In May 2012, I was honored to interview former Yes guitarist, venerable film composer, singer, songwriter Trevor Rabin, discussing his new instrumental solo album (and his first solo studio album in 23 years), the critically acclaimed, “Jacaranda”.
The album, is a fond nod to, and is influenced by, Trevor’s early years honing his craft as a burgeoning guitarist and musician in Johannesburg, South Africa, where Trevor was born and raised.
“Jacaranda” effuses and radiates Trevor’s vast musical range, deft affinity for, and soaring gifts at, writing, performing, phrasing, and interpreting, a diverse and dazzling array of eclectic music styles including jazz fusion, roots, rock, and classical.
Trevor graciously regaled me with his sublime songwriting process and craftwork in the making of “Jacaranda”. Because this was my second in depth interview with Trevor through the last few years, also discussing as it happens, his film scoring and his career, we also had a chance to discuss many of the things covering said ground that we didn’t get around to the first time I had interviewed him.
Moreover, Trevor also had the opportunity to expound on his early years as a musician, growing up in his native South Africa, which have continued to influence, shape, and inform, his life, his career, and his music, evolving Trevor into the supreme artist that he is today and into the very beautiful, innovative, and evocative, “Jacaranda”.
Some of the portion of my Interview with Trevor where he discussed “Jacaranda” was recently published, but further excerpts where Trevor continues to discuss “Jacaranda”, as well as all of Trevor’s reflections discussing his film scoring, his career, and his musical beginnings as an artist in South Africa were left unpublished.
Many thanks now to “Guitar Muse” for publishing now, for the very first time, all of these excerpts of my May 2012 “Jacaranda” interview with Trevor Rabin, or what I would like to refer to as “Trevor Rabin – The “Jacaranda” Interview, Author’s Cut!!”
Trevor discussing “Jacaranda”
Arlene R. Weiss: On “Jacaranda” you composed all of the songs. You produced, arranged, and engineered the album. You also play all of the instruments on “Jacaranda” yourself, all of the guitars, bass, piano, and keys with the exception of drums. Explain your creative process of this very multi-faceted, total hands on creative control and approach in recording “Jacaranda”.
Trevor Rabin: It just seems like the easiest way for me to focus. Although obviously, I also very much enjoy collaboration.
Arlene: “Spider Boogie” so joyously exudes your trademark exuberance and sense of playfulness. You play with such finesse and virtuosity on Dobro and on your Westone Rainbow. How did that song, your arrangement combining acoustic and electric textures, and the song title, come about?
Trevor: I was checking out a new amplifier and I just started messing around when the Westone guitar part just hit me. Fun is the word!
Arlene: You also used your Tobias Guitar on “Anerley Road” which was custom made for you. How did that guitar come about for you and how were you involved in its conception, development, and design?
Trevor: There actually was nothing I was involved with in the making of that custom guitar. Mike Tobias kindly made it for me. The action allows for me to fly around very easily.
Arlene: The score which you composed for the 2006 Kevin Costner film, “The Guardian” is one of my favorite scores of yours, which includes the enigmatic and inspiring, “The Guardian Suite”. How did you conceive composing this evocative and compelling suite for the motion picture, and what emotions were you aspiring to convey for the very meaningful and inspiring, characters, storyline, and narrative? How and why did you go about rearranging “The Guardian Suite” as the track “Rescue” on “Jacaranda”?
Trevor: I wanted to give the score for the film strong melody, and for the music to be very grand and classical at times. I just simply wanted to re-perform it again for the album. It’s a very special and beautiful piece for me.
Arlene: What inspired you to collaborate with Liz Constantine, having her sing the deeply emotional, ethereal vocals on your film score and on “Rescue”? What emotions and aural textures were you looking for, and to evoke, by incorporating Liz’s vocals into this transcendent song?
Trevor: It seems like Liz and I…we’ve known each other forever. She’s so amazingly gifted. Funny, I feel so much more emotion listening to Liz. When I think of the piece, it’s just like the meaning of the title itself, “Rescue”. Her vocals evoke that very meaningful feeling and concept.
Arlene: The lush, eloquent Baroque piano sonata, “Killarney 1 And 2” is beyond breathtaking. What inspired and how did you develop this deeply emotional and moving piece which highlights your sublime artistry as a classical pianist?
Trevor: Once I’d written it, I was then faced with the task of playing it, which lead me to spending many hours practicing it. I used my Young Chang Concert Grand for that piece as well.
Arlene: The influences of Barney Kessel, Joe Pass, John McLaughlin, Wes Montgomery, and Django Reinhardt are all over “Jacaranda”. How did the music of these jazz and artistic luminaries influence you as a guitarist and as a songwriter, in your playing, your compositional process, and in your aesthetic and artistic evolution, in what you emotionally and creatively express as an artist?
Trevor: I grew up loving Joe Pass, Herb Ellis, Barney Kessel, which I think influenced the way that I play. Even how I play rock for that matter.
Trevor discussing his Film Scores & collaborating with Bob Dylan
Arlene: I’ve always admired that you collaborated with Bob Dylan and I wanted to ask, what project was that for? Did you perform live with him or did you play or do other work on an album recording of Bob’s? What was the recording, and how did you come to the attention of Bob Dylan and get to work with him?
