An EXCLUSIVE interview
By Stephen SPAZ Schnee
The Blues may have been born in America, but those crafty Brits on the other side of the pond created a whole new subgenre in the ‘60s. The first British Blues boom gave birth to a new generation of master bluesmen including Eric Clapton, John Mayall, and Peter Green alongside bands like The Rolling Stones, Savoy Brown and Led Zeppelin. America may have loved their Blues sons, but the British adored them – often breathing new life into their long-dormant careers via package tours and cover versions. The British Blues scene stumbled as the ‘60s turned into the ‘70s, but it didn’t stay down for long. While some of the musicians expanded their horizons and headed in different musical directions – The Moody Blues and Jethro Tull, in particular, traded simple Blues riffs for the complexities of Symphonic and Prog Rock – there were still plenty of Blues-based artists making a glorious noise in the early part of the decade. Former Procol Harum guitarist Robin Trower was one of them.
Robin Trower made a huge splash when he released his debut solo album, Twice Removed From Yesterday, in 1973. Joining Trower for the ride was bassist/vocalist James Dewar, who would remain with Robin for the next decade. Dewar handled lead vocal duties which allowed Trower to concentrate solely on his distinctive guitar style. When he released Bridge Of Sighs in ’74, Trower became one of the most popular guitarists in the world. Bridge Of Sighs reached #7 in the U.S. and stayed in the chart for 31 weeks. It was certified Gold by the end of the year. For the next decade, Robin released a string of best-selling albums that expanded upon his Blues upbringing, yet he never strayed too far from the music that influenced him. When the ‘80s rolled around, the music scene shifted away from the sounds of the old guard and embraced a youthful and synthetic musical future. Thankfully, Robin’s core fanbase stuck with him as he continued to hone his craft, never resting on his past successes and always reaching for something new. Not as prolific as he once was, Robin has continued to release a string of albums that prove that he has not lost his flair for creating inspiring music. On 2013’s Roots And Branches, he tackled some old Blues favorites as well as some tracks from his own catalog, adding a new Trower twist to each of them. The album’s laid-back atmosphere paved the way for his next project…
Something’s About To Change, Robin’s latest album, features a new batch of self-penned tracks that expands upon the groundwork laid by Roots And Branches. The album’s warm and intimate feel lends well to the new material, which spotlights his emotional connection with the Blues in both his playing and his vocals. Yes, that’s right folks: Robin does sing (and very well, I might add). Handling lead vocals is nothing new for Robin – he sang some tracks during his Procol Harum days – but those who may not have heard his work in recent years will be pleasantly surprised by his ability to project emotion through his guitar AND vocal chords. Something’s About To Change is an album that all Trower and Blues fans need to hear. It will surprise those who may have lost track of Robin over the years and it will introduce his always-evolving talents to a new generation. Perhaps the album’s title will prove prophetic and Robin will be thrust into the spotlight again. Lord knows he’s more than worthy!
Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to chat with Robin Trower about the new album and much more…
STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: Your new album, Something’s About To Change, is now available. How are you feeling about the album and the reaction so far?
ROBIN TROWER: I think the reaction, just from a few reviews, has been perhaps better than I would’ve thought, to be honest. With my stuff, I’m making albums really just to please myself and so when people pick up on it, it’s gratifying.
SPAZ: The album has a very warm and intimate feel, much like your last album, Roots And Branches. Was this a natural progression for you to create a warm and inviting feel to the album?
ROBIN: Well, it’s a lovely description of it. All I can tell you is that doing Roots And Branches kind of opened up a bit of a new avenue for me, which I thought I would pursue for one more album, providing I could come up with the material. Every song had to be inviting me to play lead work on them. That was the key to each of the songs that I chose. I had to want to play – I was sort of looking forward to playing lead on them. So once I decided that, I would go ahead and finish writing the song.
SPAZ: There are some amazing moments on this record where you hold a note for a beat or two as opposed to sort of shoving as many notes in as possible. Do you subscribe to the idea that in many cases that less is more?
ROBIN: Well, (chuckles) I think it’s horses for courses, you know? There are good guitar players that like to play a lot of notes per minute, but they’re doing what they want to do. The other end of the spectrum is I’m trying to make one note count. That’s my training from listening to B.B. King and Albert King and players like that, you know? Because I just respond emotionally to it.
SPAZ: Do you tend to work out what you’re going to play in advance or do you let the feeling take over during the recording?
ROBIN: I do try and get a feel of what will work for each particular song. So, you know, there is thought that sort of goes into it before I record solos, but I have to feel that it’s spontaneous at the same time. Otherwise, it’s not working for me.
SPAZ: So, you don’t work out the notes and then play the same exact thing live.
ROBIN: No, I can’t do that now. It’s got to be a bit of a happening where you’re carried away playing it, if you know what I mean.
SPAZ: Is this a whole new batch of tracks or have some of these songs been sitting around just waiting for the right project?
