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Robin Trower

Throughout a long, winding career, English blues-rock guitarist and songwriter Robin Trower has built a dedicated global fan base while being endlessly (and unfairly) compared by critics to his peer Jimi Hendrix. While Trower's phrasing and harmonic approach are his own, he readily admits that his custom-built Fender Stratocaster, fluid effects, and Marshall stack directly follow Hendrix's psych-blues example. After leaving Procol Harum, Trower's solo career began with 1973's Twice Removed from Yesterday and exploded with the following year's Top Ten Bridge of Sighs, kicking off a run of ten Top 200 outings. He and former Cream bassist Jack Bruce teamed for 1981's BLT and 1982's Truce. During the '90s, he worked with Bryan Ferry on 1993's Taxi and 1994's Mamouna. Trower formed the V-12 label, self-issuing acclaimed records including 2003's Living Out of Time. In 2007, Trower and Bruce released Seven Moons. In 2020, he collaborated with reggae singer Maxi Priest and bassist Livingstone Brown on United State of Mind. Trower returned in 2022 and 2023 with No More Worlds to Conquer and Joyful Sky, respectively. Born on March 9, 1945 in Catford, England, Trower spent the early '60s playing guitar in various London-based outfits, the most successful being the R&B group the Paramounts, who specialized mostly in covers but managed to issue several singles between 1963 and 1965. It wasn't until 1967 that Trower received his big break, however, when he joined Procol Harum. The group had just scored a worldwide smash hit with "A Whiter Shade of Pale," but the only problem was that the band's leader, singer/pianist Gary Brooker, didn't have a proper group to back him. Brooker was previously a bandmate of Trower's in the Paramounts, and offered the guitar slot in his new fast-rising project to his old friend. As a result, Trower appeared on such Procol Harum classics as 1967's Procol Harum, 1968's Shine on Brightly, 1969's A Salty Dog, 1970's Home (which spawned the popular Trower tune "Whiskey Train"), and 1971's Broken Barricades. While Procol Harum helped launch Trower's career, he realized there was limited space for his guitar work. He had seen Hendrix play one of his last gigs, a September 4, 1970 festival date in Berlin that Procol Harum had played too. Shortly afterward, as Procol were sharing a bill with Jethro Tull, Trower picked up guitarist Martin Barre's Fender Stratocaster (that he used exclusively for playing slide). Reportedly, after playing it for only a couple of minutes, Trower exclaimed, "This is it!" He ditched the Les Paul for a Stratocaster, a Marshall stack, and various Hendrix-ian effects (Uni-Vibe, Fuzz Face, and wah-wah pedal). Beyond gear, Trower's musical path revealed a deeper harmonic dimension that couldn't be chalked up to mere idol worship. He left Procol Harum amicably after 1971's Broken Barricades for a solo career. Enlisting singer/bassist James Dewar and drummer Reg Isidore (who was later replaced by Bill Lordan) as a rhythm section, Trower issued his solo debut, Twice Removed from Yesterday, in 1973. Produced by Procol Harum organist Matthew Fisher, the album barely made a dent in the U.S. charts, but that would change soon with 1974's Bridge of Sighs. With rock fans still reeling from Hendrix's death a few years earlier, the album sounded eerily similar to the late guitarist's (especially his 1968 release, Electric Ladyland). While critics dismissed it as the work of an imitator, music fans bought it in droves and radio couldn't get enough. The album skyrocketed into the U.S. Top Ten, peaking at number seven. It was certified gold in America. British audiences, however, paid little to no attention. Although Bridge of Sighs (also produced by Fisher) was his most popular solo release, Trower's star continued to rise throughout the mid-'70s as he became an arena headliner on the strength of his five consecutive gold-certified albums including 1975's For Earth Below, 1976's Robin Trower Live!, and Long Misty Days, and 1977's soul-oriented In City Dreams. The latter subtly drew on another of Trower's big influences, James Brown. By the dawn of the '80s, Trower's chart success was waning, each album sold less than its predecessor. In 1981 he and drummer Bill Lordan teamed with former Cream bassist Jack Bruce as B.L.T. and issued a self-titled set produced by the guitarist with lyrics by Procol Harum's Keith Reid. It landed inside the Top 40. In 1982, Bruce and Trower teamed up with drummer Reg Isidore for Truce, which only went to number 109. 