Procol Harum

the Pale

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20th Century Guitar Magazine, December 2001

Jimmy Vivino and Mark Lotito

Liquorice John Death ... The Symphonic Procol ... Radiohead ... BJ ... this is part four of this article: for the rest, see here

JV: Let's talk about Jack Bruce now. He was part of the greatest super-trio ever, and now you have him and Bill Lordan, who we knew from Sly. And you had Rusty at the same time. How did that come about?

Robin Trower
Bill was already working with me. We tried to do more R&B and I did an album called In City Dreams which was produced by an R&B producer. That was a lot of fun. But how I ended up with Jack Bruce was I decided having gone back to a three piece for Victims Of The Fury that there wasn't enough spark to it, 'cause I think we created as much as we could with me and Jimmy. I decided to try a different line-up to see if anything would happen. It really didn't work.

JV: Except for the song Fat Cat. The energy was great on that.

Yes, some things were OK. But I just didn't think the two of us actually gelled musically.

JV: I had an opportunity to play with Jack at a get together and I found it frightening the way Jack seems to be having almost a confrontation with you musically, trying to juice the guitar player. I don't know if it's just me or if it's an experience other guitar players have with him.

I brought him in 'cause he is spectacular and I loved his voice but his voice didn't really work on my material.

JV: Did he push you to some guitar limits?

Not really.

ML: That was more song oriented.

I think I was searching all the way through that period. It was a long sort of period of searching.

ML: Another wonderful later recording is Back It Up.

There's some good stuff on that. I'm proud of some of that.

ML: There's another oddball record that we didn't see too much of around here, Beyond The Mist.

Oh yeah, that was the beginning of a period where I think I was completely lost.

JV: I'm surprised you haven't done the Ringo Starr All-Star Tour yet.

Well you gotta draw the line somewhere (laughs).

JV: Let's talk about Bryan Ferry for a minute. How did you hook up with Bryan?

He was working on his album with Johnson Somerset. He was a fan of mine and he recommended me to Bryan. So I came in and did a session for them a couple of days and we got along very, very well. Bryan just liked what I had to say about what he was doing and he asked me to come back and help him organize because he had like fifty tracks of music.

JV: So you are the producer, in effect?

Yeah. That album was so bogged down and there was so much stuff on it, his management and record company said "Why don't you leave for a bit 'cause he had been working on it for about three years already and just go cut another album quickly just to get away from it and to get something out". So we did Taxi. That was the first time I got credited for production.

JV: Which is a really good record.

I must admit, I'm very, very proud of that album. We knocked it off pretty quickly by his standards.

JV: Tell us a bit about the album Liquorice John Death?

It was when we were working with Chris Thomas the producer. It must've been after Home. Chris and Gary just decided it would be a fun thing to do. We went into Abbey Road one evening and did an overnight session and laid down some of the stuff we were doing as the Paramounts, and just knocked it out. For fun.

JV: Were you guys hip to The Band?

When we first came to the states in about '67-'68, we had a tour manager named Lyons who was friends with The Band, and Dylan, and their manager. So he introduced us to them and I think Gary in particular was into their music.

JV: Same line-up musically, completely different styles though.

Yeah. Definitely.

JV: What kind of strings do you use?

I use Ernie Balls.

JV: A stock set?

I use a heavier two at the top. I use twelve and fifteen first and second. Then 17, 26, 36, 48.

JV: That's weird. Heavy top, light bottom. You're in D now?

Have been for many, many years. It's so I can use those heavier strings but I can still bend them and vibrato them basically. It's the only way to get a big tone out of the top two strings on a strat. It's a richer thing all together. There's no doubt about it.

ML: Who would you say were your blues influences?

T-Bone Walker. Lots of players have influenced me. They'd be on tracks. There's a live track with Muddy Waters singing and Buddy Guy plays lead on it, I think it's called "Wee Wee Baby" or something like that. The solo on that completely blew me away. Things like that. There's a track by Bobby Parker called Steal Your Heart Away. There's guitar playing on that , and I've never really been able to find out what that was. I read somewhere, I don't know if it's a fact, There's a guy called Big Tom Collins. The guitar playing on Steal Your Heart Away. If you ever get a chance to hear that track…!!

