“I packed up my Volkswagon, I had a Super Reverb amp a Gibson 335, a Martin D-25, a mandolin, a trumpet, half a pound of Marajuana, 30 hits of LSD and $150 dollars in my pocket and drove across the country”
Walter Trout is old school, five decades on and he’s still going strong as one of the old guard of Bluesmen still gigging, still preaching the message, still doing his thang. We caught up with Walter after the release of his latest release Survivor Blues to see what makes this legend tick.
You can check out our review of Survivor Blues here: https://rocknloadmag.com/news/walter-trout-survivor-blues-album-review/
RNL – Walter if you don’t mind can we cover some history as this is our first time talking together.
WT – Yeah lets do it.
RNL – So you were born back in the 50’s, so where did your musical interest come from, did you come from a musical family for example?
WT – Nobody in the family played, but they were all lovers of music, great aficionados’ of music, this was white suburbia circa 1955 but my dad had records by John Lee Hooker and B.B. King. He used to also take me to Black Jazz clubs in Atlantic City to hear Jazz artists too, my mom when I was little took me to see James Brown and Ray Charles in the raw, so that was awesome. Actually my mom arranged for me on my 10th Birthday to spend the day with Duke Ellington, so I was pretty lucky in the house I grew up in when it came to music.
RNL – So where was home for you at that time?
WT – It was in New Jersey, a little town called Ocean City a little Island, which is south of Atlantic City. It was such a narrow little island that if you stood in the middle and looked to your left you would see the bay and looked to your right you would see the ocean, very long and very narrow.
RNL – So at what age did you pick up the guitar?
WT – Around 10 yrs old or so but before that I played the trumpet, but eventually found my way to the acoustic guitar playing folk songs and early Bob Dylan numbers etc Peter,Paul & Mary that kind of stuff somewhere around 1961 I’d say. Along came the Beatles in 1964 and that changed it all for me.
RNL – What age did you start getting out there gigging?
WT – I started gigging when I left high school when I was 16/17 or so somewhere around 1969, I just started gigging and have not stopped and I’m on near 50 years of this now.
RNL – No sign of retirement then? Hanging up the boots?
WT – Why retire, retirement is for people who don’t like what they do.
RNL – You moved eventually to L.A. – What prompted that move?
WT – We had a band in New Jersey, a very good band, but we couldn’t get a gig, nobody wanted to hear us, we were struggling. I went out to L.A. to visit friends on a vacation for 2 weeks and I saw that there were a lot of nightclubs where we could play, lots of bands like ours that were working, it was a very thriving scene. So I went back and said to the band that we all needed to move to L.A. and they were ok with it, so we started planning and one by one they all started dropping out, so eventually I said ok I’ll go by myself. I packed up my Volkswagon, I had a Super Reverb amp a Gibson 335, a Martin D-25, a mandolin, a trumpet, half a pound of Marajuana, 30 hits of LSD and $150 dollars in my pocket and drove across the country.
RNL – I’d say you were popular when you arrived!
WT – Well yeah I got everybody a good buzz on let me tell ya!
RNL – What was that scene like for you when you arrived in L.A., did it take you long to settle in?
WT – You know I just got out there and asked if I could sit in and within two weeks I had a steady gig.
RNL – Was there an established Blues scene in L.A. at that time for you to slot into?
WT – There was but really I was playing all kinds of music, I was playing in lots of different bands, the first band that I really got in I was the stand up lead singer in a Country band, I was Hank Williams, Willie Nelson and stuff and then I got into another band, a cover band that was doing Mowtown and Staxx and I played lead guitar for them, I kinda went from band to band and played all different types of music till I got into John Lee Hooker and then it was just Blues for me from then on in.
RNL – Do you feel that your time spent in those various bands helped you as an all round musician?
WT – Of course, being a side man as I was for a number of years and back up singers is an amazing education. A lot of young guys come out and wanna front a band a be the frontman and I feel they miss out a lot on the education of backing someone up and being a side man. You don’t always have to be front and centre.
RNL – That actual experience of being out there playing in a band is such a valuable experience as a musician isn’t it rather than just being a bedroom warrior.