1983 saw the release of Back It Up, the guitarist's final release for Chrysalis that barely cracked the Top 200. Trower made efforts to expand his audience with releases that updated his blues-rock style, including 1987's slickly produced Passion that placed inside the Top 100, and a pair of LPs for Atlantic: 1988's Take What You Need (number 131) and 1990's non-charting In the Line of Fire. Trower returned to Procol Harum briefly for the reunion outing Prodigal Stranger in 1991, before backing ex-Roxy Music singer Bryan Ferry on 1993's Taxi and 1994's Mamouna (the latter of which he co-produced). Tired of the music industry merry-go-round, he formed the V-12 label for his own releases, kicking it off with 1994's acclaimed 20th Century Blues, his first album with bassist and vocalist Livingstone Brown, though he didn't join the band. In 1996, King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp stated in an interview on Procol Harum's website that he considered Trower not only a peer and stylist, but an influence; Fripp admitted to taking lessons from him. Trower's final studio album of the 20th century was Someday Blues, that featured the return of Isadore on drums. Trower continued to issue solo albums at the dawn of the 21st century. Go My Way appeared in 2000 to excellent reviews but paltry sales. In 2002, Trower returned to work with Ferry once more on 2002's Frantic (again earning a production credit). The guitaristt toured almost incessantly during the early 2000s. Reassembling most of his late-'80s band, Trower released Living Out of Time in 2004 and returned with Another Day's Blues in late 2005, and after a 25-year break, Bruce and Trower re-teamed alongside ex-Level 42 drummer Gary Husband on Seven Moons, followed by the audio/video release Seven Moons Live that marked Trower's return to the charts (it peaked at five on the Blues Albums charts in the U.S.). The more progressively oriented What Lies Beneath appeared in 2009. With Brown on bass, the set featured alternating drummers Chris Taggart and Sam Van Essen, organist Roger Cotton, and string players Clare Hinton and Andrew Haveron. Over the next several years, Trower recorded steadily. The Playful Heart appeared in 2010, with Brown, vocalist Davey Pattison, and drummer Pete Thompson. EMI released two multi-disc compilations in 2010: Tale Untold: The Chrysalis Years (1973-1976), and Farther On Up the Road: The Chrysalis Years (1977-1983), and the following year, At the BBC 1973-1975. 2013 saw the release of another Chrysalis-era double-disc in State to State: Live Across America 1974-1980. That same year, however, Trower issued the widely celebrated studio covers album Roots and Branches on V12; it went to number four on the blues charts. He followed with the scorching blues set Something's About to Change in 2015. In addition to playing guitar, Trower played bass. Brown produced the set while Taggart played drums; former bassist Richard Watts joined Luke Smith on keyboards. The set peaked at number two on the blues album charts. That same year, Repertoire released Rock Goes to College, while Germany's Ruf Records released the retrospective Songs from the Road from dates with Bruce and Husband. It peaked at five. 2016's Where You Are Going To went to number four. Trower's prolific blues chart run continued in 2017 with Time and Emotion. It debuted at number two and spent three months on the chart. 2019's Coming Closer to the Day was the first to top the blues charts. In 2020, Trower and Brown teamed with soulful reggae singer Maxi Priest for the more R&B-oriented United State of Mind. Brown played bass and keyboards, and Taggart remained on drums. Trower also booked a horn section and a string quartet. Acclaimed globally, it continued the guitarist's chart run by peaking at number three at blues. In 2021, Trower issued No More Worlds to Conquer through Provogue; the 12-track set of originals featured Watts on bass and vocals, and Taggart on drums. In 2023, he teamed up with powerhouse vocalist Sari Schorr on the smouldering Joyful Sky.
© Thom Jurek & Greg Prato /TiVo


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