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One for the road - Robin Trower: “I was playing with Jack Bruce and my amp caught fire. That was a bit Spinal Tap”

(Image credit: Laurence Harvey)

Guitar legend Robin Trower tells tales of scary snowfall and unexpected pyrotechnics on the road...

What was your first gig and how did it go?

“My first ever gig I think was when I was about 15 or 16, in Southend. I think it was myself, Chris Copping on a guitar that was tuned down as a bass and my brother [Mick Trower] singing rock ’n’ roll of the late 50s or something like that. I can’t really remember. I think there were about six people in the audience, so it wasn’t that spectacular!”

Describe your current stage rig...

“I always use Marshalls. At the moment - and I’m in the experimental stage with it - I’m putting a 30-watt Bluesbreaker through a 4x12 with Greenbacks in and I’m linking two amps together. The other one is the new JCM800 through two open-back 2x12s. That’s what I’m experimenting with at the moment. Once I’m out on the road I carry quite a lot of options with me; I do tend to change around quite a bit. 

If you’re going into quite a big arena... switch from the open-back cabinets to enclosed 4x12s

“Pedals are all Fulltone stuff. At the moment I’m using the Deja’Vibe and a WahFull, which is something [Michael Fuller] built for me some years ago, basically a wah set in one position. I’m using the Clyde Wah and a combination of these three: Fat-Boost, my signature overdrive [the Robin Trower Overdrive] and the Plimsoul - any one or two of those as overdrives. 

“Guitars, I’m always playing my signature model Strat, I’ve got three that I really like playing. Maple neck with jumbo frets and I have a 70s larger headstock because I think there might be a bit more resonance with that larger bit of wood, which I’m pretty sure is fact.

“The pickups are a 50s Reissue in the neck, a 60s Reissue in the middle and what they call a Texas Special in the bridge, so three different windings. I use the neck pickup most of the time; I like that 50s, it’s a very light sounding pickup - not loud or a lot of bottom-end to it.”

What’s on your rider?

“I try and get organic fruit and decent breads, stuff like that. I try and eat as healthily as possible. Lots of water and juices - and there’s always a few beers, the guys like to have a beer. I don’t drink myself, but... I don’t think we’re that demanding.”

What’s your best tip for getting a good live sound?

“It does depend a lot on the size of the room, to be honest. For instance, if you’re going into quite a big arena or large theatre, I would switch from the open-back cabinets to enclosed 4x12s because in some of these places the backstage behind you is so huge that you lose a lot of your sound. So I do tend to switch about a bit.

“I prefer the sound of the open-back cabinets on the JCM because obviously it’s more of an open sound; it’s not quite so boomy or rumbly, if you know what I mean. I try and get something that will work in most situations - keep the same rig. You get used to the response you get out of a rig and if you change anything too radically, you have to adapt your settings on the pedals or what have you.”

The player's player

What non-musical item couldn’t you do without on tour?

“I carry a portable DVD player with me. It’s very, very handy because I can buy movies to watch... it’s just great, if you’ve got a night off or something, to have alternatives for entertainment, as it were. I carry a small Sony speaker as well so that I can play music - I take some of my favourite CDs with me.”

What’s your best tip for getting the audience on your side?

“Play some really good music! And that’s about it, really.”

What’s the best venue you’ve played in and why?

One I really like is The Fillmore, San Francisco. I really love playing there. It’s a fair sized room, but it’s not too big

“If I had to choose a favourite venue, there’s a couple in America. One is in Florida - I can’t remember the name of it because I haven’t played it in a while. It was open air, but it was inside a courtyard. In other words, there were buildings all around the area so you got that lovely open-air feeling and sound, but it was contained to a certain extent.

“The other one I really like is The Fillmore, San Francisco. I really love playing there. It’s a fair sized room, but it’s not too big and it’s got a lovely open stage which is built into the room and there’s not too much behind you. A really nice-sounding room.”

What’s the worst journey you’ve had either to or from a gig?

“The worst? Hmm... I think it might be one where there’s been an unexpected snowstorm and you’ve still got to get to the gig. They can be a bit fraught. You can be on the highway and there’s accidents happening, people sliding about. They can be very wearing indeed.

“We had a lovely drive over the mountains going to Spokane [Washington] and it was all snow. It was a bit scary, but at the same time, going over the mountains, it was beautiful - but scary.”

What’s the nearest you’ve come to a Spinal Tap moment on tour?

“I was playing with Jack Bruce and my amp caught fire. That was a bit Spinal Tap, I suppose. The guy rushed out with a fire extinguisher and my guitar tech hurried over and said, ‘No, no!’ But I always have two amps, so if one of them goes down you can keep going.”

What’s your favourite live album?

“I think it’s got to be James Brown Live At The Apollo. There are two and I love them both. It just gets me where I live, that stuff; it’s so soulful and exciting. When I do stretched-out solos in the moodier stuff, I think that’s a knock-on.

“James Brown would get into a vamp, free-forming vocally, you know? I’m sure that fed into what I do with the guitar because I don’t think I’d ever heard it before him, if you know what I mean. Lead work, for me, is very vocal.”

Robin Trower’s latest album, Coming Closer To The Day, is available now on Provogue Records.

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