For those who may not be familiar with the name, Robin Trower was the guitarist for Sixties British rock band, Procol Harum. How to categorize them? Early prog-rock? Symphonic rock? Their biggest hit was the Bach-derived “A Whiter Shade of Pale.”
And with, according to Wikipedia, over 1,000 cover versions, you almost can’t miss that song. (Trower didn’t actually join the band till after “Shade of Pale” came out but played on their first five albums.)
For what it’s worth, they put out a couple of good albums after that. Prior to that, it was mostly an organ-driven band with little room for Trower. But he really stepped up with great songs like “Whisky Train.” It’s a hot number with a killer riff and if you’ve never heard it, deserves a listen. This was, by then, a harder-rocking Procol Harum. You can also hear Trower with the band at a great song I posted earlier called “Conquistador.” It’s a great song which they played live with an orchestra.
After Trower left the band, he became a pretty big deal in the ’70’s-80’s with, for want of a better expression, a bluesy acid-rock sound. He may have done Procol Harum stuff live but on record it’s almost as if he was never in the band.
This stuff was much more blues-driven and to a lot of ears, more Hendrix influenced. I sat next to a guy at the show who’s a guitarist and has pretty much studied Trower’s sound. He thinks the Hendrix connection is a bit overstated if you sit down and actually compare their styles. I’ll take his word for that but I still hear it.
I definitely hear some Gilmour in there too with that fat, creamy sustain. But this is not to say that Trower is a clone of, or taking from, either of those guys. He has his own style for sure.
That guy also clued me in to the fact that there was an entire 1975 Trower concert from Winterland up on YouTube. Worth seeing him in his heyday. Introduced by Bill Graham.
Trower did this song, “Day of the Eagle,” mid-set. It comes slamming out of the gate then hits the brakes for a nice, slow fade-out:
Trower was influenced by all the usual blues guys that impacted his generation. Interestingly, I just read that one of his favorites was ZZ Top great, Billy Gibbons. I don’t really hear that but he did do a straight-up blues that night.
Overall it was a good show with the band doing a lot of what we came for and some newer stuff too. I guess if I had any criticism it’s that there may have been a few too many slow, dreamy numbers. If I’m at a concert, I want to hear at least as much upbeat stuff as dreamy stuff.
Also, while I had a near-front row seat, it was off to the side so I don’t think we got the benefit of the full sound. (The Wilbur is a theater where, up until a few years ago, they would feature Broadway musicals. Now it’s mostly comedy shows.)
Here’s a smokin’ tune, “Caledonia,” that he did not do but I wish he had. It’s not the old blues with the same name but a different tune:
And just so you can hear his live stuff, check out the great “Bridge of Sighs.” There was a woman sitting in front of me who went nuts when she heard this. You could tell it meant a lot to be there and hear this live for the first time. This video is a couple years old and it’s a different rhythm section.
I can say I’m glad I see Trower since I’ve been wanting to for many years. His playing is as good as it sounds on record. That said, I probably don’t need to see him again and will content myself with his recorded output.
If you liked any of this, check out the album Bridge of Sighs and I suppose Day of the Eagle: The Best of Robin Trower is a good place to start, too. Trower has not been on either of the last two Rolling Stone 100 greatest guitarists and for the life of me I don’t understand why. He has been influential and supposedly the esteemed Robert Fripp was one of his students.
One more thing: opening for Trower was a local two-man piano father and son team called The Two Tabers. A most unusual opening act but one whose boogie-woogie was so high-energy, they got a standing O. How often does that happen for an opening act? Among other things they played Joe Cocker’s rendition of “The Letter” and then got on the same piano and played together. Yes, it pays to see opening acts sometimes.