Procol Harum

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Goldmine Magazine, 6 October 1989

Robin Trower: Magic Fingers … by Peter Kurtz

There's one word that both characterizes the guitar-playing of Robin Trower and distinguishes him from the bulk of rock guitar heroes: feeling. He may not be the fastest or most dazzling guitarist, but Trower makes each and every note count.

Born March 9, 1945 in London, Trower's first professional group was the Paramounts, which also included pianist Gary Brooker, drummer BJ Wilson and bassist Chris Copping (later replaced by Diz Derrick). The Paramounts got their start playing clubs in London's Southend section [sic] in 1963, and soon secured a contract with Parlophone Records. Through 1965, the Paramounts cut a series of unsuccessful R&B singles, including covers of Little Bitty Pretty One and the Coasters' Poison Ivy. When the group broke up in '66, Trower worked briefly as a painter.

It was soon after the Paramounts' breakup that Brooker met lyricist Keith Reid, formed Procol Harum, and released the classic A Whiter Shade Of Pale. The somber organ piece exploded to #1 in the U.K. and #5 in the U.S. Trower did not play on the song, but was enlisted full-time to complete Procol's début LP when original guitarist Ray Royer quit (drummer BJ Wilson also reappeared on drums). Regarded as the classic Procol lineup, Brooker, Reid, Trower, Wilson, organist Matthew Fisher and bassist David Knights released three superb records, helping to launch a new genre called "progressive rock."

When Fisher and Knights left after 1969's A Salty Dog, Trower's role in the band expanded greatly. Home saw Trower pushing the group toward harder blues-rock, as epitomized by the rollicking Whiskey Train. Trower's final album with Procol Harum, Broken Barricades, featured his own tribute to Jimi Hendrix, Song For A Dreamer, sung by the guitarist himself (a rare event). But Trower's electric blues stylings never synced with Brooker-Reid's gothic rock, and he left the band in late <sic?> '71.

Trower's first venture alone was a Zeppelin-influenced four-piece called Jude, featuring ex-Jethro Tull drummer Clive Bunker, bassist James Dewar (of Stone the Crows) and then-unknown pub-rocker Frankie Miller. However, Jude never managed to record [picture here]. Trower played a few solo gigs before signing with Chrysalis in 1973, and releasing his début Twice Removed From Yesterday.

Produced by Matthew Fisher, Twice Removed established a formula Trower would continually revert to: a guitar-bass-drums lineup and a dreamy, emotive style of blues guitar "once removed" from Jimi Hendrix (Trower switched from a Gibson guitar to a Fender Stratocaster after hearing Hendrix). While critics played up the similarity, Trower has never denied his Hendrix bias. Unlike most latter-day Hendrix "clones," however, Trower realizes that Hendrix's gift was not so much flash or technique, but an instinct for and appreciation of the aesthetics of music. In 1974, Trower released his magnum opus, Bridge of Sighs. His band, the same as on Twice Removed, included Jim Dewar on bass and vocals, and a West Indian drummer named Reg Isadore. The record's success brought heavy US touring, and songs from the LP are concert favorites even today: Day Of The Eagle, Lady Love, Too Rolling Stoned and the title track are classic Trower. That same year, Trower nudged out Jeff Beck as Guitar Player magazine's "Guitarist of the Year." Almost overnight, Trower had distinguished himself as a new guitar hero.

After some guitar tutelage under King Crimson's Robert Fripp, Trower continued the Hendrixian blues mode with For Earth Below (Bill Lordan repalcing Isadore), Live and Long Misty Days. The '77 release In City Dreams marked a change: less blues, poppier arrangements, and an overall mellowness, best expressed in tunes like Sweet Wine Of Love and Bluebird. Bassist Rustee Allen (of Sly's Family Stone) was added for a funkier feel, allowing Dewar to concentrate on singing. Caravan To Midnight continued this subdued approach, to lesser success, after which Allen departed.

Keith Reid joined his old Procol mate for lyrics on 1980's Victims Of The Fury. This LP signified a return to harder rock, with at least one critic now taking notice of Trower's "magic fingers." Hardly another Bridge, the record does contain standout tracks in The Shout (conjuring memories of Whiskey Train) and the poignant Fly Low.

In 1981, Trower teamed with Jack Bruce for two moderately successful albums. Back It Up (1983) reunited Trower with Jim Dewar and was heartily embraced by longtime Trower fans. His best LP in years, it showcased the hard-edged blues of Benny Dancer and The River, as well as a beautiful instrumental, Islands, often performed by Trower as a live encore. Concentrating on the club and ballroom circuit, Trower continued to draw well live, despite minimal AOR airplay.

Presently, the Robin Trower band has established into Trower, singer Davey Pattison, bassist Dave Bronze and drummer Pete Thompson, these musicians being featured on the latest two releases (Beyond The Mist is a half-live '85 effort, featuring a temporary trio lineup). Trower continues to tour heavily across the US, faithfully incorporating his older classics into the newer material. A workingman's guitarist in the truest sense, Robin Trower still mesmerizes with those "magic fingers."

Thanks, Marvin, for finding and transcribing

More Procol history in print at BtP


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