The legendary British axe icon has nothing left to prove
In a career spanning more than half a century, legendary guitarist Robin Trower has released more than two dozen albums with his own Robin Trower Band, and eight with iconic rock group Procol Harum (and has been a guest musician on three Bryan Ferry albums, as well).
After such prolific output, many artists might struggle to know what musical direction to take next – but Trower says he knew exactly what to do when he began creating his latest release, No More Worlds to Conquer (out April 29).
“I set out to make a more accessible album – more outward-looking and not so introspective,” he says, calling from his home in Hampshire, England, “A lot of the songs, I had recorded before the pandemic happened. Then, after having time away from it, I listened to it again and decided that I wanted to do some more work on it. So last September, I went into the studio and cut four new songs, and also redid a lot of the guitar lead work on the album.”
Even though the current COVID pandemic is preventing Trower from touring to support the album’s release, he’s still eager to put it out. “It’s a very exciting time to have a new album out,” he says. “You’re wondering, ‘Will people like it? How will they feel about it? Will it reach people?’”
Trower probably needn’t worry about how fans will receive this latest batch of songs – after all, he’s proven to be one of the most enduring guitarists since he first rose to fame in the 1960s as a member of Procol Harum in the late ‘60s. He went on to even greater success in the 1970s with his Robin Trower Band, scoring four gold albums: Bridge of Sighs (1974), For Earth Below (1975), Long Misty Days (1976), and In City Dreams (1977).
But Trower denies that titling this new album No More Worlds to Conquer is some sort of declaration that he doesn’t feel he has anything left to prove as an artist. That phrase, he says, “is something that popped into my head. I think I must have read it somewhere, about Alexander the Great,” he says.
If anything, Trower still seems intent on working hard at his craft. “I pick up a guitar every day, and usually will come up with an idea,” he says. “Then I maybe work on it for days – the song lyrics, vocal melody, arrangement – so a lot of work goes into it, but it’s really coming up with the initial idea that moves you in your soul. If it does that, then you know you’re onto something.”
VIDEO: Robin Trower “The Razor’s Edge”
Trower says this dedication to playing the guitar is what keeps him inspired to continue writing so prolifically: “That’s the thing I enjoy most in all the world. Something deep inside me responds to what I do on the guitar. I’ve always loved to play the guitar, but as time has gone on, I think I’ve got into it deeper and deeper. I think maybe the ideas I’m coming up with are more defined.”
Still, Trower admits he wasn’t always so conscientious about his approach. “To be honest, I’m not sure when I first started playing that I thought much about the sound – I just plugged the guitar into an amp and that was great!” he says. “I think that’s all it was for a while. Then, when I was in Procol Harum, I started putting it through two amps. One amp into another, to get that overdrive sound, because there weren’t really any overdrive effects then. I had to invent my own. That was the beginning of me starting to think about how I wanted it to sound.”
Trower’s love for the guitar began when he was growing up in southern England. “I was a big Elvis Presley fan when I was a kid, and I really loved [Presley’s] guitar player, Scotty Moore – I think that was the inspiration for me to ask my dad to buy me a guitar,” he says. “I think I was about thirteen or fourteen years old. I seemed to be able to play it when I first got it. It’s something that came quite naturally.”
Even so, Trower admits that he was well into his musical career before he began actually writing his own songs.
“I think the first guitar song I wrote was maybe in Procol Harum,” he reveals. “I can’t remember which one it was, but that’s when I started writing music for the guitar. It just started the ball rolling, really. Then I started to write my own lyrics, and it grew from there.”
Now, exactly sixty years since he formed his first band, The Paramounts, in 1962, Trower is grateful for his lengthy career, and he has a theory about why fans have remained so supportive.
“It’s very honest, what I do. And very real. I think maybe that is the basic thing that helps it to connect to people,” he says. “Songs from Bridge of Sighs and all that are very, very potent pieces of music, and I still really enjoy playing them. They all have an underlying strength to them. It’s great when you’ve got songs that people want to hear 45 years later. It’s amazing, really.”