Here's part one (Copping ... Paramounts ... Brooker...) of this excellent article: click for part two (joining Procol ... BJ catalyses Trower's departure ... sharing Keith Reid ...), part three (Matthew Fisher ... singing with Procol ... recording the Black Album ...) and part four (Liquorice John Death ... The Symphonic Procol ... Radiohead ... BJ ... )
Had Robin Trower remained as Procol Harum's lead guitarist, his place in music history would have already been assured. As it turned out Trower struck out on his own with his power-trio and blazed a path that is still smoking. Trower's inventiveness and soulful playing style evoke an atmosphere all his own. Faithfully recording albums every few years, Trower is still out there doing what he does best, writing and playing with imagination and facility. With his recently released Go My Way, Trower continues to create a legacy that bears repeated listenings which are amply rewarded. In the following interview Jimmy Vivino and I explore Trower's beginnings with The Paramounts up through his latest solo effort Go My Way. (Mark Lotito)
JV: We've been listening to Go My Way. We'd like to talk about that. You have a great sound. Do you constantly think about your sound not changing?
JV: Are you using the full-tone univibe now?
That's right. The déjàvibe. It's wonderful.
JV: The Hendrix comparison all comes from the univibe, cause you play completely different guitar.
I've always thought that to be compared to him is a great honour, but it doesn't really do him justice because he was brilliant.
JV: You're both brilliant guitar players, just different guitar players.
I think he influenced me a lot, but I do feel like I went on to make something of my own out of it.
JV: As a player I think you were more responsible for the univibe than Jimi was actually, because I can only trace it to Machine Gun with him.
It's something I stumbled across when I was in Procol Harum. I think I was trying some stuff at Manny's in New York, and I tried that and loved it, I immediately realized it's what Hendrix had used on Machine Gun.
JV: Was Song for a Dreamer the first time you used it?
I think it probably was.
JV: What's the first music you can remember hearing?
The first song I remember really catching my ear was when I was about six, was Blue Skies.
JV: Which version, the English version?
No, I was actually living in New Zealand at the time.
JV: Were you born there?
No, I was born in London but we emigrated first to Canada then to New Zealand after when I was about two. The old man was a bit of a wanderer.
JV: What kind of work did he do?
He was a plumber.
JV: That's the most respectable occupation of the day now. Try to get a plumber today. Did you learn anything from him about plumbing?
No, I never really followed in his footsteps.
JV: New Zealand, how long were you there?
About three years, then back to England.
JV: To the London area?
We then moved to Essex where my father's mother had moved, a place called Southend.
JV: Was guitar your first instrument?
Yes it was, I got a Christmas present when I was about fourteen, I think.
JV: At fourteen a guitar would've been a really big thing for a kid. Was there much rock'n'roll around? Was it the same old story about the records coming in through Liverpool?
No. I have a brother who is four years older than me and he used to bring records home, and I was a big Elvis fan and Gene Vincent. You just had to have a guitar.
JV: Do you remember what it was?
It was a Rosetti.
JV: OK, there you go. That's what George Harrison played, too.
I think that was the first guitar you could get.
JV: That was a Grasioso, a Rosetti. Did you get an amp with it?
No, it was acoustic, that one. And then I think I fitted a pick-up to it eventually. And then sorta bought an amp that someone had built themselves for about 10 pounds, and it went on and on from there. And then I think I got an electric proper solid body Rosetti from that.
JV: Do you remember how you found other people to play music with?
I went to school with a guy called Chris Copping who ended up in the band. He was a proper musician. He played piano and bass, and he showed me a few chords. We tuned down my first Rosetti to make it sound like a bass. So he would play the bass and I would play the guitar.
JV: How old were you then, do you remember?
I was about fifteen or sixteen, something like that.
JV: You probably learned a lot in a couple of years.
Yeah, it seems a strange thing to say, but I seemed to know how to play the guitar right from the start.
JV: Did you study at all, or just records?
JV: Let's take a big leap to the Paramounts. What happened between that time and the Paramounts?
There was a fairly local group that used to come down from about twenty miles away and I used to see them and they were called The Rockefellers. They were sort of about my brother's age, or a bit older. They were great. They were doing like Jerry Lee Lewis stuff and some Chuck Berry, and Maurice Williams – Stay. More of an R&B kind of thing. They had piano, guitar, bass and drums and the piano player was the singer.
JV: They must've had a good singer to be playing Stay.
He was absolutely wonderful. I so admired them that I decided if I was going to form a band, it was going to be based on their set-up.
JV: That was your first inspiration then, as a band.
Yes, it really was. And I got to know Gary Brooker and he was playing piano for a guy called Johnny Short who had a little band. And I asked him if he would form a band with me and if he would take up singing so we could be like the Rockefellers.
JV: He hadn't sung yet?
JV: That's quite a feat. It's unbelievable that he hadn't been singing from the cradle.
That's right. He obviously has a natural gift for it. And so we formed a band together and called it the Paramounts.
JV: Did any major acts come through that you would see, not just American but from anywhere?
Eventually Ray Charles came through. I think we saw the Everly Brothers. People like that came through.
JV: Was that why Lime Street Blues is so much like What'd I Say?
Could be. Gary was a big Ray Charles fan. I think he was his number one guy for quite a long time. Whereas with me around that period, I got into James Brown in a big way.
JV: You discovered that ninth chord. What do we have on The Paramounts, is it a compilation of singles or did you guys actually cut an album?
No, we never made an album.
JV: I've seen pictures of The Paramounts and they had some wild outfits for the time.
Yeah, we were lucky enough to get on the bill opening for the Rolling Stones as they were coming up and they liked us and as they were leaving their club work, they gave it to us.
JV: Would you guys be considered a London band?
We were starting to play around London, and we lived just outside of London, about 40 miles outside London.
JV: Who was in The Paramounts at this time?
By that time, when we were taking over The Stones old work, it was me and Gary, B.J. was on drums and Diz Derrick on bass.
JV: Were you part of the Alexis Korner bunch at all, did you hang with the blues crowd much?
No, we did get to do some shows with Alexis.
JV: 'Cause there was sort of a Blues Mafia developing there with Mayall and Alexis, that were just true to the Chicago style. They brought it to white America before we discovered what we had in our own backyard. I'll give them credit for that. They were doing a great job of it. Now when you listen back, Brian especially had studied the Elmore James thing and Jimmy Reed thing really deep.
That's right. They were doing a great job especially for some white kids at that time.