AS PROCOL HARUM’S LYRICIST, KEITH REID WROTE SOME OF THE MOSTMACABRE LINES to ever come crawling out of a stereo speaker. Best known for the haunting imagery in “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” he also provided the words for all of Robin Trower’s compositions. Here he talks about writing with Trower and opening for Hendrix. —Steven Rosen
WRITING “WHISKY TRAIN” Robin was stretching out there, finding his feel as a songwriter. I had conceived it as a country-and-western-type song. He made that into rock and roll. “Whiskey Train” is the sound of those guys playing live, because it was recorded on two tracks with no overdubs whatsoever. In fact, we didn’t even realize that it was only two tracks. I think we wanted to change the mix a little bit, and the guy just said, “Sorry, that’s it.” GIGGING WITH HENDRIX Procol’s very first show was opening for Hendrix. This was just prior to our first record being released and before Robin joined. The first few shows that Procol played were in a club called the Speakeasy. All the bands used to go down there. If a bomb had gone off, rock and roll would have taken a very different form! On any one night, you would have the Beatles, the Stones, the Who, and the Small Faces.
Then Jimi invited us to play at the Savoy Theatre. I think this was a Sunday, and Sgt. Pepper’s had come out on Friday. He opened up with ‘Sgt. Pepper’s.’ He played two bars and totally blew out all of his speakers. The road crew spent 20 minutes setting it up, getting it all working again. He started over, and boom! He blew them all out again.
Sadly, we actually played on Jimi’s very last show in Germany. It was him, Mitch Mitchell, and Billy Cox. I spoke to him and he was quite down. Interestingly enough, that was the only time Robin ever saw him play.