WT – Absolutely, and its also really important to understand how to be a really good rhythm guitar player, its not just about coming out playing solos and when you’re in a band and a member of a unit backing people up it’s a big part of the experience.
RNL – You got into the John Mayall Blues Breakers back in the 1980’s, that must have been a big opportunity for you, how did that come about?
WT – Yeah huge! I was in Canned Heat and we did some shows opening for John, and John he had the original Blues breakers back together and he said to me I’d like to hear you play rhythm for Mick Taylor and at that time Canned Heat were about to take a break, so he said come out on the road with us and before you knew it, there I was out there playing with John Mayall, Mick Taylor and John McVie the original Blues Breakers which was amazing to me, cos when their albums came out I was in high school.
RNL – It must also have been great for you as a musician to be playing beside such established and highly regarded musicians?
WT – It was and it was another example of how important the ability to play rhythm guitar served me well, cos I was there to play rhythm guitar and back up Mick Taylor.
RNL – Where did that time take you, did you get across the States and into Europe at that stage?
WT – Not I didn’t get across to Europe until I joined John’s band full time, after that short tour with John I went back to Canned Heat and we put and album out, then John called me he was gonna start a new band as he wasn’t working with Mick or John McVie anymore so that’s when I hooked up with John full time.
RNL – You seem to be a very prolific writer, looking over the plethora of albums recorded over the years you always seem to be proactive, are you always writing?
WT – I am, as a matter of fact I am currently writing a new album of all original material, so I’ll be back in the studio tomorrow.
RNL – Does the digital age make things easier for you to pop into a studio and lay down a track now?
WT – No not really, I’ve laid down plenty of tracks on the old magnetic tape and I just go into a studio and hope to play my best, and If you don’t do your best you just do it again. The studio for me is if I don’t like that take I do another.
RNL – Do you have a particular period of your career that you look back on most fondly or are you more the type of person who embraces the next phase more?
WT – A little of both man, I do love to look forward to the next project for sure but I also do love to look back over 50 years, some of the most fun I ever had was the time playing with Mayall, we toured the world and he just treats his band like gold, playing big shows, just back him up there was no pressure. Maybe 4 or 5 guitar solos and he paid me great, there was always lots of laughing, John was a very humorous human being so there we lots of laughs, always light hearted, it was a blast. There was no pressure. When you become a bandleader there are pressures.
RNL – It’s a totally different experience isn’t it walking out there as a band leader compared to a band member.
WT – Oh god for sure, I can remember doing a TV special in Germany when I was with Mayall and I just had a great time, it was maybe an hour or so long. I went back then two years later with my own band and I was just nervous as I could be, and I was standing there thinking I just done this show two years ago and I was fine why am I so fucking nervous! And I realised that there was a large sign behind me that said Walter Trout it didn’t say John Mayall.
RNL – So jumping forward if we may to your latest release, Survivor Blues, It was a lovely album and I must tell you Walter it was my first introduction to your music, you may have been grafting for 50 + years but this Irishman only heard you for the first time recently.
WT – Well I’m glad you finally got to hear me man!
RNL – That is in itself the beauty of music though isn’t it Walter that you may graft for 5 decades and you’ll still attract a new audience after all these years, new generations will discover your music, regardless of how long an artist has been around there will always be new people coming to them for the first time.
WT – Yeah sure, that’s why we do what we do.
RNL – With Survivor Blues you seem to have selected songs to cover that are personal to you.
WT – Yeah for sure but also it would be too obvious to cover all the same songs, which have been covered before; I wanted to do songs that had been forgotten. I listen to a satellite radio that has a Blues station and here comes a band that I’ve never heard of and they’re covering ‘Got My Mojo Workin’ and I said to my wife “This the 855th version of this song I’ve heard and this is exactly why I did what I did!” Everyone is doing the same 20-30 songs and theres such a rich beautiful history of music and all these great songs and artists that are simply overlooked. I just wanted to call attention to this stuff.
RNL – I saw you were quoted talking about the album that you pretty much recorded the tracks live.
