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Trial and Error 

Robin Trower reflects on his erratic career

For many people, the name Robin Trower is synonymous with Bridge of Sighs, the guitarist's 1974 album that blended strong elements of Cream and Jimi Hendrix--influenced blues-rock with plenty of moody psychedelic atmosphere.

That record, Trower's second as a solo artist, produced such signature songs as the rocking "Day of the Eagle," "Too Rolling Stoned" and the brooding title song.

Fans who have always felt that early solo record was the high point in Trower's career will be heartened by the guitarist's view of his most recent studio CD, Go My Way.

"I think there's some stuff on [Go My Way] that really connects with that earlier stuff," he said. "And also there's some stuff on there that's also very almost modern in the writing .... I just think the atmosphere and the intention is very similar to, say, Bridge of Sighs -- that album."

That's something Trower, 56, hasn't been able to say about any other album he has recorded over a career that now spans more than 30 years.

Instead of sticking to the musical direction of Bridge of Sighs, Trower has spent much of his career exploring other musical avenues -- more than a few of which the guitarist admits were dead ends.

Trower first came to prominence in 1967 when he joined Procol Harum just after that band's song, "Whiter Shade of Pale," had become a chart- topping hit. But Trower was never a primary songwriter in that band -- pianist/singer Gary Brooker and lyricist Keith Reid shared those duties -- and by 1971 he had decided to leave the group in favor of a solo career.

"I was starting to write more and more material, come up with more and more ideas, which obviously was all guitar music," Trower said. "There just wasn't the room in Procol Harum for it, and I felt like I was dragging them away from their core thing."

So Trower formed a short-lived band called Jude that soon coalesced into his solo band featuring Jimmy Dewar on bass and vocals and drummer Reggie Isadore (later replaced by Bill Lordan). The first three solo albums -- Twice Removed from Yesterday, Bridge of Sighs and For Earth Below -- remain Trower's most enduring works.

"They're a period, and maybe on For Earth Below you could see that the ideas were starting to get a little bit thin," Trower said of his early work. "Certainly they were all around the same approach. And then after that, I started looking for just something else I could do, that I could branch out a bit because I felt like I had covered that ground pretty extensively."

Some of those musical experiments began to emerge on albums like 1977's In City Dreams (still recorded with the Trower-Dewar-Lordan lineup). But by the end of the 1970s, Trower was ready for a bigger change.

He and Dewar parted company and Trower began a collaboration with former Cream singer/bassist Jack Bruce that produced two albums released in 1981 -- BLT and Truce. It was a period that Trower feels produced mixed results.

"It was an interesting experiment, but looking back on it now I see that it doesn't really gel," Trower said. "We didn't spend long enough. Maybe what we should have done was gone out on the road for a year, playing together and then gone into the studio. But you know, I don't regret that I tried it."

The rest of the 1980s is a period Trower would just as soon forget, as he found himself trying to find a place in the decade's changing face of music on a string of albums he considers among his weakest efforts.

"I felt like it was either that or don't be in the business somehow," he said. "I think that's what had sort of been drummed into me. You either sell a lot of records or you don't have a record deal. And I don't know, I think I was a bit lost. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do."

None of those '80s albums (such as 1985's Beyond the Mist, 1987's Passion and 1988's Take What You Need) found much of an audience, and as the '90s arrived, Trower once again found himself taking stock.

He decided to form his own record label, V12, and explore his blues roots -- first with a collection of blues-rock originals on the 1994 CD 20th Century Blues, and then by recording a collection of blues standards on the 1997 release Someday Blues.

Trower is pleased with all three of those recent releases and how they have re-energized his music.

"I think I lost confidence in what my abilities were (in the '80s) because you felt like you were completely a has-been, another era and it had all moved on and left (you behind)," Trower said, reflecting on the arc of his career. "So you're kind of looking to, I don't know, fit in somehow. A big mistake. But there you go. You got this life that you go through and you try these things, and hopefully if you do go down, you bounce back. I feel like creatively I've really bounced back. That's what I feel at the moment. I think I'm coming up with some very, very strong ideas and I'm playing well as well."

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