By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — One of the greatest living exponents of bluesy hard rock guitar from the late ’60s who still tours regularly, British six-string virtuoso Robin Trower returns to the Bay Area for three shows in Santa Cruz, Petaluma and San Francisco this week.
Though perhaps best know for the string of Jimi Hendrix influenced albums he released with his power trio in the early to mid-1970s, Trower first came to wide attention as the guitarist in classically-tinged psych/prog rock outfit Procol Harum. The band featuring piano player and singer Gary Booker — who Trower had played with in R&B group the Paramounts when the musicians were still in their teens — had already scored a huge hit with “A Whiter Shade of Pale” by the time the guitarist joined the fold in time to contribute to their 1967 eponymous debut.
Though Trower didn’t contribute to the songwriting for the album, the stately instrumental “Repent Walpurgis” showcased his already substantial gifts as a soloist. By the time the band released it’s acclaimed third album A Salty Dog, Trower was making his mark as both a writer and a player.
However, it became increasingly clear on songs like the raucous cowbell-banging workout “Whiskey Train” (from 1970’s Home) and the heartfelt elegy for the recently passed Hendrix, “Song for a Dreamer” on Broken Barricades, that Trower was ready to head in his own direction outside of the confines of the popular group. After a final tour with the band that was documented on Procol Harum Live: In Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, the guitarist departed to start anew as a solo artist.
Teaming with former Stone the Crows bassist/singer Jim Dewar and drummer Reg Isadore, the musician emerged with a power trio that gave him a proper platform to put his soulful guitar pyrotechnics on display. The band’s 1973 debut Twice Removed from Yesterday showed off the development of Trower’s blues-drenched style that, while definitely influenced by Hendrix’s use of wah-wah pedal and approach to heavy rock balladry, further established the guitarist’s credentials as one of the era’s great talents.
The promise of the band’s debut was fulfilled with the band’s landmark 1974 sophomore effort, Bridge of Sighs. Featuring two FM rock-radio staples — the dramatic title tune and the extended workout “Too Rolling Stoned” — the album was the first in a string of four gold records for Trower and company. To this day, the songs from Bridge of Sighs make up the core of the guitarist’s setlist. The trio’s membership would shift over time, with former Sly Stone drummer Bill Lourdan joining in 1975. Lourdan’s onetime bandmate bassist Rusty Allen came onboard two years later, allowing Dewar to simply sing while taking the band in a funkier direction.
Into the ’80s, the guitarist would collaborate with former Cream bassist Jack Bruce on several albums in addition to leading new line-ups of his own group and even reuniting with Procol Harum for the 1991 album The Prodigal Stranger. Unlike some of his contemporaries, Trower has remained a workhorse throughout his career when it comes to touring regularly and recording new material every year or two. Since 1994, he has been releasing his music through his own V12 imprint, though his most recent collection, Coming Closer to the Day, was issued in March by European label Provogue Records.
Featuring Trower on vocals and handling all the instruments except drums, the new album spotlights the guitarist’s mastery of tone and phrasing over the course of a dozen slow-burning, blues-soaked tracks. Ever busy, the guitarist is swinging through the U.S. to promote the album with his current live trio featuring bassist/vocalist Richard Watts and drummer Chris Taggart, but already has plans to release a second album later this year. That collaborative effort with reggae singer Maxi Priest and producer/musician Livingstone Brown (Ed Sheeran, Corrine Bailey Rae, Bryan Ferry and Bill Withers) entitled United States of Mind will be promoted with a U.K. tour in the fall. Trower and his trio will visit Bay Area fans with three shows this week, headlining the Catalyst in Santa Cruz on Wednesday before playing the Mystic Theatre on Thursday and finally San Francisco’s storied Fillmore on Friday. Noted Kansas City-based roots/blues songwriter and guitarist Katie Guillen opens the shows with her band.
Robin Trower with Katie Guillen
Wednesday, May 8, 8 p.m. $38-$43
Thursday, May 9, 8 p.m. $49.99-$63
Friday, May 10, 8 p.m. $55