making that connection for the first time… it’s nice to hear you describe it in your own way.

RT: Yeah, it is difficult. Obviously we’re influenced by a lot of the same people as well, you know… Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, BB King and all those guys. Chuck Berry, Buddy Guy, Bo Diddley, all the giants before him… I was influenced by all that as well. But then as far as electric guitar goes, when Jimi Hendrix came along, this is how you always tell a genius like James Brown or somebody… they come along and then everything’s different after they’ve arrived.

MPc: “…You’ll never hear surf music again!”

RT: [laughing] Exactly, you know what I mean?  As far as electric guitar goes, there’s a new benchmark, a new place that’s been created. He created places to go musically that weren’t there before. That’s the mark of a genius to me. The same with James Brown, he came along and soul music was changed forever.

MPc:  Talking about that soulful playing, that ability to change things forever, is there anything that you could impart from your years of playing to an aspiring guitarist now to help them achieve some of that quality, whether it’s the soulfulness in the playing, the ability to create this original sound. Are there any words of wisdom?

RT: I can only say how I came about getting to where I got. I was lucky enough to realize not to bother copying what other people played. In other words don’t sit down and work out what your favorite guitar player is playing. Listen to it, by all means, be influenced by it, by all means. But what you’ve got to do is sit down and play things of your own, and keep playing until you come up with stuff that you like that touches something inside you. Not because it sounds like your favorite guitar player, but because it’s something that something in your heart responds to when you play it. That’s what makes BB King great, that’s what makes Albert King great, that’s what makes Jimi Hendrix great.

MPc: That’s what makes Robin Trower great.

RT: Well, [laughing] it’s got to be true to you; you’ve got to feel it. I’ve always realized that I was more fascinated by the emotion behind the notes than the notes themselves. What made BB King play like that, what was the feeling?  So that’s what you’ve got to look for when you’re coming up as a guitar player. You’ve got to look for those things where it’s not somebody else’s. You know, “He’s done this and it sounds great, therefore if I do it, it will sound great.”  ‘Cause it won’t.

MPc: I completely agree with that. It’s not about copying the notes, per say, but finding that inspiration and reacting to it in your own way. When I was coming up playing, I would listen to a lot to tapes or CDs and I would play over them. I wouldn’t be trying to precisely duplicate what the artist was doing, but rather emulate the feel and the vibe of what they were doing. Instead of copying Jimi’s licks it was more like having the opportunity to jam with him and grow that way.   

RT: Yeah, it’s most important to try to create something of your own. That’s the key really.

Equipment

MPc: You’ve long been associated with Fender Stratocasters. When I saw you during your recent tour, it looked like you were playing your trusty Fender signature model Strat. Obviously, having a signature model means that you have the ability to try to build in a certain degree of magic, which can often be elusive in off the shelf guitars. When I recently talked with Eric Johnson about his own signature Strat, we discussed a number of characteristics that contribute to his definition of sonic magic… What makes a guitar magic for you?

RT: I’ve now got four of that signature model, with all the same ingredients. They all sound completely different. So, there is no one thing. You know, I’ve got the same ingredients:  the same size neck obviously, but the wood that goes into the body, every one is different. Every Strat you get is different, and that’s what creates a lot of its actual sound.

When I used to buy guitars off the shelf, years and years ago, I always used to listen to them acoustically. That was the key for me. If I liked the sound of them acoustically, then I knew there was a chance of it sounding good coming through an amp. When I set a guitar up, when I get a new guitar and set it up, it has to sound good acoustically. The action, I have to get it up high enough where I get the notes ringing properly and all the rest of it. Like I said, all four of them sound different and I’m quite happy to work with any one of them. But I know that it’s going to give me something that any of the others won’t give you. It helps you stay on your toes as well, to pick another one up and “Oh, it’s not quite got what the other one’s got, but listen to what it has got.”

I must admit, lately I have been just using the one guitar live, it’s quite what I call having a bit of punch to it. It seems to work on all stages, and with my rig the way it’s set up, because I don’t touch the controls on the rig from the beginning of the tour until the end. They stay exactly the same. So I’ve been using the guitar that Fender’s built me, the second one that he built me that has a lot more punch than the first one. Which is probably because the piece of wood the body’s made of, but I couldn’t say for sure it’s that.

MPc: I think a lot has to do with the body wood. I have a natural affinity for Strats that are lighter.

