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Robin Trower

Although ROBIN TROWER’s roots lay deep in the heart of soulful R&B (with The Paramounts) and 60s/70s psychedelic/prog-rock (with the descendent PROCOL HARUM), the lead guitarist was increasingly impassioned by the blues and his late, great hero, JIMI HENDRIX. With animated face-contortion gymnastics that redolently mirrored and virtually channeled the iconic axeman to a tee, TROWER (complete with Fender Strat) lived his rock’n’roll dream to the max.
Born 9th March 1945 in Catford, London, TROWER had an initial period with 60s Brit Invasion outfit, The PARAMOUNTS, who subsequently metamorphosed into PROCOL HARUM. He had been an integral part of this rock act since the `Homburg’ sophomore hit, and stayed on for five albums, the eponymous Procol Harum (1967), Shine On Brightly (1968), A Salty Dog (1969), Home (1970) and Broken Barricades (1971), before setting up his own band, Jude.
This deeply blues-rooted but short-lived supergroup featured FRANKIE MILLER on husky vox, Clive Bunker (ex-JETHRO TULL) on drums and James Dewar (ex-STONE THE CROWS, ex-LULU) on bass and vocals. The latter was re-united with TROWER when the guitarist launched his solo career after re-signing to Chrysalis in ‘72; incidentally, also the home to the aforementioned ‘Harum.
Featuring an inspired rhythm section line-up of Aruba-born Reg Isidore (on drums) and co-songwriter Dewar (on soulful vocals and bass), TROWER’s Matthew Fisher-produced debut album TWICE REMOVED FROM YESTERDAY {*7} appeared in 1973, although it fell just short of the US Top 100. Stripping out the fuzz, feedback and manic distortion of Jimi H’s sound and strictly relying on the reverb, Robin was at first criticised for his apparent replication of his hero. Unperturbed, TROWER let his fingers do the talking on the dreamy, `I Can’t Wait Much Longer’ (penned with his Jude pal, FRANKIE MILLER), the “Angel”-like `Daydream’, the flop 45 `Man Of The World’ (not the Peter Green tune) and a re-vamp of B.B. KING’s `Rock Me Baby’.
1974’s follow-up, BRIDGE OF SIGHS {*8} – featuring the almost-hallucinatory title track – made up for the previous set’s commercial shortcomings ten-fold, reaching as it did, the US Top 10, but sadly nowhere in his home country. Scotsman Dewar had all the hallmarks of a great whisky-soaked singer, and not many of his kind would take an uncredited (in the billing sense) position, but that was just dandy for the underrated blue-eyed soulman, Jimmy; he could well’ve been the next PAUL RODGERS or even JOE COCKER. Finger-lickingly awash with guitar licks streaming from every groove and direction; tracks such as `Day Of The Eagle’, `The Fool And Me’ and the single `Too Rolling Stoned’, proved the most popular among the group’s considerable following.
For British breakthrough and US Top 10 set, FOR EARTH BELOW (1975) {*7}, Isidore had been superseded by former SLY & THE FAMILY STONE sticksman, Bill Lordan. Fusing blues with hard-edged rock – and crystal cool with it – TROWER was in a world of his own on the tried-and-textured `It’s Only Money’, `Gonna Be More Suspicious’ and the glorious `Fine Day’. Matching great concert sets of the times, ROBIN TROWER LIVE! (1976) {*7}, was just the ticket for the fan, or someone just on the threshold of the guitarist’s vision. Pity then he didn’t expand it to a double-set, recorded as it was a year earlier in Sweden.
TROWER and his “Experience” continued to garner further album chart status through formulaic studio sets such as LONG MISTY DAYS (1976) {*6}, IN CITY DREAMS (1977) {*6}, CARAVAN TO MIDNIGHT (1978) {*6} and VICTIMS OF THE FURY (1980) {*5}, all making the US Top 40, while also selling moderately well in Britain. The 1976 record was littered with ballads, one in particular, his interpretation of The SUTHERLAND BROTHERS’ `Sailing’, having already found fame with ROD STEWART. Described in some circles as murky blues, and adding fourth member in 1977, bassist Rustee Allen (from SLY & THE FAMILY STONE), generated some funky beats alongside an interpretation of the B.B. KING cut, `Farther On Up The Road’. For 1980’s “Victims…”, a lyricist was found in Keith Reid, better known as the foil to GARY BROOKER in Robin’s old outfit, PROCOL HARUM.
That partnership was employed again for the collaborative breakfast sandwich that was B.L.T. (1981) {*6}, ‘cept Reid took a backseat to the CREAM-like teamwork of (JACK) BRUCE, (Bill) Lordan and of course, TROWER. Produced by the guitarist himself, the project album was fluid and at times, raw, BRUCE as smooth and velvety as ever on the likes of `Won’t Let You Down’ and the HENDRIX-like `No Island Lost’. The following year’s TRUCE (1981) {*6} was strictly a TROWER/BRUCE effort; Robin sharing songwriting duties with Reid and Jack with former CREAM cohort, PETE BROWN. Divided almost equally by both parties (Reg Isidore was reinstated as drummer), the funk-driven blues record fell short of the US Top 100. While Jack’s contribution to the album was another showcase for his quality vocals (and bass), TROWER had procured the Devil’s best tunes in `Gone Too Far’ and `Fall In Love’.