Trevor: Unfortunately I don’t remember. Bob asked me, so I went in and played on a couple of things for him, and then I got back to the task of mixing “Big Generator” with Yes. I’m not sure how Bob got to me. But both songs that I played on are on an album of his somewhere. I never heard any of it after doing that session with Bob.
Arlene: One of my very favorite film scores by you, “Whispers: An Elephant’s Tale”, is so beautiful, and especially showcases your indigenous South African musical and cultural roots and influences, incorporating your use of traditional South African choir, instruments, and rhythms. How did you become involved with that project, and how did you conceive, develop, and arrange that amazing score? Didn’t you actually go to South Africa to work on that score?
Trevor: Simply, I was approached by Disney®, and it seemed like a good idea to do the score for “Whispers”. I did go to South Africa to record the choir, which was just a wonderful creative experience. However, I had it all fully written before leaving for South Africa.
Arlene: You also sang on some of the tracks of the score for “Whispers”, in native African dialect and your singing on this so elevates the emotion and beauty of the music, and the story and movie as well. What was the impetus for you wanting to sing on your own score and what specific language is that and of what country?
Trevor: Some of the lead vocals I redid with me singing, when I was in South Africa…but some of it just seemed right being my voice, so I kept those parts in where I sang.
Arlene: For your score which you composed for the 2006 film, “Glory Road”, you brought in the amazing Alicia Keys to sing. How did that collaboration come about, and what are your fond creative experiences of working with Alicia?
Trevor: Alicia was truly a loving, kind person and extremely musical. She nailed the emotions I wanted on that, and her vocal elements, very quickly.
Trevor discussing his early days as an artist in South Africa
Arlene: Let’s discuss some of your other artistry while you were still living and growing up in, and making music in, South Africa. You recorded several strikingly beautiful instrumental projects under the pseudonym of Trevor Terblanche. Why did you perform and record these projects under this name, instead of using your own real name, and what is the meaning or significance specifically of the surname you used, Terblanche?
Trevor: The Trevor Terblanche recordings were done for a budget record company in South Africa that would sell the records out of super markets. I went in to the studio and did the albums in a day. It was cute when the record company started receiving fan mail for “Terblanche”! It was all created by Rob Schroder, who is a good friend of mine and a producer in South Africa.
Arlene: You recorded the song “Baby Love Affair” as well as a cover of the great Erroll Garner’s timeless classic, “Misty”. What inspired you to record these 2 songs, how did those sessions come about, and what were some of the other songs that you performed and recorded as Trevor Terblanche?
Trevor: I was really a session musician for those tracks, and everything was coordinated and created by Rob Schroder as part of that whole Trevor Terblanche recording project.
Arlene: You also played and worked with legendary South African tenor saxophonist Mike Makhalemele and tenor saxophonist Winston Mankunku Ngozi, on their 1976 landmark album, “The Bull And The Lion”. You collaborated with Mike and also with alto saxophonist Kippie Moeketsi on the 1975 album, “Soul Of The City”. You also collaborated as well with many more of South Africa’s most influential jazz and soul greats. How did your work as a regarded songwriter, producer, arranger, and session guitarist come to the attention of these esteemed South African music and jazz legends, how did your collaborations with them on these projects come about…and what are some of your fondest creative and artistic memories of working with these immense music legends?
Trevor: Mike Makhalemele was an incredible player and person. We became very close and we worked together quite a lot. He died recently and I will miss him.
Arlene: One of the most seminal and influential bands that you were a member of and that you collaborated with, was South Africa’s legendary Anti-Apartheid, protest band, Freedom’s Children, who were true to their inspiring name. You wrote, recorded, and performed some equally legendary, song material with them, including, the Anti-Apartheid anthem, “Wake Up! State Of Fear”. How and when, did you first become involved with, and become a member of Freedom’s Children? Tell me about the band member line-up for Freedom’s Children when you were in it, because I’ve seen some misinformation and confusion in various sources about that.
Trevor: We joined up about a year before I was called up for my army service. I think “Wake Up! State of Fear” was my proudest moment with Freedom’s Children. At the time when I had joined the band, the line-up was Ronnie Robot on bass, Brian Davidson was on lead vocals, and he sadly, was recently murdered. Then there was also Colin Pratley, who was on drums.
Arlene R. Weiss: Did you write, perform, or record, other song material besides “Wake Up! State Of Fear”with Freedom’s Children?
Trevor: “Wake Up! State of Fear” was the only one I remember recording properly, only to be bastardized by Nick Martens.
