Pittsburgh: Robin Trower Interview Part I by Monica Yasher

Posted on 11/07/2009 by Monica Yasher

Playing. This is truly your passion?
"I have dedicated my life to it, and I still do."

This is part one of a two part series. When I spoke with Robin, he was traveling to a show in the North East part of the United States. Let me share some of the things we talked about.

Robin: Hello Monica

Monica: Hi, How are you?

Robin: I’m good..

Monica: That’s great Robin. Should we get started?

Robin: Yeah, sure.

Monica: OK. I’ve broken down the interview into some subcategories so that we could focus on some key parts. You’ve done so much.

Robin: Yes.

Monica: Some things I thought we could talk about are your guitar style, your guitar, your band, your songwriting. I don’t see a lot out there on your songwriting, and I know you are a songwriter. Equipment, your CD, and some fun points maybe no one has asked you about yet. OK?

Robin: Sure.

Monica: The first question I would like to ask you is that Jimmy Hendrix had a profound effect on you. I would like to know how did he effect you specifically? That statement is very generalized. Could we go a bit deeper and have you share what he did.

Robin: Well the thing is when Jimi came along he did for rock n’ roll what James Brown did for rhythm and blues. He changed it. He changed things. You had to sort of take it on board if you were going to move forward really.

Monica: If Jimi would be alive today would you have continued with the sound that you have created?

Robin: I think so yeah. Really the fundamental of what I do is in my writing. You know, the music that I create is really what the whole thing is based around. I think you got the music in you of whatever you are going to write. Regardless of whatever happens.

Monica: Well…how does the music come out from you? Is it typically a great lyric, is it a great melody, a great chord progression? How do you go about developing a song?

Robin: Well I’ve done it every which way. I’ve written the lyrics first. Mostly it comes from a guitar idea. Yeah.

Monica: Has anyone else impacted you as Jimmy Hendrix did?

Robin: Yeah. I mean as I said James Brown. Howlin’ Wolfe. You know Sun House. People like this have had a huge huge influence on me. I mean James Brown Live at the Apollo completely turned my head around. A complete 360.

Monica: Did you ever meet him?

Robin: No I never did. I have to say out of all the people I really admire he is my number one musical hero.

Monica: As a performer?

Robin: As a musician and a singer.

Monica: If you had an opportunity to meet up with any artist and chat for an hour, would he have been your pick?

Robin: Oh! Without a doubt! Without a doubt! He is just a monster with that kind of thing.

Monica: Do you play anything else besides guitar?

Robin: No. I don’t. I’m still struggling trying to perfect what I do on the guitar (he chuckled).

Monica: So, do you still practice?

Robin: Yeah. Yeah. Everyday.

Monica: Do you really? How long everyday?

Robin: I would say ½ hour is a minimum. But, if I am writing I can be on it for hours.

Monica: I understand that. I believe you are known to play loud. So when you practice do you practice loud too?

Robin: No. No. Not at all. I’m very quiet.

Monica: Do you really?

Robin: Yeah.

Monica: How does that affect your sound when you go to the stage? It has to be different?

Robin: Yeah. That’s right. But, I’m good at both.

Monica: Are you? Cool, (we laughed). I see that you did a switch in your amps. My question to you is when you want to do a change in your equipment, who is your subject matter expert or peer that you really respect to bounce ideas off of?

Robin: I don’t really have anybody. I do it by struggling with it and playing with it and playing with it until I get what I want.

Monica: That’s amazing.

Robin: Well, I sorta mess around with amps all the time. This new album I got I used these little Cornell amps for the studio. At the moment on tour, I’m using these vintage modern Marshalls, which are really great.

Monica: Why did you do the switch?

Robin: I’m experimenting all the time. I’m in search of an allusive greatest sound. I used so many different Marshall Fenders, I’m always switching. I never get the right sound because every room you go into changes what the amp can do. You know what I mean? You're always looking for one, that whatever the acoustic, it will be pretty constant. Very hard.

Monica: I’ve interviewed a few guitarists, and I have to say that your sound goes beyond the guitar. The equipment that you use with the guitar is extremely important. So your work and achieving it is all new territory for me. As a matter of fact your personal signature guitar came with accessories for the 100 guitars that were made for the name of Robin Trower.

Robin: Fender did an anniversary Strat and it had the effects with it. A deja vibe. The signature model, which is what that guitar was, is a Strat that they make with my name on it that’s built to my spec.

Monica: How long did it take you to develop that guitar, and how did you go about building that guitar?

Robin: I must admit a guy called Todd at Fender custom shop...I just talked it all through with him. I looked at all the available different kinds of things I could put on it from Fender’s manufacturing list. I chose different era vintage reissued pick ups. Each one a different one of the three. The basic guitar is really close to a vintage reissued Strat. But I chose some different details that make it particular to my own spec as it were.

Monica: And, why would someone choose your guitar over another guitar? What does your guitar offer for that artist?

