Robin Trower:
Making Hay While The Sun Shines

Story by Shawn Perry
Photos by Ron Lyon

Amiable, upbeat and downright congenial, guitarist Robin Trower doesn’t have a whole lot to be blue about, but he plays the blues with such passion and fervor, you’d think Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and Jimi Hendrix — his “mentors” — were stirring up his soul into a magical elixir flavored with a surefire tone.

A member of Procol Harum from 1967 until 1971, Trower has since been churning out albums and touring at a consistent clip. He’s recorded nearly a dozen records since 2000 alone, along with the occasional side project, like the Seven Moons album he made in 2008 with Jack Bruce.

As of this writing, the guitarist’s 2017 release Time And Emotion is sitting at #2 on the Billboard Blues charts, edging out the Rolling Stones’ Blue & Lonesome. Tracking through the album, I notice how every note and nuance radiates with Trower’s thoughtful, insatiable strokes across the strings. There's a generous helping of that classic 70s sound, yet the overall mood is more refined and personal.

“The thing about this album that I wanted to do slightly different from the previous album, Where Are You Going To…I just wanted to make the music a little more complex,” Trower explained. “So I was pushed a little bit more in terms of the arrangements and what have you."

The day before our chat, he appeared at the famed Doheny Blues Festival. The word on the street was that he and his band ended up playing on a different stage than was expected, and some of his fans missed his set. Despite the mishap, everything worked out.

“It was fun,” he said. At 72, Trower is a lot like his blues heroes — weathered, wise and ever so polite.

My understanding is that Time And Emotion was an especially personal album for the guitarist, but he quickly set me straight. “I don’t know that it’s any more personal than the previous album, but recently I’ve started writing more songs about me…what I think and what I feel…which is why I started to sing more. I thought they were more personal.”

Indeed the album is a reflection of Trower’s observations and experiences. He enlightened me to the meaning behind “The Land of Plenty” — things going wrong in the world, particularly the western world. “I’m Gone” is about a guy who’s trying to get away from a very dangerous woman, but the guitarist likes the song’s “funkiness.” And “Bitten By The Snake” zeroes in on a friend into drugs.

The slower blues songs are less cerebral and closer to the heart. When I brought up “Returned In Kind,” Trower responded promptly: “The great thing about it is I get to play some soulful guitar.”

I mentioned “You’re The One” was probably my favorite song on the album, and he said it was inspired by his wife. The title track, however, is his favorite — one of the best songs he believes he’s written in years.

I was curious as to how and why, in an age of streaming and downloading, Trower, unlike many of his contemporaries, keeps recording and releasing albums. A big reason may be that since 1994, he has had his own label V12, which he runs with manager Derek Sutton. He doesn’t really deal with the business side of the label — “I’m not really interested,” he remarked. Still, it affords him the creative freedom that comes with being your own boss.

“Having my own label means I can do what I want. It’s been great,” he assured me.

With that, he takes charge of the whole show when it comes to making his records — covering the guitar, most of the bass, working with the drummer, and singing. “I’m in complete control of everything that goes on the record. I’m much happier with that rather than someone else interpreting what I want.”

To counter his studio work, Robin Trower, drummer Chris Taggart and bassist/vocalist Richard Watts have been touring the States and Europe like clockwork for the last five years. In fact, after I spoke with the guitarist, I went to see him at the Wiltern in Los Angeles.

The place was packed with longtime fans, and after a short set from Strange Vine, a fascinating two-piece band, Trower and his band found their places without so much as an introduction. They certainly didn’t need one. Instead, they cut to the chase and swiftly trotted out the songs fans wanted to hear — “Too Rolling Stoned,” “Day Of The Eagle,” Bridge Of Sighs,” “Little Bit Of Sympathy” and “Daydream.”

Even though he’s been endlessly compared to Jimi Hendrix, Robin Trower definitely has a buttery tone all his own. More than anything, that’s what defines his music and watching him tonight, I could tell he hasn’t lost that sound, that feel and that vibrato one iota.

Watts more than adequately handled the vocals on all the classics, in place of the late James Dewar, and together with Taggart, the rhythm section created a railway for the guitarist to glide across. To everyone’s delight, Trower also sang a couple numbers, including “Can’t Turn Back The Clock” from Time And Emotion.

I could see how enthusiastic he was to be on stage, drawing cheers and gasps at every turn. I thought about something I had asked him earlier that day: How long can you keep going? The guitarist’s reply came quick without hesitation. “My plan is to keep going and doing what I’m doing while I can. I think the time will come soon enough. So I’m making hay while the sun shines,” he laughed.

Before I hung up, I mentioned that an interview I had done with him in 2008 was in my book. During that conversation, we mostly talked about Seven Moons. I added that an interview I had done with Jack Bruce was also in the book.

He became intrigued when I said the renowned Cream bassist called him and Eric Clapton “masters” in the same breath. “We got on like a house on fire,” Trower recalled fondly. “I loved him and he really liked my playing. It was great working with him. The man was dynamite.”

After the show, I got a chance to hand off a copy of my book to Robin Trower. In that instant, I had a flashback, remembering the first time I saw the guitarist in action, at Long Beach Arena in 1977. I didn’t tell him any of that, but I’m sure he knew I was, like everyone in the house, a fan from back in the day.

“Thanks for coming,” he nodded and off he went, keeping the show on the road, which runs through June 3rd in Seattle before heading back to the UK, likely back to the studio and then over to France for an autumn tour. There's never a dull moment for Robin Trower — "making hay while the sun shines."

More Photos from The Wiltern

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