As tYou’ve never heard the electric blues played the way Walter Trout plays it. A New Jersey native (like yours truly), he’s played with Canned Heat, John Lee Hooker and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, where his skills came to worldwide attention.
When Trout struck out on his own two years shy of 40, he did so knowing he had lots to say with his own compositions and his own band. Twenty-two solo albums, accolades galore and a strong international cult following, Trout’s gamble of leaving Bluesbreakers 25 years ago has paid off in spades.
In the following interview, we had a chance to talk to Trout about his career and his 2013 release Luther's Blues, a tribute to blues guitarist Luther Allison. “Luther was one of the all-time greats,” Trout says of his hero and close friend who died in 1997 at age 57. The love and respect on this album most definitely shine through.
I have to say, not only was I expecting (and got) plenty of your great playing on Luther’s Blues. I also was quite impressed with the tightness of the band, how the CD actually sounds like a "band record," if that makes sense.
Yeah, that’s my road band. Those guys have been with me for years. We have a certain way of playing together; we play 200 shows a year so we’re pretty tight. The newest guy, Mike, our drummer, is coming up on six years with us and he’s got 1,200 shows in…and he’s the new guy! Studio guys can come in, make a chart and play a song but the chemistry will not necessarily be there. When guys have played that many shows together it comes through on the record.
So it was basically the band setting up in the studio and letting it rip?
Yes, we basically set up in a big room, looked at each other and just played the songs. What you’re hearing are basically live performances with the occasional overdubbed rhythm guitar here or there, maybe a redone solo or something and probably some redone vocal every now and again.
You mention on your website and in the liner notes, that this was the right time to make this record, this tribute to Luther. Can you expand on that?
My last record, Blues For The Modern Daze, did really good for me but I thought: Do I need to do another record of: ‘Walter writes 12 songs and here they are’? No. I thought it was time to do something different and this idea to pay tribute to my friend had been on my mind for like14, 15 years. I’ve wanted to do this ever since Luther passed. He had worked so hard to finally get a little bit of recognition here in the States and he was really breaking through, getting some long overdue accolades in this country and boom, he got diagnosed with cancer and he was dead three weeks later; it was over so quick. He was a dear friend, and from that moment on, I thought I had to do something for this guy. I asked my label to see if they were good with it and they jumped on it, said it was a great idea and told me to go for it.
And the songs, as well as lots of stuff you write in the booklet, are all part of the full package of a tribute, right?
I did make a certain promise to Luther, you can read about, yes. The guy that wrote all those songs with him and was in his and for 20 years, James Solberg, he wrote a long piece for the CD booklet as well. Luther’s widow wrote a long piece too. There’s photos, here too. There’s lots here from people who knew the man, it’s not just the songs. My specific piece is about the first time I met Luther. Then I get into the last time I saw him and what our last conversation was about. When you read that, you’ll really understand why I wanted to do this record for so long.
And you’ll be touring the record you said, going out with the Walter Trout Band as usual. Any East Coast dates for a fellow New Jerseyan to see you?
Yes, we’re actually playing a big festival back in Jersey that we happened to pack when we played it before, the Somers Point Beach Concert Series. And of course we’ll be playing our usual bunch of dates. Check my website (http://www.waltertrout.com/) for details. We’ll definitely be out there.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you about your time in the Bluesbreakers…and then leaving them. Can you fill us in on that journey?
I had a four-piece band back in Jersey, I wrote all the songs, I fronted the band and though we were damn good we couldn’t scare up a gig! We were starving, so I came out here to California in ‘74 with a dream to basically do what I’m doing right now! I immediately got hired by people, I’m playing with Jon Lee Hooker and we do a gig with the guys from Canned Heat and before I know it they say, come join Canned Heat. I do and we open we up for John Mayall, and at the time he has Mick Taylor and John McVie in the band and he says, "I want to hear you play with Mick Taylor." So there I am, out touring next the original Bluesbreakers. Then Mayall says, "I’m gonna put together a new version, why don’t you stick around?" I just went from one to another to another situation.
And Mayall was the dream gig, as you’ve said.
Definitely, an incredible gig. But during it all, I was always writing songs. We’d come off tour and I was fronting a band, we’d play down at the corner bar doing my tunes, Beatles, Stones, all of our influences. And one day, it was actually my 38th birthday, I was playing with John and I’m on stage thinking: "I’m 38, if I ever want to have solo career and not just be somebody’s lead guitar player, which was an incredible gig as I’ve said, I got to explore what’s inside me." So I went to John’s room and told him I had to quit. It was scary, he was paying me great, I was traveling first-class, living the dream, but John’s one of the finest, funniest, greatest guys to work for. He understood I had to take the gamble.
Do you still speak to him?
Yes, were still great friends. He’s recorded four of my songs along the way and as a matter of fact about a month and a half ago he and I went into the studio with my band and recorded two songs .
Quite the tale to tell…and such a long career since.
Well, thank you, yes. I just had to follow my joy of creating, paying and being an artist.