Back in 1975, Trower played a Strat with humbuckers, but these days his signature model Strat sports a trio of carefully calibrated single-coils he selected with the help of Todd Krause from the Fender Custom Shop.
Photo by Frank White

You’ve said that B.B. King and Albert King rise to the top for you. After all its evolution as an art form, are there any limits to where the blues can go?
Well, it’s a difficult thing, because all the real blues guys have more or less passed away now. Most of the giants have gone. I don’t really think of myself as playing real blues. I just think there’s a lot of blues influence in what I do. I’d rather think about it in those terms, because if we start comparing it to what I call real blues, then I’m wasting my time. It’s just nowhere near it. You know, a song has to stand up. Whatever label you might put on it, it has to have some strength to it. I mean, there are songs like “Make Up Your Mind,” where the blues influence is very obvious, but the same thing applies to that as applies to every other track on the album. I’ve tried to make them as emotional as possible. That’s the overview, anyway.

There’s been a lot of speculation recently about the death of the guitar and rock music in general. Guitar sales are down and there’s a glut of guitar makers out there. Are we losing our guitar heroes?
To be honest, I think kids aren’t picking up on the guitar because it’s too hard, you know? It’s too hard to get really good. There are plenty of young musicians that can bang away and make it sound good, but to take it to another level is very hard work.

What would you tell a young player just starting out?
I know that almost every way you play, you’ll be trying to play like someone you really admire. But my advice would be not to do that. It’s impossible not to be influenced by people when you really love their playing or their music, but my advice would be not to copy what they’re doing, and not to learn their lead licks note-for-note, because that can put up a block to your own creativity.

“I’m always looking for something. Sometimes I’m not quite sure what, but you just have to keep pushing.”

You know, on the guitar, the hands do tend to go to set places. Once you’ve learned somebody else’s stuff, that can never be your music. That’s their music. I was lucky enough when I started out to realize that. Even though I was a big fan of B.B. King in the early ’60s, I was more interested in the emotion behind the notes, rather than what he was actually playing technically. I think that’s the thing. You’ve got to find your own way to express your own emotions.

That really comes through in a song like “Returned in Kind.” It’s just locked in this dark, funky pocket with a lot of bluesy imagery seeping through.
I actually think that’s the best thing I’ve ever done, and it’s certainly my favorite song on the album. Well, I’ve got two favorite tracks—the other one is “What Was I Really Worth to You,” but I think “Returned in Kind” is the best. The actual chord sequence is one of those things—like everything I write, I’m feeling around on the guitar and I stumble across something, and it goes on from there. With the lyrics, I don’t know where I got the first line—it just appeared. Then I started to work on it from there. You know, I’ll spend anything up to three days working on one lyric, and I’ll just concentrate on that. And with the chorus “All that was given shall be returned in kind,” there’s nothing original about it, but I think what I’m saying is whatever you do, you’re gonna get back. If it’s bad, that will come back on you, and if it’s good, that will come back on you in a better way.

It’s one of many songs on Time and Emotion that has a real groove to it.
It gets under your skin.Well, that’s a big, big thing in my playing. When I first come up with a musical idea, they always have, as you say, a pocket. And making sure that it’s still there at the end when the track is finished is the key thing, really. It’s good that it’s emotionally strong, but it’s also got to move you.

YouTube It

This multi-camera, full-concert video captures every nuance of Robin Trower’s trademark vibrato, biting riffage, and fluid, Uni-Vibe-drenched chording. Packed with extended, close-up shots of his fretting and picking hands, it’s a masterclass in how to make a Stratocaster sing.