Troy Redfern ambassador interview: The King of Slide Guitar
Troy Redfern is a busy man. I meet him in the middle of a tour supporting blues duo When Rivers Meet – he has only just arrived at the Exchange in Bristol after playing in Manchester the night before. Earlier in the week he finished mastering his latest album at the famous Abbey Road Studios.
I walk up to the Exchange to find him sitting outside on a bench relaxing with a coffee and a cigarette. He’s wearing a wide-brimmed hat, his long, dark hair falls down to his shoulders.
Troy looks up as I introduce myself and he shakes my hand with a broad smile. He’s quickly fitting me in before doing his soundchecks, yet he seems completely relaxed. The only sign of the frenetic energy of the distinctive Troy Redfern performance I’ve seen on his YouTube videos lie behind his intense dark eyes. We settle down to our in-promptu interview inbetween him having to respond to messages about final issues with his new album and saying hello to fans – he arranges to meet them after our interview is over.
Obviously our conversation starts with discussions about his partnership with Vera Black for his trademark gambler hats, but it takes in a whole range of areas from playing live, advice for building a brand for your band, designing his own merch (he used to work in a tattoo parlour) and his love for improvising on stage in front of an audience.
I start by asking him how he first connected with Vera Black.
“I’ve been buying Vera Black products for maybe three years. I actually met Vera and Luke when I was promoting my last album. I have been wearing hats for some time and I had a photo shoot with Rob Blackham and I decided to cold call Vera and ask if she would come and style the shoot.
“She said it was something she was thinking about doing so she was really pleased to get the call. She came to the shoot, she brought lots of hats and lots of different clothes and we did a shoot. She’s gone on to do quite a few shoots with Rob, so it’s a good partnership.”
How did you first find out about Vera Black?
“I just saw stuff come up on social media, like Instagram. People I know have been wearing her hats.”
Troy Redfern’s love for his distinctive gambler hat
The Redfern Rambler gambler hat was designed for Troy Redfern by Vera and it quickly became a popular item in our shop. It also became a key part of Troy’s stage identity.
“Before I had Vera’s hats I was wearing similar sorts of banded hats, but I was never really happy with them. The brims were too small and because I’ve got long hair the small brim really doesn’t suit, so the wider gambler is absolutely perfect.
“I’ve just got Vera to design a new one with Conchos that I’ve just received on the first date of this tour. I really liked another hat of hers I’ve got, a brown one with conchos, so we had a discussion on the phone. I explained the kind of thing I was thinking of and she designed one from that. I love it, I’ve been wearing it every night.”
How is it going with your new hat? Do you feel as if you need to break it in or anything?
They all fit differently. My gamblers fit slightly tighter, the new one is absolutely perfect. The last gambler I had has seen lots of shows and lots of sweat! So it’s nearing the end of its life. I need to retire that one, but yeah they fit perfectly which is important, because if you’re moving around a lot on stage it needs to stay on! Everything about the product is perfect for me.
Is it part of your stage persona, getting your hat on? Is it almost like putting on a uniform?
Yeah, there is a school of thought for having separate clothing for the stage and I’m sure that psychologically alters you in some way that prepares you for performance. There are different schools of thought around this. You have the Kurt Cobain grunge era, but even that is a uniform because whenever you go on stage you are saying something. I think the gambler hat feels right, along with the Vera Black jewellery. It just feels right for my brand. I hate to use that word but it’s true.”
Troy Redfern the artist
Troy’s skills just don’t lie in music. He also designs his own album covers and T-shirts. I wanted to know if his music and art go in the same vibes.
“Yeah, I was always into comic art as a kid. I had a stint designing tattoos and working in a tattoo parlour for a while. Key influences were the Blue Rider group like Kandinsky and Franz Marc, people like Jack Kirby, the comic guy. I’ve always had an interest in the visual arts and the last album cover was a bit of a revelation because I never thought I could do that. It was nice to have the complete package: the musical content; my artistic output; plus the visual package.
“I’ve done this again on the next album, which is a completely different style – charcoal and pastel. So I am just taking a side turn, but it is all representative about the way I feel about the music – grainy and organic.
My partner and I have a clothing company, so not only do we design them, but we actually print them. It’s really important to get decent quality products. Some band merchandise is really cheap. We use organic cotton, it’s really high quality so we know it’s going to last. So when you buy a t-shirt you know it’s not going to just last a few wears.