RT: This is a light one. This is lighter than all the other 3 and it’s more comfortable to wear for an hour and a half.

MPc: Something I’ve noticed with the lighter ones, and maybe you can affirm this or not, is that you get more of the chime, quack, and that hollow fluty sound that seems to be characteristic of the classic Strat sound. This seems to be especially prominent if you’re playing with the pickup selector in the neck position, and playing up higher on the strings, maybe around the 10th and 12th frets.

RT: Yeah, I think that’s right. It’s what I call “very Stratty sounding.”  It’s that sort of ringing.

MPc: Exactly. I was talking with Eric Johnson about this same thing and he said that he tends to notice the same thing that you and I are hearing, which seems to be, at least partly, attributed to the lighter bodies. On his signature model there is a cap to how heavy they can be, which reinforces this idea. Often, if I’m in a music store, and run across an exceptionally light Strat, I’ll run over to an amp really quick and plug it in and see if that one doesn’t have a little bit of the magic. [laughs]

RT: Compared to the others, that one could almost be in the in-between pick up sound. When you’re on the neck, it’s got that much more upper sound. Anyway, that’s the one I tend to use the most. But I love all the others as well. It’s just something that will get you through all the moves you know you’ve got to go through on the different songs. It’s got to cover all the bases.

MPc: Are these four guitars identical to the ones that Fender sells with your name on them, or have yours been modified in any way to reflect your tastes and needs?

RT: As far as I know you get exactly the same parts: the seventies headstock, the flatter neck, the bigger frets, the configuration of pickups that is ‘50’s in the neck, ‘60’s in the middle and a Texas special on the bridge. It’s a vintage reissue bridge, and that’s basically the parts I think.

MPc: In terms of amplification, you’ve relied heavily on Marshall’s over the years. Your most current stage rig seemed to include two half-stacks consisting of one JCM 800 100 Watt head and one JMP Super Lead 100 Watt head, both sitting atop their own 1960a type slant cabs. Is this correct?

RT: The JMP, is that what they’re called? It’s a 100 Watt. It’s an early one I know, it’s like a seventies or something. I like those 800’s as well, I think they’re really good amps.

MPc: I know that you’re using two different types of heads, what does each one bring to your sound?

RT: Again, say for instance, I’ve got four old heads there, which I bring out with me. The two that I’m using do sound really, really different. If anything the older one [JMP Super Lead] is probably smoother. It’s smoother sounding and pretty open sounding compared to the [JCM] 800. But the 800 has a lovely quality to it too, a real punch. Again I’ve got four amps that, two of each – two 800’s and two JMP’s, all sound different. They all have their own character. You can still say, “Oh, it’s definitely a Marshall.”  Really, there is so much difference in them it’s quite remarkable.

MPc: I saw them both sitting on top of what looked like Marshall 1960a type slant cabs. Which speakers do you have loaded in them?

RT: They are the Celestion Vintage 30’s. They’ve been in there quite some years now, fifteen or twenty years…  Probably fifteen years at least.

MPc: In terms of effects, I know you’ve long been associated with the Univibe sound, which I believe you’re getting from your Fulltone Dejavibe 2. Hearing your tone live had a large impact on my own purchase of one of these. [laughs]

RT: Well, they are fantastic. Mike makes such really, really good stuff. I’ve been using his stuff for fifteen or sixteen years, maybe even longer since he started sending me pedals. I just love his stuff. Obviously his ear, and what he likes and builds into his stuff, suits what I like.

MPc: Having played the original Univibes, do you notice much difference between the old ones and the Fulltone Dejavibe 2?

RT: Oh yeah. I mean, nobody yet has actually duplicated what the old Univibe used to do. But it’s very similar to Mike’s thing. And it’s a great thing in it’s own right. Of course you haven’t got all the background noise and the unreliability of the originals though. They were pretty noisy.

MPc: So when you’re in the studio, you’re still using the Dejavibe, you’re not going back?

RT: Oh yeah, yeah. I haven’t had a Univibe for donkey’s years. But no, and his Wah and the overdrive stuff as well – I just love them.

MPc: I know that Mike at Fulltone has come out with the Clyde Deluxe Wah in addition to his standard Clyde Wah. Which are you using?

RT: I’m using the Deluxe.

