UG exclusive: The guitarist also looks back on his time in Canned Heat
During a conversation with UG's David Slavković, guitarist Walter Trout discussed some of the bands he was involved with over the years, including John Lee Hooker's group, John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers, Canned Heat, and more.
Walter has a new album titled "Ordinary Madness" coming out on August 28; pre-orders are available here. You can check out the "Wanna Dance" single below, along with a part of the conversation.
During your career, you've worked with some of the biggest names of blues and rock world, and John Lee Hooker really stands out there. How did you get this gig and what was it like working with him back then?
"I went up to the Redondo Beach Pier for a Sunday afternoon jam with the band that, at that time, backed up John Lee Hooker, or as I later learned the band called him: 'The Hook.' "A friend of mine persuaded the band to let me sit in with them. They looked up and down this white kid and, and due to my friend's insistence, eventually humored me. 'One song,' they told me. "So I got up, and when the song ended, they asked me to play another one with them. And then another. After the show ended, they asked if I would like to join the band. They were the backup band for John Lee Hooker. "We also backed up other legends, like Big Mama Thornton, Pee Wee Crayton, Percy Mayfield, Lowell Fulsom, Joe Tex, and others. It was a great opportunity for me to apprentice with them. "I learned so much from them and about their approach to music, friendship, and the blues that has deeply affected me. We were often paid $5 per show. Money was real tight in the late '80s LA blues scene. None of those sidemen ever made any real money. "Many of them are not with us anymore and they died without ever really getting any recognition. But they played their hearts out every time we went on stage together. I am forever in their debt for sharing music with me and letting me in as a friend. "John Lee had a wicked sense of deadpan humor that I didn't always understand. But I never took it for granted, the fact that I was fortunate enough to be standing on stage playing with one of the originators of this music."
You've also worked with Canned Heat for a few years in the 1980s, coming in the band after Henry Vestine left. Now, this was different compared to the classic lineup in the late 1960s and the early 1970s. What was it like working with Fito de la Parra and how did you fit the band's style?
"How I fit? Well, that is really up to others to determine. I was playing with the Hook's band in the legendary jazz club, The Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach - when Canned Heat first saw me. "They liked my playing and thought I'd be a good addition to their band. Soon, I also got to play the harmonica in that band as well. I think I added some energy to their band, but I was also very insecure. "And I sank deeper and deeper into drug abuse during my stint with them. That did nothing to improve my self-respect, let me tell ya. "In the lyrics of 'Wanna Dance,' I sing, 'I've been a criminal, and I've been a clown.' That pretty much sums up my off-stage time during my years with Canned Heat."
After that, you went on to join John Mayall's band, continuing the tradition of amazing guitar players in the group. Of course, one of the most famous members of his band was Eric Clapton. How did it feel like taking a spot that once belonged to him, and has Clapton's playing and music influenced you as a musician?
"I was inspired by BB King - the way he puts his emotions into the music. He is really the master at that. But my world was upended the first time I heard the way Mike Bloomfield played the blues with a very improvisational style that had a different kind of emotional depth and fire in its expression. "I was incredibly influenced by the John Mayall 'Beano' album [1966's 'Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton'] that featured Eric Clapton, but it was probably the thought of stepping in the shoes of Peter Green that most intimidated me. "He has such emotional, expressive power in his playing and I am a massive fan of his. My very first night playing with John on stage, we did some of the songs off of the 'Beano' album and I played Clapton's solos note for note. "I thought that was what John would want. After the show, he asked me to come to his room for a talk. "He said to me: 'If I had wanted Eric Clapton, I would have called him. I love the way you play and that's why I hired you. So I want to hear what Walter Trout can add to these songs.' "This freed me to play and to grow and to expand and develop my own style. And it was a major turning point in my musical education."