Gary James' Interview With Robin Trower of
He was a founding member of Procul Harum, was one of the most widely acclaimed solo artists of the '70s and '80s and took what are now considered classic albums like "Bridge of Sighs" and "For Earth Below" to the Top Ten in the mid '70s. We're speaking of course about the one, the only - Mr. Robin Trower.
Robin talked with us about his career in music; a career that has spanned some of the finest years the music world has ever seen.
Q - Before there was Procul Harum, there was The Paramounts, of which you were a part. What was it like to be playing in a Rock 'n' Roll band in London in 1963? It must have been exciting.
A - I don't think any more exciting than it is now. What you've got to appreciate is, the British musicians of the '60s, for the most part, were all looking to the Unites States because all their musical heroes were over there. That's where the great music was coming from. We were just amateurs compared to the guys we looked up to.
Q - Weren't there huge crowds for bands then?
A - If you were The Rolling Stones or The Beatles, there were, yeah.
Q - And didn't it spill over into other acts?
A - Well, certainly not ours. There were a couple of clubs that you would get some interesting acts come in. There were some good R&B bands, Blues stuff. In the main, it was still the same old Pop music.
Q - When you were in The Paramounts, The Stones saw you. Where did they catch your act?
A - We played with them in Kent, a place called Deale, I think. They were at the top of the bill and we supported them. From that, they started to give us work because they liked what we did. They gave us their old club work around London because they were moving up. They had a hit single.
Q - Did you get to know Brian Jones?
A - No. I didn't know him. He seemed like a very nice chap, the few times I played guitar with him or what have you. I always liked Mick though. I thought Mick was a great guy. Very open and natural with everybody, you know? Always very friendly.
Q - Elvis was a big influence on you, wasn't he?
A - Certainly he was inspirational, but he wasn't the only one. The reason I got my guitar was because he played guitar.
Q - And he really didn't play guitar.
A - He sort of strummed. The most important thing when you're 12 years old is the image of it, isn't it?
Q - It's very important.
A - And you know what you like.
Q - When did you write your first song?
A - When I was in Procul Harum. I think the album was called "Salty Dog". The first thing I co-wrote was with Gary Brooker and it's called "Wishing Well" and it was on the second album.
Q - How old were you?
A - I was 21 or 22.
Q - And you didn't write anything before that?
A - I had written stuff before then, it's just that it never got recorded. By the time I was 17 or 18, I had written stuff.
Q - After one of your early bands, Jude broke up, you put together a group with Jim DeWar and Reg Isadore and rehearsed for a year. What did you do for money in that year?
A - I earned some money with Procul Harum.
Q - And you were carrying the other guys as well?
A - Yeah. Why is that important? I don't get that.
Q - Just wondering how you did it, that's all, thinking maybe you had a financial backer. Musicians usually don't have the luxury of time on their side, which would seem to be one of the biggest problems in the music business.
A - Yeah, that's right. I also took five years off from 1980 to 1985.
Q - When you put your own group together, why did you call yourself Robin Trower, and name it after yourself?
A - Just experience had shown me that if you call a band by a collective name, eventually someone will leave, and the collective name is irreparably damaged. So, I was starting out on my own career and I felt if I go by own name, then nothing can ever change. I'm always going to be working on my own career.
Q - That's smart thinking.
A - It's about the only smart thing I did think out.
Q - I don't know about that. You've been pretty successful in the business, wouldn't you say?
A - No, not really.
Q - You've got a name.
A - Artistically and acceptance and reputation. I've been very successful.
Q - The Robin Trower Group, having been around since 1973, has to count for something.
A - Yeah. I'm very proud of what I've achieved.
Q - How big of a role did Frank Barsalona (of Premier Talent Booking Agency) play in your success?
A - I don't know. No idea. I know the name, but I don't know anything about the business side of it I'm afraid.
Q - You've said that you didn't want to make another record for a record company, but, you did put out a record on V12 Records. Isn't that a record company?
A - Yeah, but it belongs to me.
Q - What's the difference?
A - It's a hell of a difference, I can tell you. (laughs) The whole thing was, I didn't want to make records for a major record company because their whole thing is making money. They're not in it for the art. So, the only way I could make a record exactly the way I wanted it, was to have my own label.
Q - It would appear, on the surface anyway, that record labels and their artists are always at odds with each other. Record companies are always in need of product and artists are slow delivering that product, usually because of the demands on their time. It that the way you see it?
A - Yeah. But, don't forget that artist or group will gladly take the money that puts them on that treadmill. So, they're just as much a part of that side of it as they are of the creative side. They sell two million albums say, they'll earn a fortune, and then go out and spend that money. Then the demand will be there for them to turn out another one.
Q - And because they need the money, they'll do it.
A - Absolutely. So, once you accept, that is the game you're playing. It becomes a treadmill and you're on it, and that's it. And you've got to sell that many records or more next time, etc., etc. So it goes on, the escalating pieces of cake that people want to take out of it.
Q - You've said, "I don't think anybody believed when Chrysalis first signed me that I could be commercially successful."
A - That's right.
Q - Who are you talking about? Other artists? The record company?
A - The record company. They thought they could make a profit, but just enough to pay the cost of the album, and do a little bit of business. That's what they thought when they signed me. That's what record companies would do in those days, because records were a lot cheaper to make and therefore the profit on each record was greater. So, they would sign an artist they thought would sell a few.
Q - Do you like being a record company owner?
A - I don't feel like a record company owner really. See, all I've got is this name, V12 Records, that just releases my stuff. So it's not like being a record company.
Q - I guess it's no secret that you deeply admired Jimi Hendrix. Did you ever get the opportunity to meet him?
A - Yeah. Just to say hello, that's all. I was on the same bill as him in Germany when I was in Procul Harum. I just went back to tell him I enjoyed his playing and that was it. It was very brief.
Q - What year was that?
A - Two weeks before he died. (1970)
Q - What was there about Hendrix that you liked?
A - He was incredibly soulful, as are all the artists that I admire. He had fire, but then again, so do all the great artists that I admire. The basic ingredients for great artists are soul and fire. You don't find many great artists that have those two ingredients today.