Robin Trower Interview: Legendary Guitarist Talks "United State of Mind"
Image attributed to Rob Blackham
Born in Catford, London, England, Robin Trower is a guitarist and vocalist who achieved success with the English rock band Procol Harum during the years of 1967-1971 and again as the bandleader of his own power trio called the Robin Trower Band with vocalist James Dewar and drummer Reg Isidore (later replaced by Bill Lordan). Perhaps Trower’s most famous album is Bridge of Sighs (1974), which was a commercial breakthrough.
Trower collaborated with two other UK music legends, Maxi Priest and Livingstone Brown, to release United State of Mind, which came out in the United States on CD on April 16, 2021. Maxi Priest is an iconic British vocalist who’s best known for singing reggae with added R&B flavor creating that potent blend called reggae fusion. Livingstone Brown is a talented producer/mix engineer and musician, and Classic Rock Review called Trower a “guitar player of unparalleled influence,” particularly for the passion and soul of his playing, as well as his virtuosity, all of which have inspired countless young guitarists to take up the instrument.
"I just started writing music that I wanted to hear Maxi sing. So I was specifically writing for him."
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Robin, how’s it going in England with the pandemic?
Robin Trower: We’re getting a lot of people vaccinated, so we’re on a good road. We have a way to go though. We’re in lockdown at the moment, although they’re starting to ease things. Children are back in school for the most part, and there are signs of things lifting a little. I think it’ll be a while yet. Maybe at the end of summer, we may be able to get back to some normalcy.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: I’m enjoying the new album from you, Maxi Priest and Livingstone Brown called United State of Mind. Why did the three of you get together and decide to write these songs?
Robin Trower: Well, I’ve been working with Livingstone for quite a long time on and off, and he’s been working with Maxie for a long time. I already knew I loved Maxie’s voice. How it happened was, I was at Livingstone Brown’s Studio doing some mixing, and as I was leaving, Maxi was coming in. We got to chatting, and Maxi said, “Let’s get together and do some writing.” And that’s how it started.
Smashing interviews Magazine: Did you already have some ideas for lyrics and music?
Robin Trower: I already had some music, and we got together and wrote the lyrics together. Then after the first couple of songs, I started writing music especially for Maxi to sing.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Did you guys ever have any disagreements about musical direction?
Robin Trower: No, not at all. I mean, really, after the first song that we wrote together, I just started writing music that I wanted to hear Maxi sing. So I was specifically writing for him. Then we’d get together and put words to it. Maxi would come up quite often with the ideas that the lyrics could be about. We just worked on like that.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Did you use different guitars throughout the album?
Robin Trower: No. I played the same guitar on the whole album.
Smashing interviews Magazine: Is that always the case?
Robin Trower: I’ve got a few that I go between you know. I have one that I play for a few months that I call number one, and then I’ll switch to one of the others. But they’re all what they call signature models. In other words, they were built to my specifications.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What’s the story behind the song “Walking Wounded”? Your guitar solo is beautiful.
Robin Trower: Oh, thank you very much. I think that’s just a lyric that we worked on. It’s been a long, long time now. It’s been two or three years ago since we wrote these songs. But maybe Maxi came up with the first line or something like that, and then everybody would chip in and put together a lyric. Obviously, as Maxi was the singer, every line had to go past him. Even if someone else came up with it, he had to feel it was something he could perform.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: “On Fire Like Zsa Zsa” is certainly an interesting title.
Robin Trower: Yeah. I’m pretty sure we’d already gotten a little way into the verse lyrically and because of what the song was about, I told them about an article I’d read about Zsa Zsa Gabor. After I told them the story from that article, it made its way into the lyrics.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Will you, Maxi and Livingstone be making more music together?
Robin Trower: Yeah, I’m hoping to. I’ve already written enough music for another album, if we’re able to do one. That’s the thing about being in lockdown. All you have to do is write. So I’ve come up with quite a few things. I wish I could get into the studio, but second best is being at home and writing.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Of course, this certainly isn’t your first musical trio.
Robin Trower: Well, my own band is a trio. I’ve got a different kind of trio with this as Livingstone is a bass player. He engineered it. Obviously, I play guitar and came up with the music, and obviously, the third member is an absolutely wonderful singer. So I think it’s a different dynamic. In other words, I think I was writing as much for the singer as I was for the guitar, whereas usually, it’s all about the guitar for me.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You had a wonderful singer in James Dewar for the Robin Trower Band.
