By Martin Popoff
English wah-wah guitar great Robin Trower has enjoyed two huge careers, first as axeman in the prog collective Procol Harum and then as a gold and platinum solo artist through the heady ‘70s. Add three more decades onto that, and Robin never stopped finding novel outlets for his thick blues guitar skills, one of the greatest collaborations being his work with the incomparable Jack Bruce.
“Do you want the long version or the short version?” asks Robin, urged to spill the beans on his next collaboration with the Cream bassist and vocalist. “The thing is, Jack and I have been talking for some time about remixing the two albums that we did together, I think, in the ‘80s (B.L.T. from February of ’81 and Truce from January of ’82). And, eventually, we got together and decided it was a good idea — but we would add two or three new songs to them. And then, when we started to get together to write material for the project, we had more and more material coming through. And, in the end, we decided to do a new album. We recorded that, and every song is a co-write between me and Jack. And at the moment it’s being mixed.”
Stylistically speaking, “Well, it’s a three-piece. Me, Jack and Gary Husband on drums. So it’s pretty raw, and it’s pretty live. And Jack is one of the best singers in the world (laughs). At the moment, it’s being finished under the auspices of V12 Records, mine and my manager’s label. It’s a modern version of the music Jack and I made together in the past. If you can imagine a three-piece thing with Jack on bass and vocals (laughs), with electric guitar and a drummer. I would definitely call it a rock ‘n’ roll album — and a lot of stuff is very bluesy, obviously.”
And there’s more … “I’m working on the material for my first instrumental album, and I’m hoping to do that in the autumn. It’s an electric album. I’m sort of going for the space that Jimmy Smith used to be in with his trio, Back At The Chicken Shack and that kind of vibe. Obviously, instead of having the organ being the main thing, I’m going to have the guitar being the main thing. That’s kind of what I have in mind. So it’s rhythm and blues, heavy blues.”
Not a lot of regrets, says Robin, with respect to the vast past catalog, although, “There’s a couple of albums that I don’t really like, and they were from the ‘80s, one called Passion and one called Take What You Need. I don’t really dislike them, but I don’t like them. I don’t know, guitar-wise I think I just continue to progress. I think I’m more fluid than I used to be. And I’ve gotten better in terms of composition with what I do, in terms of the solos. I love working in the studio, because I’m hearing it fresh. But playing live, you know, it’s great to get in front of an audience and get a reaction to what you’re doing.”
And he’ll be doing it with a Signature Series Stratocaster.
“One of the proudest moments of my life was when I was offered that by Fender,” says Robin. “It’s a great honor to have a Strat with your name on it. I’ve been using those ever since they built the first one, which is probably getting onto about three years ago now. I’ve got four of those altogether. That’s what I use all the time. And actually, with respect to amps, on the thing with Jack, I’ve been using some hand-built amplifiers called Plexi that I’ve had built in England. But as things stand at the moment, I still use Marshalls live.”
Also in the cards for Robin is an American tour, featuring two ex-Gamma members, longtime vocalist Davey Pattison and bassist Glenn Letsch, returned to the Trower fold after 15-odd years away.
“That is correct,” says Letsch. “You may or may not know that I played with Davey Pattison, from Gamma, years ago, and I also played with Robin and Davey, I guess in about 1989 to ‘91 or ‘92. And then Robin went back to England and took a few years off, and when he came back, he used some British musicians to play with him. And I’m not really quite sure what went down. But the gentleman who had been playing bass for him for the last several years, was, I guess, unavailable for next year — for what reason, I’m not sure. And Robin called Davey, who lives over here not very far from me, and they set out to see if I was interested in playing with them again. So they asked me and if I needed to think about it. I said, ‘No, I don’t need to think about it; I’ll do it. It’ll be great.’ The drummer is Pete Thompson; he’s another Englishman. Davey is from Scotland. So it’s three Brits and a Yank.”
And a few words on Robin?
“Well, first of all, I consider him in the elite guitarists of all time. I mean, I don’t like top 10 lists, but if I had one, he would be in the top five list of all-time. He’s a very, very deep, deep player. And there’s a lot of room as a bass player to paint a soundscape behind his soloing. And the other thing is, he’s a first-class gentleman. So touring with him, and just hanging out and going out for dinner is just a great experience. He’s well read, so on the drives, we have nice things to talk about. He’s classy, very classy.”
Concurs Robin on the tour plans, “The States is the beginning of (2008), followed by a tour of Europe. That will be my thing. I’m hoping to work with Jack once the album comes out sometime next year, probably when I get back from the European tour. I’m really looking forward to doing that. So yes, in the meantime, look out for the Jack and me album (laughs).”