ROBIN: This is a whole new batch that I wrote over a period of about a year. I wrote those songs with all the same concept in mind – that they would be great to play lead to, and they would be soulful.
SPAZ: What is your normal songwriting routine or do you even have one? If so, has it ever changed over the last 40 years or so?
ROBIN: I don’t think it has really. Songwriting for me, it always comes out of me playing the guitar for my own amusement. And I have to practice to a certain amount anyway, so I pick up the guitar and sort of doodle, really. I fiddle around with ideas and what have you, and if something really catches my imagination then I think, yeah, it could be a song. Then away you go. The only thing I would say that maybe I’ve got a different way of wrestling about the lyrics now. I’ve found that it works best for me if I work on one lyric continually until I’m happy with it. That’s something I worked out over the course of writing these songs. That’s the best way for me to go about it because if I continue working on that and nothing else, it’s continually in my mind and I’m sort of changing lyrics, changing lines, until it really works for me.
SPAZ: So all the lyrics for these songs are specifically for these pieces of music, as opposed to you having a little notebook of lyrical ideas and then putting music to them later.
ROBIN: No, I’ve never done that really. I think I did write one song, I think it was “Another Time Another Place,” where I wrote the lyrics before the music. But generally and certainly on this album, it’s all lyrics written to go with certain pieces of music.
SPAZ: The early days of Blues music seemed more about emotion and expression, whereas later on it seemed more about proving your skill as a musician, but I think on this record, you bridge that gap and bring both aspects to the table.
ROBIN: Oh, what a great compliment. Thank you very much.
SPAZ: What originally drew you to the Blues in the first place?
ROBIN: I think I’ve always loved the depth of it. You know, it’s deep. In many ways, primal almost. And it’s emotionally rich. Everything I’ve listened to and loved has been Black-American music, you know? And that’s constantly feeding into what I’m doing.
SPAZ: When you go into the studio, are you constantly thinking you’ve got to top your past accomplishments or do you just approach each project as a whole different entity with a fresh perspective?
ROBIN: I think my overall approach, if you like, is I’ve got this song and I want it to be as good as I can possibly make it. I think it’s just as simple as that really, rather than thinking of what I’ve done. You try not to repeat yourself, but of course that’s pretty hard to do when you’ve made as many albums as I’ve done. Yeah, I’m just trying to bring it to fruition really, each song, to the best of my ability.
SPAZ: I think handling lead vocals on an actual Robin Trower release is relatively new for you compared to guitar playing. How come you didn’t jump into the fray sooner?
ROBIN: Well, I always had great singers and was kind of always worried about being able to reproduce it live – playing and singing at the same time. My guitar parts are not just strumming along behind the vocals – they’re proper arranged parts and so that was why I thought to have someone else do the vocals. So I can concentrate on the guitar, really. Of late, I’ve started to write more and more songs that are more personal lyrically, and also on this batch I’ve written all the songs for me to sing. I’ve made sure the key is right and is something that I can just about handle.
SPAZ: Do you feel comfortable in the role as a vocalist now?
ROBIN: I think I’m getting there. I have been singing on the last couple of tours I’ve done. I’ve been singing two or three songs in the set and we’ll probably add something from this album as well in the new set for the next touring.
SPAZ: Does it get frustrating when you’ve got strong new material and people want to hear stuff from 40 years ago?
ROBIN: No, not at all. I still enjoy playing the classic stuff. It still works great.
SPAZ: Is recording today a completely different beast than it used to be? Is modern technology making it easier?
ROBIN: I’ll tell you how it makes it easier for me, is because I build it up from a click track basically, so that allows me to get everything exactly right as I go along. If you’re playing live with a band, it can become something else, perhaps something that you didn’t have in your mind to start off with, but you accept it because that’s what you’ve got. But this way of recording, I’m able to get nearer to what’s in my head when I come up with the song. I get to play bass as well on it so I can put exactly the right feel. Not that I haven’t worked with great bass players – I have. The more I’m involved in playing, the more fun I’m having. So, that’s really the key to it – having fun, loving what you’re doing.
SPAZ: What is next for Robin Trower?
ROBIN: Well, I’ve already recorded five songs for the next album. And I’m going in next week to do two more. So, I’m hoping to get another album out by the spring of next year. And I’ve got touring coming up as well, so I’m pretty busy this year.
SPAZ: What do you currently have spinning on your CD, record, DVD, or Blu-Ray players?
ROBIN: Well, I watch a lot of football (laughs). If there’s a football match on, I’m probably gonna be watching it regardless of who it is.
SPAZ: And that’s British football as opposed to American football?
ROBIN: Yes, soccer you call it. (Laughs) What I listen to music-wise is I’ve got quite a big collection of very, very old stuff from ‘20s, ‘30s, and ‘40s. That’s mostly my listening pleasure apart from early James Brown and Howlin’ Wolf and stuff like that.
Thanks to Robin Trower