10 Things You Gotta Do to Play like Robin Trower

Article excerpt

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REMEMBER THE '70S? THE PRE-DISCO '70S, TO BE EXACT? IF NOT, LET ME remind you that this was an incredibly fertile and creative period in music history. Blues rock, progressive rock, funk, and fusion were in their prime, corporate rock was just a gleam in the eye of its future shareholders, big, brash guitar (not fashion) was at the forefront of the music scene, and the Robin Trower Band was packing arenas and charting albums in the Top Ten.

Robin Trower's explosive playing first caught the ear of the international public when the Catford-born Londoner joined seminal prog-rock ensemble Procol Harum in 1967, just after the band recorded the rock radio perennial 'A Whiter Shade of Pale" with their former guitarist, Ray Royer. Somewhere, somehow, in the midst of the band's dense blend of classically-influenced mystical moods, unexpected modulations, and tightly arranged counterpoint lines, Trower found room to nurture his expanding love of blues, and for five albums--Procol Harum, Shine on Brightly, A Salty Dog, Home, and Brohen Barricades (all essential listening)--Trower's giant rhythm guitar sound and blistering solos became a huge part of Procol Harum's oeuvre. And let's give credit where it's due: Trower's start-and-stop counterpoint lines, which date back to the band's first album, can arguably be linked to similar approaches utilized by modern rock groups, from Toto on up through Maroon 5.

By the time Trower quit the band to spread his own wings in 1971, he had become a master of re-contextualizing the Hendrix vocabulary, a life mission that has garnered him as much praise as criticism. Undaunted, Trower remained true to his vision, shrugged off any critical flak as ignorance, assembled a few amazing power trios (including B.L.T. with Jack Bruce), and went on to rock the world with a slew of killer albums over the next 25 years. Twice Removed from Yesterday (1973), Bridge of Sighs (1974), For Earth Below (1975), Robin Trower Live! (1976), Caravan to Midnight (1978), In the Line of Fire (1990), 20th-Century Blues (1994), Living Out of Time: Live (2004), and at least a dozen other titles all belong on anyone's list of must-have Trower albums. Throughout four decades of recording and touring, Trower's blistering, emotive guitar playing has never stopped speaking to blues-rockers of all generations, and the long-term forecast calls for more of the same. In fact, as you read this, Trower should be hitting the road for a major 2008 world tour. And if you want some Trower power in your playing, you've first gotta ...

1 HIT THE ROAD EARLY

After picking up a guitar three years earlier ("I was very keen on people like Elvis, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Gene Vincent"), Trower began his professional career in 1962 with the Paramounts, a Southend-based outfit that provided the teenager with a way to have fun, hone his chops (though Trower admits he's never been a "practicer"), and taste a bit of stardom in the process. "We were an R&B band. All our material was like James Brown, Bobby Bland, and Ray Charles," Trower told GP in 1980. "We got quite a name for ourselves at the time, especially with the Rolling Stones. We toured with them and with the Beatles in the mid '60s. It was an experience."

Nice work if you can get it.

2 'SHED THE BLUES

"The record company tried to make the Paramounts into a pop group," said Trower, who later explained, "I left them because I was getting more and more interested in blues and they weren't doing blues. I just sat at home and listened to people like B.B. King, Otis Rush, Hubert Sumlin, Albert King--all the blues players, really--for about six months. I think the one album that was most influential was B.B. King's Live at the Regal. I listen to that today and it still knocks me out. I think that's the most wonderful guitar playing I've ever heard. I love Otis Rush's thing as well. His very fast vibrato was a real eye opener. …