Interview by Andrew Daly
Though Robin Trower had set the psych-rock world ablaze with Procol Harum, resulting in five classic records, Procol Harum (1967), Shine on Brightly (1968), A Salty Dog (1969), Home (1970), and Broken Barricades (1971), he felt creatively stifled. And that’s not surprising, given Trower’s bluesy nature, which Procol Harum had undoubtedly snuffed out as it sought to compete with other late ’60s psych acts. And so, after the touring cycle for Broken Barricades, Trower packed up his Strat and his Uni-Vibe and struck out on his own.
The first order of business was to assemble a band in line with his vision to dismantle and reassemble the blues, which he did, drafting in James Dewar (bass/vox) and Reg Isidore (drums). The second order of business was to get in a room and get cracking, which the newly formed trio did en route to recording what would become Twice Removed from Yesterday (1973).
Though Trower didn’t know it then, Twice Removed from Yesterday would set forth a chain reaction that saw the young British bluesbreaker go from psych sideman to Guitar God in one fell swoop. And all these years later, as Robin Trower is now releasing a remastered and goodie-filled version of Twice Removed from Yesterday, it is easy to see why, as the record has held up.
While promoting the 50th anniversary reissue of Twice Removed from Yesterday, Robin Trower dialed in with ClassicRockHistory.com to dig into the nuts and bolts of why his first solo record was so special.
An Encore Interview with Robin Trower
Tell me about the reissue of Twice Removed from Yesterday.
It’s completely new and remastered for the 50th anniversary. It’s got some bonus tracks and stuff that we recorded live from around that time. It’s got some B-sides that have not been on any albums yet, one of which is called “Take a Fast Train.” There are plenty of things the record company dug up by going through old tapes, which was a nice bonus. I’m pretty happy with it overall.
Twice Removed from Yesterday was your first solo record. What led you to break out on your own?
When I was with Procol Harum, I didn’t write much music at first. But then, I began to write more, and I got to a point where I felt I needed to have my own outfit to fulfill my potential. I was lucky, though, as I was able to find guys that I clicked with. I don’t know what it was, but that group really gelled, and we were able to put it all together in rehearsal. We did a lot of writing then, and it was very easy from the get-go.
Did writing for yourself as opposed to for Procol Harum change your approach?
The main thing was that I had been coming up with all these compositions on guitar, and I was very into rock ‘n’ roll. Yes, the blues influenced me, and that was my main thing, but I really wanted to try and come up with new material that encapsulated my love for both rock and blues. I think I did that once I got out on my own.
Your interpretation of the blues is different than the traditional approach, though. What brought that on?
I think that more than anything, the compositions, the sound of the music, and the guitar within the songs were more about vibe. I was significantly influenced by one particular Howlin’ Wolf track, “Smokestack Lightning,” with an incredible vibe throughout. I’d never heard anything like it before, and that was in my mind as I was looking to achieve and create my own sound. That Howlin’ Wolf song is probably what set it all up.
The swirling sound of the Uni-Vibe pedal can’t be discounted, either!
You’re very right about that! That effects pedal, the Uni-Vibe, did play a big part. I actually started to use the Uni-Vibe while I was still with Procol Harum, so I’d felt it out a bit. I liked the idea of fully incorporating it into my sound, and it absolutely became a big-time signature of mine when I went solo. I still use the Uni-Vibe to this day.
How did you stumble upon that effect?
I was trying out different effects pedals at Manny’s Music Store in New York City. In those days, there weren’t very many effects pedals, but I came across the Uni-Vibe, and I was immediately taken aback by its sound. It just fit me and made sense within what I was trying to do. It did become a huge part of my sound, though I didn’t know it would when I first came across it.
What other gear were you partial to back in those days?
I mostly used big 100w Marshall amps. And, of course, I was playing my [Fender] Strat, which paired so nicely with the Uni-Vibe; I mostly used the middle pickup. I loved the Leslie effect it gave me. Before the Marshall, though, I’d often used little Fender amps, but once the Marshall came along, I gave it a try, and I never looked back. The Marshall gave a lot more beef and a much sweeter sound. I got a lot more upper, mid, and top-end response, too. But really, I went for it because of the extra beef.
Circling back to Twice Removed from Yesterday, did you know you had a great record on your hands from the jump?
No, I didn’t. I’ve learned that you can never know at the time, as you’re too close to it. I do recall being happy with it. But did I have any concept that it would be popular? No, not at all. I knew I liked it, but I was unsure about how it would be received. That said, “Hannah” stood out to me and still does. It’s got an incredible mood about it, and the vocal on it is just beautiful. I think it’s the standout song amongst the rest.
What tracks from Twice Removed from Yesterday proved the most challenging to put together?
Honestly, like I was saying earlier, that group of guys gelled so well; things came together so very easily. What I remember most about recording Twice Removed from Yesterday is having a ton of fun. It was maybe the most fun I ever had recording an album. The vocals are amazing, the drumming is great, and the guitars came out as I wanted. I loved that we touched on just enough psychedelic stuff to have the vibe on it.
Given the good feelings associated with the original mix, did you have any trouble remastering it for the reissue?
In truth, no. I left that to the record company. I didn’t have anything to do with the remastering side of this. The record company did it, but I had to approve it once they’d finished. So, I listened to it, gave it a passing grade, and allowed them to release it. So, I did not remaster it or have much to do with the technical side, but the remastered version has left the songs sounding more defined than the original. I had no issues with the original, but this new version sounds nicer and much cleaner. The vocals are more upfront, and the guitar’s tone is more defined.
When you look back on Twice Removed from Yesterday, what does it mean to you?
Without it, I wouldn’t still be making music today. It was a real breakthrough for me as a solo artist and guitarist, that’s for sure. It was very well-received, especially in the United States, which was huge, as I had not yet broken the States. Twice Removed from Yesterday opened the door for my later albums and left me in a position to do even greater things. To this day, the tracks on that record are as good as anything I’ve ever done. That stuff is right up there, and maybe I’ve never bettered it.
An Encore Interview with Robin Trower article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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