Joining Procol ... BJ catalyses Trower's departure ... sharing Keith Reid ... this is part two of this article: for the rest, see here
JV: Was B.J. Wilson amazing from the beginning?
He was very, very gifted. He joined us when he was sixteen. He was a couple of years younger than us, and he was already very good.
JV: The truly great drum losses from the UK were Bonham, Keith Moon and B.J. - an irreplaceable cat as a player. What were his beginnings before he played with you?
He had a drum kit, he must've done some bits and pieces, but I think we were the first proper bunch of musicians that he played with.
JV: What year were The Paramounts formed, about '65?
'64 - '65.
JV: How did Matthew (Fisher) get involved?
He didn't come along 'til Procol Harum, after The Paramounts.
JV: Which you weren't in at the get go?
No. I left The Paramounts. They carried on for a while, doing mostly support work, backing up other singers. I was getting more and more into blues, I was getting mad about B.B. King.
JV: You may have the best vibrato out there right now. I think you and Leslie (West) probably had the best vibratos I had ever heard besides B.B. King. Eric Clapton had a good one too. But before that, did you ever try to use the bar to get that, when did you discover it was a finger vibroto?
I started doing it myself. When I heard B.B. King, I thought he was using a slide to get that much depth to it. That's what set me off on a different path altogether, B.B. King, his phrasing and everything, that almost vocal, crying kind of thing he has.
JV: It's evident in your playing. You have one of the best vibratos. Let's talk about how you ended up being asked to play with them after their single (Whiter Shade of Pale) was already recorded.
I went off on my own, I formed a trio - guitar, bass and drums. I started doing my own material. That was called The Jam. Then I got a call from Gary. He had gotten together with Keith Reid and they had formed a band and they called me and said "Look, our guitar player and drummer are not up to it, do you want to try out for it?" So they got B.J. and I came and tried out. There was another guitar player trying out at the time, but they settled on me.
JV: One last question on The Paramounts ... are you on that Charles Mingus tune?
Freedom. Yes, that's me.
JV: What caused that to happen? That's a leap.
That's the stuff we were starting to get into. We were very into Charles Mingus. There were these two albums, Live at Town Hall and I can't remember what the other one was called. We were into Charles Mingus a lot and Freedom seemed to be doable, so we had a go at it. Basically, we would have a go at anything we really liked, that we thought was great.
JV: There was no reason to say, "That's not our sound, let's not play that."
No, we used to have a go at anything. We used to do a lot of stuff off James Brown Live at the Apollo, and a lot of Ray Charles' stuff. We would have a go at anything, really.
JV: Procol Harum comes about and Denny Cordell comes into the picture to produce you guys. Was Procol Harum hip to Highway 61? The organ and piano, was it from Dylan?
There was a song called Hole in the Wall, an instrumental which featured piano and organ. We used to do it as an instrumental and I think that really caught Gary's imagination.
JV: That's what you'd call a new sound for pop and it's really an old gospel sound (piano and organ). The twist with Procol Harum is that it was classically-based rather than blues or gospel. How did you as a guitar player find something to play on all of those chord changes?
I think it was just luck. I'd wail away, usually in a minor key, and I'd find my way around it. I was lucky that you could play the blues style around it.
JV: Somebody had described it once that it sounded like they opened a door and you would step out and play a solo and then go back inside the door. Like in Christmas Camel or Kaleidoscope, all of the sudden guitar bursts out and then he goes away again.
It was fun, it was adventurous. You felt like you were doing something.
JV: It sounds like you had a really good fuzz box at the time.
In the early days what I was doing was going through a Selmer, a tiny little practice amp called a Little Jive [? Little Giant ?] and I use to patch in from the Little Jive into a Fender twin.
JV: You must've exploded some amps.
I didn't know very much about it, but I couldn't get very much volume out of it, it was such a mismatch. But, as I say, it was a really good tone.
JV: Was it a Gibson guitar yet?
I think I was playing a Gretch - solid body.
JV: We can't tell because it's a very distorted sound. Through Shine on Brightly it was the same thing. It wasn't really-guitar based yet. Then we get to Salty Dog, still it's very orchestral. Except for a few cuts. Juicy John Pink" that may have been the first time we really heard you.
Yes. Well, I co-wrote that one and that was more down my alley.