Back on his solo saddle again, and augmented once again by Dewar (he also added bassist Dave Bronze and drummers Bobby Clouter and Alan Clarke), the appropriately-titled BACK IT UP (1983) {*5} couldn’t revive the guitarist’s fortunes; too many songs sounding like BAD COMPANY in their prime (example, `The River’).
The rest of the 80s plodded on a bit for the man with the souped-up Fender Stratocaster, a change of labels, at first to Portrait (Music For Nations in Britain/Europe) for the unremarkable, part live meandering of BEYOND THE MIST (1985) {*3}. Despite his best intentions to return to the big arena and like most rock dinosaurs, TROWER chose hook-line, tame ballad-rock as his template on the GNP Crescendo set, PASSION (1986) {*4}. Former GAMMA singer, Davey Pattison was no match for old-timer Dewar, the man leading out messrs Dave Bronze (bass), Reg Webb and Robert A. Martin (keyboards) and Paul Thompson (drums), for a set that did at least dent the US Top 100.
Another roster shift two years later, this time to Atlantic Records, was not so fruitful; albums TAKE WHAT YOU NEED (1988) {*5} and IN THE LINE OF FIRE (1990) {*4} for the TROWER, or the blues connoisseur only. A slow time for Robin led him into re-joining his old buddies, Brooker and Reid, in an all-new PROCOL HARUM; 1991’s “The Prodigal Stranger” was almost a step backwards in commercial and critical terms.
Caring less about commercial constraints and firing up a new blues-driven backing band in Livingstone Browne (vocals, bass, keyboards) and Clive Mayuyu (drums), TROWER signed to the relatively small independent, V-12 (Demon in the UK). 20th CENTURY BLUES (1994) {*5} and the BRYAN FERRY-co-produced SOMEDAY BLUES (1997) {*6} gave him back an air respectable among his peers, and while the first of these sets took on LOWELL FULSOM’s `Reconsider Baby’, there were a trio of covers through B.B. KING’s `Sweet Little Angel’, ROBERT JOHNSON’s `Crossroads’ and CHUCK WILLIS’ `Feel So Bad’; note that, Paul Page and the returning Isidore were now in tow.
The millennium began in fine style courtesy of GO MY WAY (2000) {*7}, a record that opened with a classy 9-minute title track, co-penned with Page. TROWER continued to produce and work with BRYAN FERRY on his solo releases, (i.e. “Frantic”), having previously featured on his “Taxi” and “Mamouna” sets in the mid-90s; sadly, Robin’s long-time foil, Dewar, died of a stroke after years of disability on 16th May 2002.
The questionable backward step of re-uniting 80s team players, Pattison, Bronze and Thompson, was somewhat risky, but showcasing HENDRIX-esque blues ballads such as `Sweet Angel’, `Step Into The Sun’ and the title track on LIVING OUT OF TIME (2004) {*7}, TROWER had chosen his true path. The album and title was even revived live a year later, with matching critical results. Re-recording some of his best known cuts; Isidore, Thompson, Pattison, Hazel Fernandez, Bronze, Page and Pattison, are all involved, ANOTHER DAYS BLUES (2005) {*6} was another example of true blues genius.
In a time when crusty reunions were rife among the psych-blues gentry, it was no surprise that CREAM wrinkly, JACK BRUCE and PROCOL boy, ROBIN TROWER renewed their musical vows for the swansong, “Seven Moons” (2008); sadly, yet another old boy, Isidore, died of a heart attack on 22th March 2009. Regenerated and dusting himself down again, TROWER found the time to complete further blues-rock sets, WHAT LIES BENEATH (2009) {*6}, THE PLAYFUL HEART (2010) {*6} and an inspiration but slight delayed covers set, ROOTS AND BRANCHES (2013) {*5}.
Putting revamps of `Hound Dog’, `The Red Rooster’ and `The Thrill Is Gone’ behind him to one side, singer/guitarist TROWER once again secured the services of bassist Richard Watts, drummer Chris Taggart and keyboardist Luke Smith for a second Livingstone Brown-produced set, SOMETHING’S ABOUT TO CHANGE (2015) {*6}. Slow-hand to the point of horizontal, Robin turned his blues deep and dank, focusing on cool for several crystalline cuts including `Good Morning Midnight’, `Fallen’, `What You Never Want To Do’ and the title track.
Without stretching the tried-and-tested template too far from out of the box, ROBIN TROWER was back in action for 2016’s WHERE YOU ARE GOING TO {*6}. A tapestry of funky blues delights from the pen of the man himself, loyal supporters should be salivating over `Back Where You Belong’, `When Will The Next Blow Fall’ and as always, the title track; the emotion-fuelled `We Will Be Together Someday’ and `I’m Holding On To You’ were both dedicated to his late wife, Andrea.
© MC Strong 1994-2004/GRD // rev-up MCS Oct2012-Apr2016

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