Buyer's Guide: How to buy the best of Robin Trower

A portrait of Robin Trower

Robin Trower is one of the great English grandmasters of the guitar. A musician and songwriter with a celestial blues sound and deep spiritual roots, he achieved star billing in the 1970s when he scored a string of Top 10 albums in America.

The definitive line-up of his group, featuring Scottish singer/bass player James Dewar and American drummer Bill Lordan, quickly became a major international touring attraction. Later, together with Lordan and former Cream vocalist/bassist Jack Bruce, Trower formed B.L.T., a supergroup that shone briefly but failed to halt the decline in his commercial fortunes since the 1980s.

Trower has nevertheless endured. Still writing and recording, he has always sought fresh horizons, and has just released and another new album, Time And Emotion. And he continues to tour, proudly showcasing a repertoire from the 1970s that runs like a thread of steel through the core of British blues-rock culture.

Born in Catford, South London in 1945, Trower grew up in Southend-on-Sea, where as a teenager he formed The Paramounts with singer and pianist Gary Brooker. A band that straddled both the beat and blues booms of the 1960s, The Paramounts enjoyed an early minor hit single with Poison Ivy in 1963, but are best remembered as the forerunner to prog legends Procol Harum, who convened in 1967.

Trower missed the session for Procol Harum’s breakthrough hit A Whiter Shade Of Pale, but was on board for the band’s first five albums – one hell of an apprenticeship. On his last album with Harum, Broken Barricades, released in 1971, Trower wrote and sang Song For A Dreamer, a heartfelt tribute to Jimi Hendrix who had died the year before.

The loss of Hendrix did more than merely inspire Trower to write a song – it marked a turning point in his life. After a decade of serving in groups, he was ready to make a move on his own. Having evolved a sound and playing style befitting a true disciple of Hendrix, it was time to spread his own gospel. With Dewar and drummer Reg Isidore, and with his Procol Harum comrade Matthew Fisher producing, he released the first Robin Trower album, Twice Removed From Yesterday, in 1973 – and instantly plugged into the motherlode.

Essential

Robin Trower’s classic albums

Bridge Of Sighs - Chrysalis, 1974

Robin Trower’s breakthrough album, Bridge Of Sighs peaked at No.7 in the US and remains one of the pillars of his repertoire to this day. Beginning with the stuttering riff of Day Of The Eagle, the album combines urgency with gravitas. ‘A cold wind blows and gods look down in anger on this poor child,’ Dewar sings as the title track unfolds with a vast, slow momentum, like a planet drifting through the void.

Lady Love is an irresistible, cowbell-grooved rocker and Too Rolling Stoned romps along until the incredible five-minute, one-bass-note run-out groove. Stoner blues‑rock redefined.

For Earth Below - Chrysalis, 1975

With Matthew Fisher producing for the third time and Bill Lordan taking over on drums, this is the album where everything came together for Trower. Dewar is at his best on Fine Day and Gonna Be More Suspicious, while Lordan takes the band to a new level of rhythmic sophistication with the intricate cymbal figures and funky snare and hi-hat combinations of A Tale Untold and Confessin’ Midnight.

Trower’s songwriting and soloing takes the three musicians soaring across the musical cosmos, especially on the slow blues of the title track and the keening outro of A Tale Untold.

Superior

Robin Trower’s reputation-cementing albums

Long Misty Days - Chrysalis, 1976

Trower, Dewar and Lordan consolidated their magic touch with this bold and confident album. Emerging as a sure‑footed songwriting team, Trower and Dewar are co-credited on every song, apart from a gritty cover of Gavin Sutherland’s epic singalong Sailing.

With its dense wash of overdriven guitar sound, the title track is testament to Trower’s skill as a manipulator of sonic textures. Delicate and graceful yet executed with crushing power, this sound influenced future generations of bands, from Hüsker Dü to Smashing Pumpkins.

