We’re All In This Together features 14 tracks along with appearances from a who’s who of the blues world. The star studded record includes collaborations with the likes of Joe Bonamassa, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Warren Haynes, Edgar Winter, Mike Zito, John Mayall, Sonny Landreth and Jon Trout, to name but a few.
Walter Trout will be returning to the UK for an extensive tour in support of his new album, which kicks off on 6th October in Worthing. National Rock Review recently caught up with Walter Trout on the release day of his new record during a 500-mile cross country drive to his next show. Walter talked about the writing and recording process for his new album, life on the road as well as one of his blues heroes, B.B. King.
NRR: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us here National Rock Review again, we really appreciate it. So you are currently out on tour across the US, you are in the middle of a 500-mile journey across the country right now. How have the shows been going so far?
Walter: The shows have been going great, I’ve been basically touring the States all Summer, I’ve been out here for a couple of months. I would say maybe 7 out of 10 shows have been sold out. I mean it’s been awesome, we’re having a great time out here.
NRR: What would you say has been the highlight of the tour so far?
Walter: There’s been a lot of highlights, I can’t really pick one. I mean we played in Canada the other night to about – I don’t know 17/18,000 people and it was an awesome show. I didn’t feel kind of right about it because my opener was Mavis Staples and you know she’s an icon, and my respect for her is so huge. But I think it showed the level that we are kind of achieving over here in North America now after years of pounding the pavements, we are getting to that point now you know.
NRR: Obviously, today is a big day for you as well, your new album We’re All In This Together was released today via Mascot Label Group. The album has got a who’s who of guest appearances from the whole of the music world, I was listening to the album and I have to say it’s fantastic.
I know that with the wonders of modern technology some of these tracks were recorded by sending song parts back and forth between the different collaborators. But when you listen to the record you can’t hear that it just sounds completely seamless and organic. I just wondered how did you make those recordings sound so organic, you literally sound as if you are in the same room?
Walter: Ok, let’s take an example. I played at Carnegie Hall with Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Edgar Winter and I talked to Kenny and said how about we record something together. He was like yeah that would be great, he goes but I’m not gonna be in LA for a while. I said I can send you a track – because he’s in Louisiana you know.
So the first thing I have to do is write a song with him in mind right. So I think about him for a while and I sit down and I come up with a tune. Then I go into the studio with the band and with producer Eric Corne and we map it out.
We go ok, here’s what we are gonna do – the opening/the intro I’m gonna play the lead, then there’s gonna be two vocal verses and on the second vocal verse, we will have Kenny play fills around the vocal. Then we are gonna give Kenny a two chorus guitar solo, then we are gonna have a third vocal verse, then we are gonna do a break which is the beginning of my solo and out of the break, I will do a two chorus solo. Then we will do a chorus where he and I trade back and forth, then we will play this ending together. It’s all mapped out.
We basically, just go over it with the band and everybody has sort of the blue print and they know what’s coming up. On the solo parts where I’m gonna be playing solos, I do it with the band right there, to get the kind of organic feel there, I play the solos with the band, but where Kenny would be playing we just leave it blank. Then where there’s going to be the guitar conversation back and forth I say to the band, ok I’ll take the first four measures then he’ll get four measures and I play my lick and then when we have that done we send that off to Kenny.
Now Kenny listens to it and being the caliber that he is, all of these guys are of the caliber that they can listen to what I send them and they can pop into it and they can get in that studio and they can close their eyes and play and they can feel like they are right there with the band. All of them, they play off of what I send them – do you know what I’m saying?
Walter: So even if we are not standing in the same room together if I play that lick and I looked the guy in the face, there’s a good chance he would play right back at me what’s on that record because he would feel what I did and he would answer it. It’s not a duel, it’s a conversation, I don’t believe that music is like sports, this is not a competition and nobody on this album would call it a duel, and I hate that phrase. This is not a cutting session, this is a conversation between friends who respect each other. So that’s how those tracks were done, every song had to be kind of have a blue print and be mapped out and then we send it off.
Now there were a couple of times – there were one or two songs where I listened to what they did, especially on like guys who were going to sing a vocal verse. Here’s an example – Mike Zito, his song we sent it off to him and he sings his vocal, right. Now I need to play fills around his vocal, but because his vocal’s not there, I go back in now after he has sung his part and I hear what he’s done. I go back in the studio and I play fills around what he has done. So this whole thing evolves organically and grows as we do it.
NRR: That’s amazing. I believe one of the tracks where you were in the studio together was with Joe Bonamassa for the title track.
Walter: That’s right.
NRR: I understand you got that down in a single take – is that right?