“I absolutely love it and love that I can design t-shirts. I’ve designed two t-shirts for this tour and they’re selling really well. It’s so cool seeing people respond to those designs and having this direct thing when I can design something and have it on the merch stand in a couple of days.
Troy Redfern being endorsed by Ernie Ball
You have a very distinctive style. You’re known as the King of Slide Guitar, and you’re now endorsed by Ernie Ball guitar strings. How cool was that for you?
“It’s really cool! I’ve used Ernie Ball strings all my life, as soon as I started playing guitar. Some people don’t really get the thing about always using the same string company, but I’ve always used them. It was a huge thrill to be endorsed by that company! All my guitar heroes when I was a kid used Ernie Ball and they still do. I never thought that would happen. The success of the last album Fire Cosmic definitely opened a few doors.
Stepping up a level with The Fire Cosmic and another new album
Troy had a very busy lockdown period when he released five (!) albums that he recorded with his own home set up. I asked him how this process differed from the creation of his current album The Fire Cosmic and the new one he completed this week.
“Touring and playing in a festival in Poland was really the genesis of the Fire Cosmic. I met Darby Todd [from The Darkness] who is an amazing drummer, a world class drummer, who has just recently joined up with Devin Townsend. Devin is massively respected by folks like Steve Vai who is quoted as saying that he has only ever known two geniuses Frank Zappa and Devin Townsend.
“I also met Bumblefoot [Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal who played lead guitar for Guns N’Roses] at that same festival and those two guys ended up being on the album. That really made me realise that you can get these amazing musicans to play on your album. So on the new album I got Paul Stewart from The Feeling and he’s a phenomenal drummer. In The Feeling he does a different style, a more pop sensibility, but he’s just an all rounder, an amazing player.”
The video for Waiting for Your Love – the lead single from the album Fire Cosmic.
“It’s great to know that I can get those guys in and also that I can use good studios. I did Fire Cosmic at Rockfield in North Wales and this last one at a private studio which is a converted chapel, which is absolutely exceptional for the drum sound. So I may track guitars if I go back to recording in my place, but I’ll always track the drums in a good studio, because it’s all about tracking good drums.
“We’ve just been down to Abbey Road Studios to master the new album with Sean Magee [who has remastered the Beatles amongst many others]. He did a brilliant job and I’ve just literally received the masters back and they sound great. Really crystal clear and punchy. I’m super happy with that.”
Troy’s advice for new musicians
Going back to the music you did over lockdown. Have you got any advice for the musicians who are trying to get themselves out there?
“I’m from a rural area. I live on the Welsh border by a town called Hay-On-Wye. I didn’t know anyone when I started my band. I was just playing in the local counties. I didn’t know any festival organisers. I didn’t know any venues. I was starting from scratch. So the first couple of years was all about meeting people.
“If you’re starting out you need to get out and meet people; get your stuff out there. Get a good social media presence, get a good quality demo or album, and then be nice. It’s a people business. If you’re not a nice person, if you’re arrogant, or anything like that, it’s not going to go well. You’re not going to move forward because people don’t need to deal with people like that. You don’t need idiots!
You crowdfunded your latest album on Kickstarter and got about £1000 more than your original goal. What was that experience like? What was it like to have that much support from your fans?
“I’d never done a Kickstarter so I had no idea how that was going to work. Kickstarter works on the principle that if you don’t hit the target, you don’t get anything. So I set a relatively modest amount of £3,500. I was blown away when I saw the response. We got half of that in the first 24 hours, and from what I heard that’s exactly what you need to achieve. We hit that milestone and then it just carried on, so that was great. Unfortunately the album cost about £20,000 in total. So the £4,500 just about covers the physical costs of buying in the cds. It’s an expensive game!
View this post on Instagram
Troy Redfern playing his solo set on the When Rivers Meet tour in Birmingham.
What’s different about the new album?
So what can we expect from the new album? How is it different to Fire Cosmic?
I would say the new album is slightly less rock. The Fire Cosmic was produced in a very rockesque sort of way, but the new album is a bit more varied. So you’ve still got a few rock tracks on there, but there’s a couple of Americana-ish tracks too so it’s just a bit broader. It’s not radically different. It’s just like the sort of thing I do because I’m the one doing it. You can’t get away from that, but production wise it’s a little less intense.
“I’m very pleased with it. We wanted to get a sort of open mix with space where we could listen into different instruments really clearly and I think we achieved that. It was all about getting strong songs. And also stamping a point in time that represents now because the album from conception, from no songs to finished songs only took five weeks! We started from nothing.