Twice Removed From Yesterday - Chrysalis, 1973

It may have been a pure coincidence that Trower’s first album was released in the same year Free split up, but the timing couldn’t have been better: it marked the arrival of a new guitar hero who evoked the spirit of the late Hendrix, together with a vocalist (Dewar) with an R&B timbre redolent of Paul Rodgers.

The slow, drifting menace of opening cut I Can’t Wait Much Longer established an unhurried, Free-like template that carried through to songs such as Hannah, a reworking of BB King’s Rock Me Baby and the exquisite Daydream.

Robin Trower Live! - Chrysalis, 1976

From the opening high-energy rip through Too Rolling Stoned to the dense thundercloud chords of I Can’t Wait Much Longer, this Stockholm concert recording captures the classic Trower trio at an early, elemental peak of power.

Along with fast, muscular run-throughs of Lady Love, Alethea and Little Bit Of Sympathy, the album boasts the definitive recorded version of Daydream, with Trower lovingly sculpting the individual notes like clay on a potter’s wheel, and then whipping them into clusters in a swirling blizzard of sound.

Living Out Of Time - V-12, 2004

Twenty years after Dewar had left the band, and two years after his death at the age of 59, Trower was still figuring out how best to replace his erstwhile sparring partner. The answer, on this superior collection, was with bass player Dave Bronze and vocalist Davey Pattison.

There are distinct echoes of past glories on Sweet Angel and Another Time, Another Place. Best of all is I Want To Take You With Me, a 10‑minute song that ends with a rippling, whirling, shimmering guitar passage of supernatural beauty.

Good

Robin Trower’s albums which are worth exploring

B.L.T. - Chrysalis, 1981

This was the first of many occasions when Trower teamed up with ex-Cream legend Jack Bruce. Their collaborations always produced something thoughtful and off the beaten path. With Bill Lordan on drums, the three-way musical interplay on Into Money and What It Is is strong, supple and undeniably funky.

Bruce applies his Glasgow bawl to tunes and lyrics mostly written by Trower and Keith Reid. No Island Lost has a Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) vibe, while Life On Earth recalls some vintage Cream moves. One of the great overlooked power trio albums.

20th Century Blues - V-12, 1994

After a period of extended line-ups in the 1980s, Trower returned to the trio format with Livingstone Brown (vocals/bass) and Clive Mayuyu (drums), and got back to basics with 20th Century Blues, the first album released on his own V-12 label.

Brown’s voice and bass are modestly positioned in the mix, but he provides a solid backbone for Trower’s immense guitar excursions on songs such as Extermination Blues and Lowell Fulson’s Reconsider Baby. The rhythm section gets funky on Prisoner Of Blues while Trower plays some Shaft-style wah-wah.

Where You Are Going To - V-12, 2016

Now 72, Trower has carried on writing and recording to the present. In recent years he has taken to singing in a weathered, Home Counties bluesman’s drawl that has something of Mark Knopfler’s well-travelled tone about it.

Trower’s guitar playing, meanwhile, has got richer and bluesier – like a fine wine, freed to breathe. ‘Is the best yet to come?’ he sings on the title track of Where You Are Going To. Probably not. But the album rings true to the fundamentals of his artistic vision, and there’s nobility in Trower’s mission to keep rocking against the dying of the light.

Avoid

Beyond The Mist - Roadrunner, 1985

“I wish I’d never done hardly any albums of the eighties,” Trower later admitted. “I hate most of them.”

The worst album to come out of Trower’s ‘lost decade’ was Beyond The Mist, a hotchpotch of new and old tracks – some recorded in the studio, others live at the Marquee – cobbled together soon after Dewar had left the band and Trower had been dropped by Chrysalis Records.

New songs The Last Time and Keeping A Secret are uncomfortable attempts to conform to a commercial-sounding, 1980s pop-rock formula, while the live performances lack conviction.

Robin Trower: Where You Are Going To

Welcome Back: Robin Trower