Rock Around The World • October 1977   21




has funky dreams

by Marc Shapiro

There’s a religious custom among the more primitive jungle tribes that states, in effect, that killing your enemy and giving his severed head a place of honor in your hut will allow for his wisdom and knowledge to pass into you. And while nobody’s accusing Robin Trower of dabbling in the black arts; an interesting parallel can be drawn to the guitarist who, many claim, had the decaying skull of Jimi Hendrix sharing space with his bowling trophies on his mantle piece.

All headhunting aside, the truth remains that in his rise to stardom, Robin Trower’s abilities as a guitarist have often taken a backseat to a total immersion into the Hendrix school of musical thought. And to make matters worse, Trower’s has never really dodged the complaint. Hendrix is an acknowledged influence as are Muddy Water, B.B. King and Elvis Presley. We all know that. But despite his best blues intentions, a Trower concert has never been complete without an acid casualty in the balcony requesting “Purple Haze.”

But what most acid casualties (as well as most critics) don’t realize is that Trower is a perfectionist who will work a musical form until he feels he’d done entirely right by it. Sure, it all sounds familiar on the surface, but it’s Trower’s interpretation of the familiar that’s important. Unfortunately a good many detractors aren’t willing to wait around until Trower thinks he’s gotten it right.

In a recent interview, Trower defended his workman-like approach to music while leveling a few well chosen shots at his detractors.

“I’m the best critic of what I do. I’ve always done what I liked and what I thought was right; not what an audience thought was the right thing to do. My sound is unique. I know that sounds like ego and all but it’s true. There’s definitely none other like it. And in order for that sound to be done up right it has to be done my way.

“I’ve heard all those complaints about how I haven’t done anything original since `Bridge of Sighs.’ If these people knew anything about music, they would realize that I base my music on building new things upon a tradition and standard in music that has come before. I don’t care how good a musician you are; it takes a while to add anything truly significant to a standard. I consider myself the best guitar player in rock, and I can’t imagine anybody making better music than I’ve made.”

Trower’s devotion to a blues/rock tradition has been the target of a good many stumbling blocks in his rise to acceptance as a guitarist; not the least of which has been frustration. As part

of art early Sixties blues group called The Paramounts (which for all intents and purposes was Procol Harum with a• different moniker), Trower and company labored with a music that was on the verge of, but not quite ready for, universal acceptance. Five stiff singles and the British club grind finally took their toll as the Paramounts called it quits in 1965.

Trower resurfaced in 1967 as lead guitarist for Procol Harum; old friends whose inventive blend of r&b and classical music seemed the perfect vehicle for Robin’s electric axe. But through four albums the primitive blues bent of Trower was heard rarely as the group’s formula, and Robin’s didn’t seem to auger. Broken

Barracades finally allowed the world a hint of what the guitarist was all about and

gave Trower the confidence necessary to go his own way a little further down the road.

A short lived effort called Jude (which included Frankie Miller and Trower

vocalist Jim Dewar) went nowhere fast and quickly dissolved into dust leaving Trower with the age old question of what to do next..

What he did next was contrary to everything going on musically at the time. While the world was turning to a theatrical rock drummer, Trower returned his attentions to a stark blues base. The Trower band would have no technical frills. Their drive would come from bass,

guitar and drums.

Outfitted in the classic power trio mold, Trower proceeded to pull off the major musical surprise of 1972. His Twice Removed From Yesterday 1p pinned back ears with his blues cum Hendrix licks and Dewar’s singularly powerful vocals. Next on tap was a strategically placed US tour with the poorest excuse ever for Spooky Tooth that insured a loyal following for a return headlining tour.

Trower’s follow-up album, Bridge of Sighs, followed its predecessor to gold status while concert tickets for his shows became like hen’s teeth weeks before he hit town. But for Trower, stagnation of a kind was just around the corner.

For Earth Below, released in 1974 and introducing Bell Lourden on drums, was distinguished only by its painful similiarity to the preceeding albums. Critics who formerly praised Trower were now ready to bury him. But crys of “Trower’s shot his wad” failed to keep the 1p from becoming his gold hat trick. Robin Trower Live did likewise but raised hope in many corners that this stopgap album would be a prelude to a creative upswing.

Unfortunatley, the subsequent Long Misty Days was no better than a good try with word going out that yet another rock star was about to supernova out.

Trower went into creative seclusion to sort things out a bit. While the band hadn’t been imitating the sound of trainwrecks, it was a safe bet that something new in the way of a spark was needed.

Robin began the operation by grafting in new bassist Rustee Allen; whose duties with Sly Stone’s funkier efforts were dulely noted. This, in turn, released Dewar for full tilt singing duties.

The new and improved Robin Trower Band moved into Miami’s Criteria studios with producer Don Davis and emerged with In City Dreams; a semi radical departure that finds Trower forging his musical metal with a generous slice of the black man’s burden.

Trower commented on this new move. “This album was the first time I sat down and thought about preparing for an album in any kind of serious manner. I spent a lot of time working on the musical side of the new material, and then Jimmy and I got together and worked on the lyrics. We were totally prepared before we went into the studio.

“What was interesting on this album was that Rustee and Bill had not heard the material prior to us going into the studio. That was an idea I came up with in order to keep a jam-like feel to the album. The result was a rather loose, sloppy feel rather than a very structured, sterile feel.”

Trower’s newfound funky side is quickly evidenced as side one’s “Somebody Calling” strikes an ominous black tone. The song’s tasty intro has Robin playing some lazy, funneled licks to an unchacteristically danceable beat. Dewar’s emerging vocals move Trower’s riff-to dual leads as well as muted backing. All of which provides a stark haunting quality to what is the closest thing to a listenable disco cut to come from either side of the color line.

Trower’s forte has always been the progressive route, but with “Sweet Wine Of Love” we find his best bet yet for a top 40 single. The song mixes blues and pop elements into a comfortable platform for Dewar’s bluesey refrain. “Wine” is one of those no pain/no strain type of songs; the kind that usually become commercial hits.

The album’s title cut, however, proves this disc’s monster and a sure sign that Trower’s once again found his chops. “In City Dreams” combines a muted marching backing with electric overtones of city life set to a fantasy music soundtrack. No, your ears aren’t deceiving you. “In City Dreams” bears astonishing vocal and instrumental similiarities to the classic, “On Broadway.”

So there you have it, dear heart. Robin Trower has not shot his wad.

In City Dreams proves he was only reloading.

Photo by Neal Zlozower/Mirage