“I worked with a guy called Dave Marks who played bass on the last album. Mark is from Belfast. He’s just a phenomenal all round musician and a very organised creative guy. He helped me speed that process along and I wouldn’t be able to do it that quickly without his help. So it’s another example of having a team of people who are great at what they do, and these are the things I’ve learnt as I’ve gone along. When you work with people who really push you, it moves things along quicker and more efficiently, and you get a better product.
The video of Ghosts from the album Fire Cosmic.
The support act experience
“When I was with The Quireboys it was a full band show and the response was great. I felt that was a good partnership. They’re doing rock’n’roll and I’m doing bluesy sort of rock, slide playing and that really worked. But I would say that playing with When Rivers Meet is the perfect match. You can tell by your sales I think, as I’ve had such great responses.
“I’m a band player, but I’m going out solo on this tour and I’m always shocked by how well the solo thing is received. The merch sales on this tour are probably double any previous tour I have done. That’s a good indicator of a good match between the support act and the main act. Maybe it’s because Aaron plays slide guitar too. They’re coming to see the headline act and they’re coming to see that type of guitar style.”
I ask Troy about the fact that some people come to see him and end up becoming fans of When Rivers Meet.
“Ah, it’s a really good mix of people. It’s a similar type of music, we’re in the same ballpark. There will be a few people who come because they have heard of me and not When Rivers Meet, but it’s mainly the other way round! I just think it’s a perfect match.
Troy with Grace and Aaron of When Rivers Meet.
The obvious next question is when Troy is going to be touring as the headline act?
“That was going to happen in October, but now it’s going to be the beginning of 2023. I’m out with a band called Dare. But that’s going to be the last support act that I do and 2023 is going to the headline tour. I will be playing music from the Fire Cosmic and the new album.”
Cheeky question – but who would you choose to support you?
“It’s a tricky one because when I’ve been supporting, people generally want a solo act because it is so much easier. If you have a drum kit it has to be taken on and taken off stage. If there were no geographical constraints it would be a guy called Keith Hallet from Canada who is just a phenomenal musician. But whether he’d be supporting me, or the other way round I don’t know! He’s another slide guitar player and just an all round great guy.
Playing solo and improvising in front of a crowd
So how challenging is it to play solo?
“It’s definitely a different thing. I hadn’t played solo until I played the Robert Jon & The Wreck tour in September. That was the first time I had been out on my own ever and it was quite scary. I did it with a kick drum and a guitar.
“Later I got on The Sweet tour in December and just went out with the guitar and two resonators. I remember walking out onto Birmingham Town Hall stage and that is a monster, it’s huge, by myself and it was pretty scary. But three or four gigs in and you start getting into a pattern and it gets easier. You start knowing what you’re doing. It has been a long time since I’ve been out solo before this tour with When Rivers Meet so it took a little while to bed in. We’re at the back end of the tour now and things feel completely comfortable.
“It’s just remembering that you can do anything. In my set I have set songs but I have improvised sections for each of those songs. It’s all about remembering, while you’re in the moment, that you can go anywhere. Because you’ve got no band. You can take side turns, you can stop; you can take it down, you can take it anywhere. So it’s remembering that freedom while you’re in the moment, and trying not to think at the same time. Because when you’re improvising, the last thing you want to be doing is thinking.”
Troy onstage in Glasgow.
“It’s like a tightrope walk of a mental state where you are not aware, but you have enough of an awareness so you know you can deviate at a particular point. That’s a lot of freedom and it’s all about remembering that you have that freedom. I think what I do is unusual in that a lot of people rehearse their sets, while I enjoy going out and putting myself in a position where I could play better than I normally could in a normal state of mind at home. It could go one of two ways, but I like taking that risk. The adrenaline of that risk, and the situation of having an audience when you are improvising, definitely makes you play things you would never think of. That’s what I live for really. It’s what I enjoy the most about music, it’s almost like the jazz school of thought, but using the vocabulary of blues.”
The last section of our conversation is interrupted by a customer of the venue asking for some of Troy’s tobacco – which he hands out with hardly a pause in conversation – and by a phone call he has to take about the vinyl orders for his new album. The interview lasts about 20 minutes and then Troy takes time to ask me about my writing projects and we discuss various aspects of creativity. I can’t wait to see him in action later on the stage.
So what is Troy Redfern’s solo live show really like?