Side Bar, Author’s Note: Due to the time constraints of doing our interview…Here is Trevor’s in depth, detailed explanation of what he is referring to regarding the “bastardization of ‘Wake Up! State Of Fear’ by Nick Martens”. Trevor informed me of this during the course of some research that I fact checked with Trevor. Trevor proudly wrote, recorded, and performed live, with Freedoms Children, the original, sublime version of “Wake Up! State Of Fear”. Trevor, Brian, Ronnie, and Colin, enjoyed a successful tour which was organized by their manager Clive Calder and promoter Ralph Simon. Soon after their tour, Trevor and Ronnie were drafted by the South African Army. While Trevor was doing regular session work playing guitar on many recordings in South Africa, he was called in one day to do what he thought was simply another, ordinary recording session at Gallo Recording Studio, which on this particular day, happened to be organized by Nick Martens. It turned out, unbeknownst to Trevor, to be a terrible re-recording, remake of “Wake Up! State Of Fear” that was not to be done by Freedom’s Children, but instead, recorded by a studio session band called Klay, which Trevor was not made aware of ahead of time, and which was organized by Nick Martens. Trevor was completely caught off guard by this awful remake of the song, and he didn’t really think through what had taken place and what was asked of him, that is, to play guitar on the session remake version – and Trevor did in fact perform on the remake. However, the next day, Trevor confronted Nick about the remake of “Wake Up! State Of Fear” and informed Martens of his utter disdain for the cover track. Brian, Ronnie, and Colin who had performed on the original Freedom’s Children version of the song, were not involved at all on this remake. Trevor asked Nick Martens to remove Trevor’s guitar work from the remake track but to no avail. Martens left Trevor’s guitar playing on the track. The cover version was performed by a studio session band known as Klay. Trevor vehemently disapproves of any and all reissues and bootlegs, of this remake, cover version track performed by Klay, which butchered the original, wonderful Freedom’s Children version of “Wake Up! State Of Fear”.
Arlene: Along with the late, and very gifted, Brian Davidson who was their lead vocalist at the time, did you also sing any of their songs?
Trevor: No, I didn’t sing with Freedom’s Children. It was just me, and when I was with them, I was just purely playing the guitar.
Arlene: What was the inspiration for you writing, “Wake Up! State Of Fear”? What kind of response did your song receive from people when you performed it live?
Trevor: That was inspired by the situation in South Africa at the time. It was an outcry against the injustices of Apartheid and against the government and political regime that upheld it at the time. It was well received, but it never became as huge as Rabbitt, which was a better band.
Arlene: Were any of the songs ever released, and if not, why? Would you like to see the music from this immensely esteemed and artistic watershed band and period in your life, released some day?
Trevor: That line-up of Freedom’s Children that I was in….we broke up, because Ronnie and I were drafted and we wound up doing our tour of duty in the South African Army, so no, it wasn’t released. It’s not really an important time that I look back on so I don’t know about releasing that some day.
Arlene: During your tour with Freedom’s Children, what are some of your most resonant and fond creative memories of your live shows with them, including the songs that you performed, and what the shows, venues, and audiences were like?
Trevor: I remember the band was like a wild beast…heavy, threatening, sexual….I loved the shows.
Arlene: Discuss what it was like for you, a white music artist and band, defiantly taking a stand and doing the right thing, writing, recording, and performing songs on behalf of all human rights in your nation that were a moral outcry against the injustices of Apartheid, when it was at its very height in South Africa.
Trevor: Coming from a family of social activists, where my father and all of my family were so morally opposed to the evils of Apartheid, it just seemed natural and to be the right thing to do. It’s such a natural place for me to go lyrically. It is so a part of me.
Arlene: After the fall and end of Apartheid in 1994, then, later on in 1997, you were graced with the most illustrious and esteemed honor and joy when you personally performed for and met, Nelson Mandela, at a Benefit Concert for The Prince’s Trust held in Johannesburg, South Africa. What feelings and emotions did this immense honor evoke within you and did you wish to express to Mr. Mandela, on that historic and transcendent day, in which you at last were able to witness a better world and a better South Africa….something that through your music, you addressed, held hope and stood up for, raising people’s awareness with brave and insightful social-political commentary, and which you finally saw come to pass?
Trevor: Meeting Mr. Mandela at his home, and seeing all of this finally come to pass for South Africa and for the world in my lifetime was such a profound and special experience for me. It was an immensely proud moment and just a tremendously proud day for me that I will never forget.
Arlene: What songs and music material did you perform for Mr. Mandela at that 1997 Prince’s Trust Concert?
Trevor: I performed and sang “I Can’t Look Away” for Mr. Mandela, which was so very memorable and such a tremendous honor.
Trevor discussing AWR & current projects
Arlene: Let’s discuss your current projects. Regarding the current status of your greatly anticipated Anderson, Wakeman, Rabin, AWR project with your former Yes compatriots, Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman, which Jon just recently said is on hold. Will you be crafting that project at a later time down the road?
Trevor: We hope so, right now coordinating everyone’s schedule is a problem. But the desire is there on all of our parts.
Arlene: If and when the AWR project does hopefully come to fruition, what artistic aspirations and what creative direction are you hoping to pursue for the songs and for the project, especially in regards your songwriting and singing contributions to the project?
Trevor: We have several ideas. Rick and I have always wanted to work together.
Arlene: What motion picture scoring projects and other amazing artistic projects are you currently working on?
Trevor: I just started scoring the music for a really good TV series on ABC, called “Zero Hour”.
© Copyright March 28-June 14, 2012 By Arlene R. Weiss-All Rights Reserved