As one of the world’s premier bluesmen, Robin Trower’s shadow towers over the scene via his soulful licks, clear-toned leads, and seemingly never-ending creativity.
With late-60s psych outfit Procol Harum, Trower lent a hand in creating some of the decade’s iconic music tracks. But it wasn’t long before Robin Trower broke out on his own, rattling off a string of classic, blue-inspired records in the early ’70s, cementing his status as a dyed-in-the-wool guitar god.
In the years since, Robin Trower has worked alongside the likes of Jack Bruce and Bryan Ferry while continuing a fruitful solo career, with his most recent effort ringing in as No More Worlds to Conquer. Inspired by Robin Trower’s defiance in the face of a shrinking commercial scene and fierce dedication to his craft even as age creeps in, No More Worlds to Conquer is yet another triumph in a career that’s been defined by perfection via guitar mastery.
As he begins work on yet another new studio record, Robin Trower dialed in with ClassicRockHistory.com to give the rundown on his latest music, evolving approach to the guitar and songwriting, his days in Procol Harum, working with Jack Bruce, and more.
What are the origins of No More Worlds to Conquer?
Well, I started the record three years ago, and at one point around two years ago, I figured it was nearly finished. But then the pandemic happened, and things were delayed, so the record went on the shelf for a moment. And then, about a year later, I had another listen to it, and I thought, “Well, I’ve written a few new songs and want to try some new things with these other songs, so let’s give this another go.” So, I went back into the studio around September of 2021, tying four songs of the new songs out, getting them right, and then adding them in. And after that, I had to mix the whole thing again, which got us to where we are now.
Does the record’s title hold any particular meaning for you?
The album’s title and the title track are about Alexander the Great, but there’s no specific meaning per se. I guess I just thought that it made a nice title. [Laughs]. In some ways, I think I was saying, “Here I am; here’s my music. I don’t have anything to prove, but I’m still loving what I’m doing.” That’s my mindset with my music these days, and I hope that people enjoy it as much as I do.
What was it about Alexander the Great that struck you?
Well, it seems a bit random on the surface, but as I was writing this piece of music, around that same time, I had seen a documentary about Alexander the Great. And the idea of “No more worlds to conquer” came into my head while watching it. And then, when I was doing a bit more work on the music, things started to fall into place. So, that’s what kicked it off; me watching that documentary. I supposed the things that find their way into my music could come from some interesting places.
Are you still exploring in terms of guitar, or have you settled on one place at this point?
I will never stop exploring. I still pick up the guitar every day and look for something new to happen. It doesn’t always work out that way, but I always look for that spark that tickles me. The way I like to put it is that I’m reaching. I’ve got an approach, but that doesn’t mean I get stuck in one place. The last few years have been as fruitful for me as ever, and I feel very good about my songwriting during that time. I’m still coming up with songs and music for projects in new ways, and I think that many new doors have opened through that.
Your blues roots shine through this latest record. Describe the influence of early blues on you at this stage of your career.
Surprisingly, I am still influenced by all the same music I was early on. The difference is that it’s not technical anymore. These days, when I listen to that music, I look more toward the vibe and the atmosphere that it creates. And in that way, I’m influenced by that music. It’s not so much the way they play because I’ve got my own style now. It’s about the feeling the music gives me, and I then work to translate that into my own music for my listeners.
How would you describe your approach to songwriting in the present day?
Well, when I’m writing music, it can come from all different places. There’s no telling if it’ll be a riff or a sound I’ve heard. I often come up with a guitar riff while walking, or a melody will pop into my head, and then I’ll think about it for quite a long time. And then I’ll start to mess around with it a bit and let it build from there. It also depends on the song, which can dictate how I approach it from a guitar point of view. But often, I come up with an entire piece of music beforehand, and then I’ll write lyrics over the music. It’s all about the mood and the atmosphere.
How do you feel you’ve progressed as a guitarist since your younger years?
Well, I can say that I feel some of the playing I’ve done on this record is the best I’ve ever done. Overall, I think I’m a lot more considerate in what I do now. I don’t overthink it, but I consider the notes I play more. I don’t want to waste notes or time on things that aren’t deserving of attention. And believe it or not, I practice more while coming up with my leads. When I was younger, I was a bit more gung-ho about things. My focus was on walloping people with the guitar, and I don’t do much of that anymore. I’m more of a thinker while playing, but not an overthinker.
How did your time with Procol Harum shape you as a musician?
Well, I never would have been in the band if not for Gary Booker, who formed Procol Harum. He called me when they decided they needed a new guitar player, and I think my joining, along with B.J. Wilson on drums, was a turning point for the band. Looking back on it, being in Procol Harum was very meaningful for me in my professional life, and the music we made over five years has stood the test of time. It was vital for me because I started as both a songwriter and a guitarist, but once that happened and I became better and better, I realized that I would have to move on. But it was a great schooling because I learned about recording and touring around the US and Europe. Without that schooling, I wouldn’t have been able to do many of the things I’ve done.
Paint a picture of your creative mindset as you left Procol Harum.
I was coming up with a lot of guitar-drive ideas and had so many solos in mind. But with Procol Harum, there wasn’t much space for that with Gary on keyboards. So, I decided I wanted to be in a three-piece band with only guitar, drums, and bass because I wanted to have space as a guitarist to stretch out without keyboards or anything else covering it up. I knew that I wanted to do that, and with the music and solos I was writing, it was also something I needed to do.
I wanted to hit on B.L.T., which featured Jack Bruce. How did that get off the ground?
I had gotten to a point where I needed to work with some other musicians again, but I wasn’t quite sure who I wanted to work with. And I was a big fan of Jack through his days in Cream, so I rang him up and chatted with him about doing something together. We kicked around our ideas, found common ground, and, as it turned out, we were open to working together based on those conversations. We’re both quite empathetic musicians and were feeding off working with each other. That project, I must say I’m very proud of it because we both were trying to make something that came together as a whole rather than thinking, “Oh, this is my thing, and this is yours.” We were honestly trying to make something together, which came out in the music.
What has been the most surprising thing you’ve learned along the way, and what are you most grateful for?
I think I started to surprise myself around 15 years ago when I realized that I could still improve if I practiced every day. I realized that I still wanted to improve, which surprised me because I had never practiced hardly at all, and then suddenly, I suddenly found myself doing just that. The fact that I still have the fire to improve and was able to begin practicing so often that’s something that truly did surprise me. As for what I am most grateful for, being able to make music is a blessing in and of itself. It’s a blessing to be involved in any art, but beyond that, still being here with you all is especially a blessing.
What’s next for you in all lanes, Robin?
Well, I’m already working on a new album. We’re in the studio now, and I hope to have it completed by the end of the year and maybe released sometime in 2023. Currently, live shows are still tricky due to COVID, and I can’t afford to get sick at my age, as it could be the end. So, when it comes to touring, I can’t give a concrete scaffolding of how that will look. I’m not saying never, but I am putting it off until things clear up a bit more and it’s safe for someone like me to be out there every evening. But yes, I’d like to play live, and I’d love to play my new music for the fans, but if someone gets sick, it’s a real mess. But I’m still creative, and it makes me feel very good that people enjoy the music that I’m making. It makes me feel good that people would like to see me play it; I’d like to get back out there, but it has to make sense for me.
Robin Trower: The ClassicRockHistory.Com Interview article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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