A few hours later and I’m a few metres from the stage waiting for Troy to appear. The guy next to me is a When Rivers Met fan. He’s telling his friend that he’s not sure what to expect. He’s not left waiting long. Troy hurries on the stage in his distinctive new gambler hat, smiles at the audience, plugs in one of his vintage guitars and proceeds to create merry havoc, blasting out the thundering riff of Scorpio from his latest album The Fire Cosmic .
“Wow.” The guy next to me mutters. My friend Matt, a Troy Redfern newbie, looks at me with his eyebrows heading towards his fringe, a huge grin plastered on his face.
Troy has received rave reviews from the music press so it seems wise to include a few examples here:
‘Delta blues brought into the space age, hard and heavy, cut with diamond steel, and layered with almost supernatural vibes’
‘His performances are passionate and intense, and while his style certainly references its delta blues roots, his delivery pulls it into the 21st century through a swamp of distortion and contemporary rock n’ roll aesthetics.’
‘Troy Redfern rightly owns the title “Britain’s King Of Slide Guitar”‘
His next song, John the Revelator from the Island album brings in an Americana blues vibe that highlights his smoky blues voice. Then it’s back to The Fire Cosmic album for the real mix of blues and rock Waiting for your Love and the more drum-driven rock of Sanctify. Only there is no drummer. Just Troy, his vintage guitars and his Akai Headrush 2 looper. He makes a hell of a noise.
The energy Troy Redfern gives out is astounding. It’s hard to believe there is just one person on stage. His use of the loop is subtle; there’s no hanging about to lay down key sections before moving on. I only really notice it when he starts soaring away from the main rhythm. He looks towards the crowd and smiles at times, but when he’s improvising he’s not really with us. It’s incredibly intense.
Suddenly his discussions on live improvisation make total sense. You are watching one man and his guitar weave around the rhythm and melody; his slide travelling manically as the music rises and falls.
It gives two main elements of joy.
- When Troy veers away from the expected route of the song
- When he drops you back in it from an impossible place.
This is most obvious with his final track Voodoo Chile by Jimi Hendrix. It’s true that I don’t get out enough, but whenever I hear musicians cover Hendrix it’s always followed by the crowd nodding and muttering that it was a “decent enough effort”.
Redfern totally owns the track. It is brutal. The crowd is entranced. He crashes out the riffs, the crowd joins in with the words and then he goes off piste. The crowd nod their heads, willing him on and he pivots from a riotous crescendo right back into the Voodoo Chile riff. The crowd gasps in appreciation. Troy finishes his set. The crowd cheers and the guy next to turns to his friend and mutters, “Wow. Just wow”.
No-one could accuse Troy of leaving anything behind in his live performance. He is still catching his breath when I catch up with him by his merch stand a short while later, sweat pouring off his face. He still has enough energy for a triumphant grin though.
So what about When Rivers Meet?
Grace and Aaron are THE cutest couple in rock.
It must be hard to follow an act like Troy who is not so much a warm up, as a blow your socks off, act. The good news is that When Rivers Meet are dripping with talent themselves. The husband and wife duo Aaron and Grace Bond have teamed up with Roger Inniss on bass and James Fox on drums and keyboards for their live act. They make an amazing team.
Aaron plays a variety of guitars (and styles) including his cigar box guitar that gets a cheer from the crowd whenever it appears. Grace plays electric mandolin and violin and sings like an angel. Whilst she is the main vocalist, the interplay between her and Aaron’s voice add complex dimensions to their songs that cover a wide range of styles, all with a nod to blues, but a twist of something else.
They are the cutest couple in rock and it is a pleasure to watch the interplay between them. They also have a really close connection to their fans who are quietly willing them on from the crowd. They cheer when the cigar box guitar comes out, but there are also mutters of “Come on Aaron” as he starts to play it. When Grace plays her violin, or hits yet another perfect note I hear “Ah, that’s lovely Grace”. And although Grace is the spotlight singer, Aaron gets appreciative murmurs whenever he sings.
They certainly converted me into their rapidly growing fan base, and from the many comments I overheard, it seems that many of the fans have accepted Troy Redfern into the When Rivers Meet family.
Which is great, because not only is he ferociously talented, he’s also one of the nicest guys you could hope to meet.
More information about Troy Redfern
You can buy all Troy Redfern’s music and merchandise on his website troyredfern.com or from your favourite music store. You can find him on the socials here:
And check out his music videos on his YouTube channel.
Plus anyone who wants information about the technical set up of Troy’s resonator guitars and the pedals he uses for his distinctive slide guitar sound will really enjoy this video for Guitarist magazine.