Robin Trower: Oh, didn’t I though? (laughs) One of the greats, definitely. I’ve been very fortunate working with great singers.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Do you feel that James Dewar was underrated as a rock vocalist?
Robin Trower: Well, the thing is the band we had in the early days. We sold a lot of albums, but it was never a pop hit. So you don’t become uppermost in public consciousness, if you know what I mean, if you don’t have hits all the time. I think the people that knew Jimmy all rate him very highly like yourself, you know.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Yes indeed, Robin. When did you decide you wanted a serious career in music?
Robin Trower: I started playing guitar at about 13, 14, something like that. I didn’t have a proper band until I was about 18, 19, and I joined Procol Harum at 21. So from there on, yeah. That’s when I knew I was going to be a professional (laughs).
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You were more interested in playing the guitar than singing?
Robin Trower: Definitely. The guitar was it for me. That was my addiction.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What was your very first guitar?
Robin Trower: It was a guitar my father bought me for Christmas. It was called a Rosetti.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: How do you feel about your time in Procol Harum?
Robin Trower: Oh, well, I look back very fondly on it. We made some very good records. I started to learn a lot about recording and touring. It was a great schooling for me.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: With the success Procol Harum enjoyed at the time, did you find it risky to go out on your own?
Robin Trower: I think it was probably risky, but I was writing so much music, there wasn’t room for it in Procol.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You wanted to to out on your own to write and play what you wanted to write and play?
Robin Trower: Yeah. That’s more or less it. Yeah (laughs).
Smashing Interviews Magazine: At what point in your career do you feel you did your best work?
Robin Trower: Oh, I haven’t done that yet. I’m coming up to it, yeah. It’s always the next thing you think will be your best work.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Of your own guitar solos, what is your favorite?
Robin Trower: I really like the lead playing on a song called “Coming Closer to the Day.” That’s one of them. There are quite a few that I’m really proud of. But that one comes to mind anyway.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Will you tour on United State of Mind?
Robin Trower: I don’t think so. I’m not sure there’s an audience for it just yet. I mean, if the album does really well, then maybe it might be possible to tour with it.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Do you miss performing in front of a live audience?
Robin Trower: I don’t because I’ve played live so much. Obviously, at my age, I’ve done thousands of gigs, you know. I’m looking forward to getting back in the studio because I had almost finished my album when this all came about. So I’m looking forward to getting a back in the studio and finishing my own album. I’ve got a little more work to do. Then I’m hoping to get back to the United States, but I don’t think it will be in the fall. I don’t think we’re going to be ready in the fall. I don’t think the album will be ready until next spring now.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: When was the last time you performed live?
Robin Trower: My last tour was in the States. I’m pretty sure that was 2019.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You recently turned 76.
Robin Trower: Yeah, I know (laughs). I try not to think about it.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: How’s your health?
Robin Trower: My health is actually very, very good, I think, for my age. But you know, I’ve kind of looked after myself pretty well. I exercise, use no tobacco, no drugs and no alcohol.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Even so, do you feel yourself slowing down some?
Robin Trower: I think it’s inevitable at my age that you would slow down a little bit. But I think I’m playing as well as I was five years ago. As I say, having so much time at home, I’m churning out quite a lot of music. I’ve written enough songs for another album of my own and some music potentially for another round with Maxi and Livingstone. I’m going like a house on fire.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What kind of music are you writing for your new album?
Robin Trower: If I’m writing the music, it’s always going to be blues, R&B and a little bit of rock and roll mixture because that’s kind of the stuff I come up with.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Who do you listen to?
Robin Trower: Nobody that’s current. If I listen to anything, its usually quite old music. There’s certain stuff that I’m still absolutely fascinated with and is still inspirational to me. Howie G is one that has such a mystique and atmosphere about it that I just find it fascinating and also very early James Brown. For guitar players, Albert King is my favorite. I still can’t quite work out how he did it (laughs). That’s the thing. These giants have something mystical about them. You can’t quite see how it’s done.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Robin, there must be something mystical about you also because you’re definitely a musical giant.
Robin Trower: Well, thank you very much. But I’m sure that has a lot to do with the inspirations of the greats.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Do you have anything else to add about United State of Mind or other projects?
Robin Trower: No. As I say, every day I’m working on an album. Working with Maxi and Livingstone was just wonderful, and I would look forward to doing it again if it’s possible. But at the moment, I would just love to get in the studio and finish up my album so that can come out because it’s nearly finished.
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