Robin: I think maybe trying to get what I get out of it. You know. Trying to get that sound.

Monica: I know there are a lot of tribute bands trying to get your sound. What three pieces of advice could you offer these bands in order to re-achieve your sound? What is the most difficult thing to get to, and what could be some key elements for them to consider?

Robin: I think the big part of the sound that I get out of the Strat is I have quite a high action and use quite heavy strings on the top two. and I tune down a whole step. So that makes the sound of the guitar quite neat. And using the heavier strings as well. All that you get more resonance. That was the idea of having the bigger headstop on the guitar with a bit more wood on the neck and headstop, you get a bit more resonance. All these things add up to how the sound is made.

Monica: You really have worked hard at it. Years.

Robin: Well the thing is you learn a lot over the years. And, you still are learning what can help you and what not. I think I have put it together in that Strat in order to get the best sound out of it that suits me.

Monica: Thank you. What is your favorite part of being a musician? Recording, writing, playing, being on stage? Do you produce as well? I didn’t read anywhere that you did that.

Robin: Yes. I have co-produced a couple of albums with Brian Ferry. And, obviously a few of mine as well. What I love to do is play the guitar. So weather in the studio or live, I just love it.

Monica: Playing. This is truly your passion?

Robin: I have dedicated my life to it and I still do.

Monica: In your free time what do you do?

Robin: I’m a very big soccer fan. If there is a game playing on TV that’s my big relaxation really. I watch baseball in America.

Monica: Do you have a favorite team?

Robin: I don’t have a favorite. I just like watching the game.

Monica: Thank you. If you had the opportunity to thank someone for your career is there anyone you would like to thank.

Robin: I think Derek Sutton, my manager, has a lot to do with it. But, really I think why my music was so commercial in the 70’s was due to the singer. I had at the time James Dewar. I think he made it possible for the music that I was writing to cross over. Normally that kind of stuff wouldn’t be a commercial hit. I think his vocals made it so.

Monica: Anything you would do over again or differently?

Robin: I wouldn’t have made the albums I made that I made in the 80’s. I wouldn’t make them if I could do it over again?

Monica: Why?

Robin: I don’t like them.

Monica: That was a different question I had for you . As an artist do you look back at your earlier works and think why did I put that out there?

Robin: I think everybody has some of that.

Monica: You just grew as an artist. It’s all about growth.

Robin: Yeah I think you’re right. It’s just…I love everything I did in the 70’s The eighties I just lost the plot.

Monica: Well, I’m not sure people would agree with you. But, OK. Thank you. What does it mean to be a professional to you? What is your code of ethics?

Robin: If you can, you got to be true to yourself. I mean you got to be looking to from within to find the music that you got inside. You have to avoid trying to imitate or copying. You got to find the music that you got inside you and work hard to develop it.

Monica: Thank you.. One question, getting back to Jimi Hendrix. In your bio, I read that Jimi Hendrix allowed yourself greater creative freedom. My question is why didn’t you have that before Jimi Hendrix?

Robin: After Jimi died I wrote with Keith Reed in Procol Harum a tribute piece of music to Jimi. And it opened up…there was a song called, Song for a Dreamer, and it opened avenues for writing for the guitar which I didn’t realize before. I then started to get into more and more creating music for the guitar. I eventually had to leave Proco because I had so many song ideas to start my own thing.

Monica: Let’s talk about your new initiative how did that come about? Your tour with Jack Bruce?

Robin: We made a couple of albums in the 80’s, but never toured live and we were talking about doing a remix of those two albums and putting them out again. And Jack had the idea of writing some new material and adding it to the remixes, but when we started writing we got a whole lot of songs going so decided to make a new album. And we did eventually...this year...get to play live together.

Monica: So you’re having fun.

Robin: Yeah. It’s great!

Monica: That’s what it’s about. Do you have a favorite song on that album?

Robin: Probably on that album it’s probably, Distant Places of the Heart.

Monica: And why?

Robin: Why? I just think it’s a potent piece.

Monica: Is there anything you want to share that I didn’t ask you yet?

Robin: You didn’t ask me about my new album.

Monica: How IS your new album? That’s why you tour, right?

Robin: It’s called What Lies Beneath. I’m very proud of it. Very proud of it. But, anyway, maybe we can talk about that when you have a listen to it.

Monica: I would love to talk about your new CD. Absolutely! I’d be ecstatic to talk to you again.

Robin: Let’s speak again.

Monica: That would be great! Thanks Robin! I’ll set it up with your manager. I would love to talk about your CD and the writing and inspiration behind it.

Robin: OK then. Bye for now.

Monica: Bye Robin!

We did meet up and talk about his new CD. That interview will be posted on Friday, November 27.

If you enjoyed reading this article, you may like to sit back and read part II of the Robin Trower Series

Thank you for reading American Blues News!

Copyright © 2009 Monica L. Yasher. All Rights Reserved.
Photo Copyright © 2009 Maureen Ciedro. All Rights Reserved.

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