MPc: Do you find that you leave it in one setting, or do find that you go back and forth with the selections?

RT: I do mess about with it a bit, especially in recording. But for live, I think I’m pretty sure in saying that I’ve got it set on the Jimi setting, which is sort of like that old [Jim Dunlop] Crybaby [Wah pedal], the real old ones, you know?

MPc: I’ve seen some other Fulltone effects on stage with you, at one time or another, including the most recent addition of the OCD.

RT: They are fantastic. The great thing about them is it sounds like you’re playing a lot louder than you are. They give you the sort of sound that, say with earlier overdrive… I used to use the Fulldrive years and years ago, for many years... you’d have to have the amps pretty loud to get what I wanted to get. But I found that I don’t have to have the amps so loud with the OCD because it gives that big thing. It just gives you that big tone. They’re great. I’m using the earlier ones… the ones that were first brought out. The new ones sound slightly different, but they’re good as well.

MPc: Is there anything I missed in terms of your stage setup. I know there’s a Whirlwind AB box splitting the signal to your amps. Is there anything else?

RT: For the studio I mess about with a few different things like the [Fulltone] Soul Bender and the [Fulltone] ‘69, which is like a Fuzz Box sort of thing. But that’s my basic set up.

Recording Techniques

MPc: In terms of getting your sound in the studio, how does this differ than on stage? Are you using smaller cabinets?

RT: No. The only thing I do use, the last time I recorded, I still used the Marshall 100 heads, but I used 2x12 open back cabinets. I’m going to be recording in November with Jack Bruce and we’re going to be doing some stuff and I’m thinking of going back to my two 4x12’s, to be honest.

MPc: What microphones do you now use? I know that in the past you have used Shure SM58’s close miked about a foot away from your speakers with an Neumann U87 about four feet away, as a distance mic.

RT: Actually, the last time I recorded, I used the 58 close up, about nine inches pointed to the outer rim of one of the speakers of the cabinet. Don’t point it in the center.

MPc: So you’re kind of pointing it off axis, but in an opposite way to what you normally see a lot of guitarists do?  If I’m looking straight on towards the center of the speaker cabinet, the mic would be pointing radially outward towards the edge of the cone at a thirty or forty-five degree angle?

RT: Yeah, I try and get it as close to the edge of the speaker as possible. And I used an 87, a big old-fashioned looking mic, a Neumann U87. That was about four feet away.

MPc: How did you blend the two at the desk?  Did you add just a little bit of the Neumann or did you mix them equally?

RT: I’ve got a feeling it was still mostly the close mic on the last thing I did. Obviously, really it’s a song-to-song thing. You know if you need a bit more of an ambient vibe to it or if you need just that real in your face kind of sound.

MPc: In terms of mic preamps that you’re using with these mics, do you have a favorite?

RT: I’m not that technically up with all that, I must admit. But I did like the sound where I recorded last; it was a Harrison desk. It seemed to be very open, but I’ve good sounds in lots of different studios. I think you’ve got to have a good sound basically to start with [laughing]. You can’t make something great that doesn’t sound great no matter how you mic it up or what’s put on it afterwards.

MPc: What about compression?

RT: Yeah, I do like a lot of compression to be honest. But that’s usually down the road a bit in the mixing. I use just a minimum amount to get it down first off.

MPc: Do you have any standard things you do in terms of EQ’ing the miked guitar sounds?

RT: No, not really. If I don’t hear it coming back the way I want it to sound, then we’re not capturing it. I think the only thing that always happens in mixing is roll off the bottom end to make it clearer. That’s mostly it. I don’t like to mess with my sound. Once I’ve said, “Yeah, that’s how my guitar sounds,” EQ can change the character of it. And when you change the character of it, you’re changing what it’s saying. I’m very hyper about all that.

MPc: Any other studio tricks that you’d be willing to share?

RT: I can’t think of any. I do tend to use the bottom control [tone knob] mostly on my guitar to get the different sounds I want. To clean it up a bit, or get it in between clean and where you get a bit of overload. I play with that a lot, obviously you see me do it live, but in the studio more so. One thing I did start doing on the last bit of recording I did, I was running two amps and one of them was running without the overdrive, in other words it was clean. Which added a nice dimension, if you add that into the sound.

"Mostly I try to play every day just to keep my calluses going."

Practice

MPc: What is your practice routine these days?

