"I get that people are trying to keep the blues alive, but to me it feels super-limiting": Six things you need to know about Troy Redfern

Troy Redfern studio portrait
(Image credit: Jason Bridges)

Troy Redfern is a blues rocker with a few twists. Recent success has planted him squarely in the blues world (he was nominated for Contemporary Artist Of The Year at the latest UK Blues Awards), but at heart he’s an eclectic soul, with roots that span Van Halen, W.A.S.P, Frank Zappa and Mississippi Fred McDowell. Not that he’s interested in mimicking anyone. 

“Since I was a kid I didn’t really learn other people’s music,” 50-year-old Redfern says. “I was always interested in writing stuff. I get that people are trying to keep the [blues] tradition alive, but to me it feels super-limiting.” 

Accordingly, his new record, Invocation, is a swaggering, sexy, non-purist marriage of early blues, stompy glam-rock and slide-guitar screams, all in tracks you can dance to.

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Hill country blues (and unusual tunings) set him on a path

Redfern found the blues through hill country pioneers and slide players like Fred McDowell, Hound Dog Taylor and Son House. From there he discovered the works of Chris Whitley, in particular his use of the Celtic-derived Orkney tuning. 

“It’s just one of those that resonated with me,” he says. “So most of my guitars are set up in that tuning, and I write in it pretty much exclusively. It just works for me, it feels natural, it’s very organic.” 

But Frank Zappa is his hero. 

Raised on a turkey farm on the border of England and Wales, with three older half-brothers, Redfern found his escape in rock’n’roll. His eldest brother gave him Queen’s A Night At The Opera album, which he loved. Marty McFly in Back To The Future, along with the 80s likes of Mötley Crüe and Aerosmith, steered him on to the guitar. But it’s Frank Zappa who holds a special place in Redfern’s heart: 

“I live that music, still," he says. "It’s one of the things I listen to in the car a lot. There’s lots of rhythmic and harmonic tension. I’ve always been drawn to that.”

He makes music quickly, and often

Invocation was written and recorded (with Simon McBride producer Dave Marks) in under five weeks. It’s a good reflection of Redfern’s work rate: he gained traction with recent, bluesier records, but his full catalogue spans at least 15 albums. Check out his Bandcamp page and things get much weirder, veering into psychedelic space-rock territory that nods to his Zappa fandom. 

“I don’t consider myself to be a Nashville writer. They write in a more methodical way. I’m the opposite of that. For me it’s more like switching off the analytical part of your brain and letting ideas come through in the moment.” 

Books and butchery are both on his CV

Redfern has held down an interesting spread of jobs to pay the bills. Briefly he was an accountant. After that he worked as a butcher for six months, before veering off into electrical work, joinery and a tattoo/body-piercing parlour. His best job, though, was in a bookshop, where he read Shelley and Dostoevsky, and picked up ideas for song titles. 

“I’m really into the David Bowie, William Burroughs kind of thing, with the chopped-up lyrics and fragmented ideas,” he says. “Take Smokestack Lightning by Howlin Wolf, which says nothing really, but there’s a texture, a feeling from that lyric that makes sense.”

Religion in his blood, but not his heart

Like so many of his blues influences, Redfern grew up with God. His parents were evangelical Christians, but his brothers led him to question it quickly. As a teenager he brought home books on demonology and witchcraft. 

“They [parents] were pretty good about it,” concedes Redfern (now a father of two), “but there was a disconnect on lots of levels. I haven’t spoken to them in about four or five years, unfortunately. It’s a bit of a strange situation. But they were quite critical people.” 

In another life he’d have been a comic artist

Fired up by the post-apocalyptic imagery of Mad Max, and the (incidentally, Mad Max-inspired) visual palette of Mötley Crüe, 16-year-old Redfern dreamed of going to art college, but his plans were thwarted by family expectations. He keeps his hand in, though, by designing his album covers. 

“It’s super-satisfying, to feel like at least a little bit of me is able to get some of that out there. I don’t know if your eye gets better naturally, but I find it easier to make things instinctively. Maybe it’s just age, and the way you look at things.” 

Invocation is out now via RED7. Troy Redfern tours the UK this month.

Troy Redfern tour poster

(Image credit: Troy Redfern)
Polly Glass
Deputy Editor, Classic Rock

Polly is deputy editor at Classic Rock magazine, where she writes and commissions regular pieces and longer reads (including new band coverage), and has interviewed rock's biggest and newest names. She also contributes to Louder, Prog and Metal Hammer and talks about songs on the 20 Minute Club podcast. Elsewhere she's had work published in The Musician, delicious. magazine and others, and written biographies for various album campaigns. In a previous life as a women's magazine junior she interviewed Tracey Emin and Lily James – and wangled Rival Sons into the arts pages. In her spare time she writes fiction and cooks.