Walter: Well what you are hearing on there is basically the rehearsal. You know we came in the studio and we setup in a circle, in a big room, we’re all in the same room. I said ok I wrote this song – I wrote this song the night before.
I’m like I’ve gotta have a song for Joe, I better write something (laughing). So I sat down the night before, I wrote the tune with some help in the lyrics from my wife Marie, she actually contributed the third verse and lyrically I needed a third verse and she came up with that.
So I go in and I say ok guys here’s how it goes, and I kind of play the song for them on my guitar and then we discuss it and we map it out together again.
I say ok Joe I want you to play the intro, you are gonna sing the second verse, here’s the lyrics. I’m gonna play fills around your verse, you are gonna play fills around my verse, you’re gonna play three verses, then we are gonna do a vocal verse where we play it off vocally, then I’m gonna do three choruses, then we are gonna stay on the one and then we are gonna trade back and forth.
We just talked it out and we played it once and it was basically, we looked at each other and said ok let’s try it, let’s see what happens and at the end of it we all looked around and said there’s absolutely no need to do that again, we just nailed it, that’s it. So what we got on there is really spontaneous, it’s really raw, it’s right in your face and we are having just the time of our life on there and I think you can hear it.
NRR: Definitely, it sounds incredible. Obviously, you’ve got fourteen contributors on this record. I just wondered was there anyone that you wanted to get on the album to collaborate with who you didn’t manage to include this time around?
Walter: Well I can tell you I had 18 guests lined up and the record label asked me if I would be so kind as to keep it to 14, just due to time constraints and how much we can fit even on like a double CD you know. So there were four other guests that I couldn’t get on the record, I’d prefer not to mention their names though because I’d rather talk about who was on there as opposed to not whose on there. But yeah there were 18 guests and I have to say the other four are stellar, amazing musicians and stars in their own right and hopefully I will maybe include them on the next record.
NRR: I was just wondering because obviously, all of these tracks they all feature a collaboration of some sorts and there are lots of different kinds of collaborations on there, you’ve got some great slide guitar from Sonny Landreth, you’ve got some great blues harp players like John Mayall, you’ve got sax from Edgar Winter. I was just wondering how do you intend to incorporate these songs into your set, obviously you can’t take all of these guests out on the road with you. Have you thought about how you are going to approach these songs live?
Walter: Well we’re doing a lot of the songs live. I can tell you, for example, my son Jon who is on the record, he has a track, he’s with my band and we do the track he’s on live and Jon plays the other guitar and he blazes on it. You can go on YouTube and watch some live videos of us doing that song you will hear that he’s killing it. Also, with him, we do the Kenny Wayne Shepherd song. Now we do the Randy Bachman song ….and the vocal verse my drummer sings, he sings Randy’s part.
We do the Sonny Landreth song and I just play the guitar solo and I say ok everybody, you will have to imagine Sonny Landreth on here if you want to hear what it sounds like with him you are going to have to buy the record, you know.
Also, if I’m playing a gig and there’s a great guitar player there, maybe even a guy from the opening act who I think is good I’ll get him up and we’ll do one of the tunes. If like I’ve done some festivals this summer where there have been great harmonica players – I’ll get them up and we will do the Charlie Musslewhite song, so I do it like that you know. If there’s somebody there I’ll get them up there.
I did a gig earlier this summer and Sonny Landreth was there and he came up and played. So if they are around I’ll get them up there and if they’re not I’ll get other people up there but we still do the songs you know. We do the Edgar Winter song, without the saxophone, I just play a guitar solo, you know.
NRR: The album title itself is quite an interesting one. I was just wondering could you tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind that?
Walter: It has kind of a double meaning. First, when I came up with it, I was thinking about that it’s all of this group of friends and we are all working kind of …we’re trying to create some sort of finished work of art out of the sum of its parts here. We’re all trying to contribute to this and they were all very enthusiastic about being on there. I also thought that every one of the guests gave their very best to me on this and I was moved.
But it’s also about what’s happening in the United States right now and it’s a country very divided and very torn and it’s getting more divided every day and it’s getting more insane. I want the people in this country to realize that I believe that underneath we all want the same thing. We all want to have a good life, we all want to raise our kids, we all want there to be peace and so it’s got two meanings to it.
NRR: On the record, there’s a really incredible rendition of “The Sky is Crying” with Warren Haynes. I know obviously, that’s an Elmore James number. I was just wondering what made you want to choose that particular track on the record because I think all of the rest of the songs are original?