RT: This last couple of years, I have tried to play more or less every day since I’ve started playing live again. I had three and a half years of not doing any live shows and I kind of lost it a little bit. Mostly I try to play every day just to keep my calluses going. They tend to soften really quickly if I don’t play every day. At the same time I used to play a lot at home because of writing, but it’s not quite the same intensity.

MPc: When you’re playing, are you improvising or are you writing?

RT: Both. I’ve been working on new material. Trying to come up with the perfect idea, always, on the guitar for different parts of the song. Sometimes I spend hours just doing that, just trying to come up with a two bar idea that really knocks me out for a song. Sometimes it’s just there right away. A lot of the other time I’ll just be sort of playing slow blues to myself, trying to get the expressions that I respond to. I think you’ve got to stay in touch with that quite a lot. Because there are a million different ways of playing those five notes and I think you have to stay in touch with the ones that really, really sting you in the heart. Otherwise, you could find that you fall back on the stuff that you know is good and you know it will work. There’s always those few things, maybe you’re discovering one or two little bits every year, that “Ooh, I haven’t played that before” but that’s got it.

MPc: Do you have any goals for improving any aspects of your own playing, or are you at a place where you are satisfied with your playing and are more interested in songwriting?

RT: Well, it’s never quiet there; you’re always chasing something. It’s usually because you’ve played something at home and you look down and say, “What was that?”  You can’t remember what you did. You knew it was good. Damn, you try to play it again and it’s gone. Those are the sorts of things that keep you chasing. You know they’re out there. You know what I mean, one or two times, maybe three or four times in a set in a show. You’ll hit something and go “Ooh.”  Something fresh.

MPc: I think for a lot of us, we hear that in your playing a lot more than you hear it, because you hear it every day. But when we hear it, it sends shivers down our spine.

RT: [laughing] Well that’s a great compliment, I must say.

Inspiration

MPc: Every time I’ve seen you play live; it’s just an incredible experience for me.

RT: Well you’re hearing me looking for that. Looking for that thing that goes, “Ooh.”  That’s really what keeps playing live so fresh and alive. You can hit stuff that you just know is great. You come off after the set and are maybe unhappy with some of the stuff you’ve done, but at the same time you feel like you’ve really achieved something.

MPc: I think one of the wonderful things about your playing is that it touches people, regardless of where they’re at in their lives. I’m told that you entitled the album prior to Another Days Blues, as Living Out of Time because your felt that your music is a bit out of its time now, but I think that the compliment I would pay you is that a lot of what you do is truly timeless.

RT: There is no greater compliment than that. I mean, if you can achieve that, well, that’s got to be the ultimate to me.

MPc: I see people reacting in the crowd when you play certain things, and everybody, regardless of their age, just gets it. When you hit that one note that makes you go “Ooh,” chances are everybody else is already there. I know I am. I think that’s special.

RT: That’s the benchmark that’s been set by people like BB King and particularly Albert King. He could play some stuff that you can’t really figure out what he’s doing, you just know it gets you. I only saw him once, but to me, he’s the best guitar player I ever saw live in terms of that thing. That soulful, I don’t know... It was just fantastic. His melodies as well, incredible bends and incredible vibrato. The ultimate tone as well, fantastic tone. In fact, in Another Days Blues, I really tried to get somewhere near that tone on some of the tracks by playing with my fingers, my thumb and finger.

What’s Next

MPc: We had Another Day’s Blues released in 2005 as well as the Living Out of Time-Live DVD and CD. This year [2006] we had the tour. What’s next for Robin Trower?

RT: I have actually got a new album almost finished. But because I wanted to do this thing with Jack and it came along, because we’ve been talking about it for a long time. What we said was “Well, let’s get together and see if we can write some songs together first.” That came along quite nicely over a period of time. So now what we’re going to do is go in and put some stuff down and see what we think and go from there. We’re going to run it up the flagpole and see if anybody salutes.

MPc: I’m sure it’s going to be pretty incredible. I mean, Robin Trower and Jack Bruce on one album. I’ll buy it.

RT: Well that’s one sold! [laughing]

 

Matt Pinson, former MusicPlayers.com senior editor, is an accomplished musician and engineer based in the San Francisco Bay area. His production audio engineering talents are used by television networks and motion picture companies, and he consults on equipment and music technology for professional musicians.

   
             
             
             
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