JV: Then we get to the masterpiece Home, which Whisky Train is on. Influenced by Cream ... am I wrong?
Definitely Cream influenced.
JV: Now it sounds like there's a Les Paul involved.
Yes, it's a Les Paul.
JV: Is that the gold top I saw you play at the Fillmore?
I don't think it was actually. I have a solid one with two horns, what are they called?
JV: The SG. Mick Abrahams was playing one, Townsend had one, Clapton played on in Cream.
It was an old Gibson amp as well.
JV: I was thinking it was a Marshall. Now you're still recording with smaller amps.
Yes that's right. That's about a 2 x 10" or 2 x 12" but, it was a little gold Gibson amp.
ML: The Salty Dog album sounds a little less somber than the other ones, like maybe you guys were having a little more fun?
Yes, we were having a good time making that.
JV: Then when we get to Broken Barricades, which you have three songs on. Three really good songs. Memorial Drive, for us guitar players, what a tone. There's a vibrato!! Then Song for a Dreamer, which I think is a tribute to Jimi. And Poor Mohammad. Another really good one. And then you leave. But Chris has joined the band for two records by now.
ML: When you left did you ask B.J. to come along?
The story is that B.J. was thinking about leaving. He wanted out. He ended up not leaving, but because he said to me, "I'm thinking of quitting. We're not getting anywhere, blah, blah, blah" that's when I started thinking what would I do? Would I stay? I'm writing a lot of material of my own here, maybe I'll get out and start doing my own thing. But I think without the catalyst of B.J. saying he was going to leave, I don't think I would have thought that.
JV: So how did it work that you could share Keith with Gary? Was that a problem at all? Is it too personal to ask?
No, not at all. There were always extra lyrics.
JV: 'Cause Keith was a member of the band. In fact, the only time you can trace in pop music or rock and roll where there was a guy that was a great lyricist.
He and Gary put that whole thing together around their songs.
ML: Didn't Keith pick up the bass and try to play bass at one point? Maybe you were out of the band.
Maybe. I never witnessed that.
JV: Dave Knight was the first to leave?
JV: So there is a band between Broken Barricades and Robin Trower.
I got together with a singer who was also with Chrysalis called Frankie Miller.
ML: That was Jude. Did you ever make a record?
With Jude? We never made a record, no.
JV: Who was the drummer?
Clive Bunker from (Jethro) Tull.
ML: That must've been a hell of a band.
It didn't really work. It almost worked. Frankie and I wrote some good songs, one of which I ended up using on my first album, but it just didn't gel. It didn't click.
JV: Is there anything recorded that we might hear someday?
No. Nothing recorded.
JV: Then Twice Removed from Yesterday comes around. I've seen Jimmy Dewar with Stone the Crows.
Frankie brought Johnny into the band we were forming for bass and back-up vocals basically. While we were working together as a band, Clive and Jimmy made a demo of a song that Clive had written and I happened to hear it. I thought "Ooh, that's a lovely voice." When the time came, I sorta packed it in with Frankie and just said it wasn't working, I thought to myself I'm going to try to form a three-piece and Jimmy is ideal, he plays bass, he's got that wonderful voice and let's find a drummer. Jimmy actually found a drummer, Reg Isadore, though his friend who used to be in Stone the Crows.
JV: Where is Reg Isadore from?
He's from London, but originally from Aruba. He lived most of his life in London. He was recommended, we tried him out, and we loved it.
JV: For a lot of people, that was the first time they really knew who you were.
Sure. That was obviously the first solo thing I had done. Some people remember me from Procol Harum. I think getting played on the radio people started saying "he's ripping off Hendrix" so it got quite talked about.
ML: Anyone who really knew Procol Harum didn't feel that way.
I'm the first to admit that Hendrix was a big influence, especially starting off the trio thing, I looked to his work to see what makes it work.
JV: Well you were in London at the same time he came over. Did you get to see him there in the early days?
The only time I saw him is when Procol Harum played in Berlin, we were on the same bill as him with Ten Years After. It was a couple of weeks before he died.
JV: Being in that kind of situation, was there something in your subconscious saying, "I really need to be playing with a trio now?"
I was really into Cream a lot. Which I thought was wonderful. The Band of Gypsys album is what tipped it for me.
JV: Because it's more R&B than the other ones?
Yeah, that sort of blues/rhythm and blues/rock combination was what really caught my imagination.