The great British public will be the first to admit that they often don't realise the value of talent, even when it's beneath their very noses. It's taken many bands a trip or two across the Atlantic to make their own countrymen accept them in any big way. Fair enough, we may be a bit slow off the mark on occasions, but once we've realised what we're missing, we get behind those artists.
Robin Trower is a case in point. Hailed in America for some time now as one of the brave new guitar heroes of the rock scene, it's taken three very potent and creative albums and strong worldwide sales — he's sold well over a million albums to date — for British audiences to pick up on him.
His recently completed British tour finally sealed the fate of the Trower band on his home soil. What this highly successful home tour did prove more than anything else (other than Trower and the band's unchallengeable qualities) was that the British rock audiences were ripe for the taking. That's not detracting from Trower's performances but they were thirsty for any certified guitar star worthy of their admiration and adulation, and Trower more than filled the bill.
For as long as most of us can remember, Britain has loved its guitar rock stars; to idolise them, and fete them whenever possible. The last few years have been lean affairs in that respect. Only the safely established 'old timers' like Clapton, Page and Townshend have been keeping the flag flying and even then not frequently enough to satisfy such demanding appetites.
True, there's been the odd axeman flexing his muscles in the wings like Mick Ronson, and a host of others with the chops for the job but lacking that ingredient. Trower looks better suited for the job than any have for a long time.
It's not as though he's an overnight sensation, nor are any of his band for that matter. They've all been around for a good few years and it shows in their stage performance. They've got style, true ability and 10 out of 10 for star quality. It's not all image either. Off stage and on, music is the principal concern. Trower's inventive and moving guitar playing, allied to the excellent vocals and bass work of Jimmy Dewer and the expertise of new drummer American Bill Lorden, makes them one of the best and most exciting rock outfits around.
Robin originally came from Southend and is best known for his stint with Procol Harum. One of the best albums featuring Trower is Broken Barricades (Chrysalis Records). It features Robin's beautiful tribute to Jimi Hendrix, "Song For a Dreamer". Ironically, this number, along with Trower's confessed Hendrix influences, led many fans and not a few critics to write Robin Trower as a mere imitator.
There's no disputing that Trower's drawn immense amounts of inspiration from the style and feel of Hendrix (how many of today's guitarists haven't) but he's a long way from being an imitative, processed guitarist.
His time over with Procol, presumably because his music was moving in another direction, Robin formed the ill-fated Jude which featured Glaswegian vocalist Frankie Miller, Clive Bunker on drums and Dewer. This didn't happen either and Trower's restless search for the right vehicle for his developing music continued.
Trower needed room to express himself fully. The idea, the musical concept was beginning to grow, his playing was stretching out. He stayed with Chrysalis and went on to form the Robin Trower band, retaining the stylish Dewer, a much underrated vocalist, and drummer Reg Isadore, brother of Conrad, who'd built quite a reputation in his stay with the Steve Stills outfit.
Matthew Fisher, another ex-Procol Harum member, was called in to produce the band's first album, Twice Removed From Yesterday. It was an exceptional debut album and it missed the British public by a mile.
The futuristic cover was a fair indication of what could be found within. In fact, the cover was good enough to have sold a hell of a lot of copies off its own bat. From the first number, "I Can't Wait Much Longer", written by Trower and old pal Miller, the album was alive with freshness and promise, and the writing team of Robin and Dewer seemed a solid long term affair.
Although largely ignored in Britain, the album did get some good reactions in the States, setting a firm base for future success. That was 1973 and by the following year there had been impressive headway made on the American road but, again, little here.
The next album, Bridge Of Sighs, was released early last year. It was another remarkably good album but it also took a great musical leap forward, due almost exclusively to the writing power and exceptional guitar playing of Trower. The musicianship was present in the other two but here all Trower's spirit and ideas finally came to fruition. Now his vision was realised in his guitar playing, the searching, enveloping theme of the title track proved that he'd found his way along the path he'd been looking for. The action in the home front was disappointing, but the band had been working hard on the other side of the Atlantic and neglecting Britain. It paid off handsomely and Bridge Of Sighs rocketed into the American albums chart, at the same time regenerating interest in Twice Removed.
Trower had cracked the American market, one he felt was more aware, more willing to accept what his music had to say than the British counterpart. But with the added fame and recognition came a few accompanying worries. Things weren't too rosy within the band and the friction between Robin and Reg Isadore began to show on stage too.
It seemed that Reg wanted more say in the direction and presentation of the band's music, but the only move made was his exit from the line-up. This was Trower's band, he was the man who decided which way the water flowed and so the search was on for Reg's replacement.
Back in London, Trower was tight-lipped but excited about the new man behind the kit. Everyone was assured that the replacement was a great drummer and a man with tough studio and road experience, but an unfinished stint in the States made it impossible to let the cat out of the bag so soon. He was white, American and good — that's how it stood.
America, and the hardcore Trower devotees in Britain looked on with interest. Would this be the beginning or the end of the Trower band? But the announcement came quick and without fuss: the new guy was to be Bill Lordan, a kid from America's Mid-West who'd just completed a term with the brilliant but inconsistent Sly Stone.
But that wasn't Lordan's only claim to fame, he'd worked with the highly respected bassist Willie Weeks, Bobby Womack and Ike Turner on occasions and had been considered (along with Weeks) for a band to play with Hendrix just prior to his death. Bill was a shit-hot rock player then, a man with plenty of soul, was this the man Trower had been looking for?
He was, and by the time the third album For Earth Below hit the streets the word about Trower was beginning to leak out, creating some excited expectation on a rather dull music scene. The album didn't have the instant appeal of the first two but it nevertheless took off, selling over 10,000 copies in the first few days in Britain.
By this time Trower had dealt the British public further evidence — a U.K. tour. Things couldn't have worked out better and fears that Trower and his management might have had about tackling Blighty faded fast with each gig. Trower had come home and there they were to greet him.
Lordan's drumming had added a new lease of life to the band and it shows on For Earth Below. He's tough and uncompromising, spurring both Trower and Dewer onto much greater heights than Isadore managed to do.
At a time when Britain looked for a new guitar man to excite them, Trower came along. Good rock bands were either well established or no hopers: with the Trower explosion, they had the excitement of seeing it all happen before them.
Interview by Ben Matthews
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