WT – Yeah pretty much, I would take the songs to the band, we recorded them at Robby Kreiger’s studio, from The Doors, we recorded in he’s private studio and he’s got a big room, so we can sit in a circle and look at each other, I bring in the song and we kinda jam on it initially, we go over it a couple of times and discuss how we wanna approach it and everybody has input in the band, I like it to be a group effort. Once we have it more or less arranged we lay it down.
RNL – Do you feel that your live recording approach has a lot to do with your wealth of experience as a live player, the years interacting with fellow musicians and the energy and vibe that comes off that magical interaction?
WT – I think so, I am old school, I don’t even use pedals as a player, ive been at it so long im not gonna change what I do, I kind of subscribe to the Bob Dylan style of recording, it’s about the personal interaction between players and not so much about musical perfection, really about being raw, live and spontaneous. Other genres of music it may not work so well, but with the Blues definitely.
RNL – I think it comes across also in the recording Walter that behind it is a lifetimes experience laying down those tracks.
WT – Yeah its all about the players, the players I have on that album, Keyboard player Skip Edwards has played on maybe 600-700 albums, he was Keith Moons keyboard player back in the 70’s, Mike Lassier on drums has been with me 11 years, he’s played with Rodger Daltry, Edgar Winter, he’s played with all these people, the bass player Johnny was Slashes bass player for a number of years, Steve Winwood, Carole King, and so on.
RNL – You say you’re already working on the next album, are you taking this one in another direction?
WT – Well I am already about half way through another album, it’s all original songs. Survivor Blues is maybe my 28th album and it’s only my second covers album, so Ive done 26 albums of originals and I’ve still got a lot of songs in my catalogue. I’ve got maybe 200 songs in a pool in various sates of disrepair, they’re not all finished but I can just call the guys and say lets hit the studio and we just do it.
RNL – So when you talk about a pool of songs are they old tracks or more recent written numbers?
WT – For this album more recent, as a matter of fact I had a lot of musical ideas and I sat down with my wife and we wrote the lyrics for them, so she’s been a big part of the writing on this one.
RNL – As far as yourself Walter do you feel you have any boxes or bucket lists that you feel you still need to tick?
WT – No man, I’ve had a good life man. I wanted to be a touring musician from the age of 10 years old and I’ve done that for the last 5 decades, I’ve toured the world and gotten to make a good living from doing what I love, I faced death for two years, I had a liver transplant and was outta commission for two years. I had the liver transplant four years ago now and I have released four albums in four years.
RNL – Like a man possessed!
WT – I just love doing what I am doing.
RNL – Can you believe Walter the life that the guitar has given you, you have had such a beautiful life because of the guitar.
WT – That’s right, I have this old Strat that I’ve had for 45 years, it’s been with me through homelessness, drug addiction and divorce and alcoholism and everything, and some years ago I was looking at it, (At this point Walter gets emotional) and I wrote this song to it, called ‘Song For My Guitar’ you wanna hear how I feel about the guitar look that song up.
RNL – You said yourself as a musician, as a human being you’ve had good times and hard times, when you write your music after all these years do you still doubt yourself in any way or are you comfortable in your own skin these days?
WT – I doubt myself everyday, and when I play the guitar I get off and have a great time but I am always painfully aware of my limitations.
RNL – I am always hoping that someday as human beings that we might grow out of it and just let ourselves go!
WT – For me what I know about music is the more you learn and the better you get you become acutely aware of how much there is to learn and its limitless, I hear so much in my head that I cannot play on the guitar, so it keeps it fresh, I keep pushing, I keep trying, I actually for the first time in my life last year took some guitar lessons.
RNL – Do you read music at all?
WT – No in the past I used to read Trumpet music but never for the guitar.
RNL – What advice would you offer to young musicians who want to replicate what you have achieved in your career?
WT – Well if they wanna do what I do it’s all about channelling your feelings and emotions through your music, its not about how fast you can play it’s about putting your life experience and putting all those feelings and emotions into your music so you can get back those feelings and emotions from your listener.
Check out ‘A Song For My Guitar’ you’ll soon see what it’s all about.
RNL – Many thanks Walter you were a gent!
Survivor Blues is out now via Provogue / Mascot Label Group.