JV: Roy Gaines did a lot of guitar playing too.

That guitar playing is some of my favorite of all time. It's like Hendrix only it's 4 or 5 years earlier. It's just phenomenal. There's quite a few odd tracks that I've heard that have just floored me. You'll hear one song by these guys, or one song and a Bside, just picking up some of these old 45s here and there during the 60s.

ML: You got to play on Repent Walpugis again on The Symphonic Procol Harum.

It was wonderful. I loved it.

JV: What about the solos on Simple Sister? They seem to be parts. Is it something that you came up with – that flat 5 thing?

Yeah, I always used to make my own parts up for the guitar.

JV: They're very interesting, and very much in the George Harrison sort of solo where you have to play that solo.

It always a worked-out thing, a melody to go over those chords.

JV: There's quite a few more like that, from Quite Rightly So and Shine on Brightly.

I'm not sure if there's that many more where I actually worked out the lead part like that. I just would play.

JV: So what are you listening to now?

For my own personal enjoyment, I listen to 30s and 40s music. Just basically popular music from that period. I've got these collections you can buy now where they put together a ton of stuff on a box set of CDs. It's got like Billy Eckstein, Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra, and all that kind of popular music. I really love that stuff because I don't have to listen to it as a writer, or a player, or a producer. I can just listen to it. It's nothing like I'm doing or want to do. I can just hear it without taking it all apart.

ML: I doubt they'll ever be another Procol Harum, I couldn't see how there would be without a B.J. Wilson.

No, this is right, isn't it. He orchestrated the drums. He was a lovely, lovely guy. A sweetheart. Very, very creative.

JV: Well he made the first Joe Cocker record happen, A Little Help From My Friends, all that is him.

That's right. He just blows his way through stuff. He was so inventive.

JV: When you think about, in such a small country, the amount of guitar playing that came out of that country. We have the guitar players, but we didn't have the guitar players that made such high water marks for everybody.

I have no idea why that should be. There were a lot of creative musicians coming out of Britain, there's no doubt about it.

JV: It seems to end actually, as far as that goes. It was a prolific period. And Mick Taylor being at the end of that.

Well that 60s period was an explosion talent wise, not only in Britain but in America as well. There was a huge explosion of talent.

JV: So much so that Jimi Hendrix had to go there to be discovered in America.

Well I think that was something that just needed to happen. Don't forget all the ones coming our of Stax, and Motown, there was just an amazing explosion of music in the 60s.

JV: As usual, you have a bigger appreciation for our music than we do, and we have a bigger appreciation for English music.

I just think that was a glory period that we'll never see the like of again.

JV: 'Cause playing really good was important then.

I think that's right. The standards were very, very high for what you were trying to achieve then.

JV: We have phenomenal blues wizzes that are coming around now, but we don't have them writing great songs. A player within a band.

There is a very fine player, the guy in Radiohead.

JV: I'm glad someone else appreciates his playing.

In the context of the songs that they're doing, he is very, very creative.

JV: I saw them play and he reminded me of a young Jimmy Page, the way he was playing these really good parts.

He is a formally trained viola player. He comes from a deep musical background.

JV: He just hunches over and leans into the guitar.

He is more or less the exception. I don't think there are many great players.

JV: Well what happened was there became an anti-guitar sort of backlash.

Yes, there was a whole period where the guitar was out.

ML: Did you ever see Stevie Ray Vaughan, did you like his playing?

I love Stevie Ray Vaughan's playing. He was wonderful. He had a beautiful touch on the neck, I thought, and a nice fluidity, a beautiful tone. I just really didn't get into the music of it. It was just a bit of a re-tread, but I thought he was a wonderful player. He was unique and there will never be another like him again.

ML: Can we look forward to you to continue to tour?

I'm hoping I'm going to keep going, but I don't know. There's a question mark. I've put a lot into this album. We'll see. If it does well then I'll continue to tour.

More Procol history in print at BtP

Robin Trower's page at BtP

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