Walter: Yeah, well that one – there was a reason behind that. I can tell you, back before I got sick, I would say it was five or six years ago, Warren with his band Gov’t Mule was playing at the New Orleans Jazz Festival, which is probably the biggest music festival in the United States. He invited me to come to New Orleans and get up and play with Gov’t Mule as a guest.
I got there and we didn’t rehearse or anything, and before we went on, I said what do you want to do? He said you are really a blues guy, so how about we do “The Sky is Crying” and I said yeah that would be great. So we just got up there and we played it, and we ripped it up man.
So when this came about, I was actually in Los Angeles and I was having dinner with Warren Haynes and Robben Ford. I said hey Warrren, Robben man why don’t we record something. Warren said you know when we did “The Sky is Crying,” I thought we tore it up and maybe we should record it because it came out so good. I was like yeah that’s a great idea.
So that’s how that transpired and that’s the only cover on the record. That was just because we performed it live and we had a great time. I think it’s very cool because with Govt Mule you don’t hear him do that much sort of blues stuff you know, so the people really get to hear him really play the blues on that cut, he’s jaw droppingly good on there.
NRR: And that guitar conversation at the end of that track is absolutely sublime.
Walter: Yeah, you know I sent him my part and he played around it and once again that’s because of the incredible caliber of his musicianship, that he could pop into what I’m doing and he could play right back at me you know.
NRR: The album not only highlights your friendships but also your musical past. You’ve got collaborations with the likes of John Mayall and Deacon Jones and Skip Edwards. With this album, it must have been a bit like walking down memory lane?
Walter: Well it was and I have to say probably the most emotional experience for me on this whole thing was doing that cut with Mr. Mayall because he is still to this day like a father to me, I consider him like a surrogate father – I’m that close to him.
The song we do is a song I wrote about my bass player and my former very best friend, the man that started my band with so many years ago Jimmy Trapp, who died 12 years ago. It’s taken me all of this time to be able to even write something about him because I miss him. So to do a song about my best friend and to do it with my surrogate dad and just have it be the two of us it was a really moving and really intimate experience and that cut is almost too hard for me to listen to. It makes me weep.
NRR: That’s understandable. Besides your friendships, like you mentioned earlier you’ve got your family on there, there’s a great collaboration with your son Jon. You know I saw Jon perform with you recently in the UK, and it seems like he’s definitely following in your footsteps. That must have been a really special track for you to record on the album?
Walter: Well that’s another really emotional one for me because it’s ….after almost dying and coming back, it’s hard for me to even express what it means for me to be able to play music with my son and to share that experience.
We had a good time doing that, I can tell you that, we got up one morning and I said hey man, let’s write a song. We each had a double espresso and we sat down at the kitchen table with two acoustic guitars and we wrote that song together. Then later that day we went in the studio and we played it with the band. That was a beautiful experience.
He was a little nervous because it was his first time recording in a big studio in LA you know, it was quite a prestigious place where we did that cut. It was the House of Blues Studios, which is where Michael Jackson did a lot of his recordings, so Jon was a little nervous and I thought he rose to the occasion and played and sang beautifully on there.
NRR: Definitely, it’s a beautiful song. Besides the album you are going to be back in the UK touring with the record very shortly, I think in October. I know that you’ve been coming here for many years, I just wondered what’s your favorite thing about our little island?
Walter: Well it’s always really special to me to get back there because every time I’m there I think about the people of your country who have been supporting me and my music now for – well the first time I came there was in 1989, so we are going on 28 years. The fact that they still come out to the shows and they support my music the way they do, it means the world to me and I love the people of the UK. I love coming and playing for them and they always just make me feel great – I love coming there, you know.
NRR: I also wanted to ask you about BB King, because I know that BB was a huge influence on you and I’ve heard you tell the story of your first meeting with him when you were younger and how he took the time to talk to you. I just wondered do you have a favorite BB King track or a favorite BB King album and if so which one and why?
Walter: Well you’ve got to go to Live at the Regal. That’s the album that when I was a kid that’s the album that really blew my mind. I think it’s right up there with the greatest live albums ever done.
There were two live albums that I heard when I was a little kid that blew my mind and one was BB King Live at the Regal and the other was James Brown Live at the Apollo and they were both from the same era.
That BB King album is the ultimate example of a great bluesman just completely commanding an adoring audience and just the energy that goes between the audience and between him on that album, if you just close your eyes it’s like you are there. The excitement and the energy that comes off that album is almost unmatched in any live album.
I also know that in the last 20 or 30 years, when people do live albums a lot of them … they do the recording and then they go in the studio and they fix it up, right. They add audience sounds and they do all that, which I refuse to do that on my live records, but on that BB album that wasn’t done back then. That is just a perfect example of the world’s greatest bluesman at his peak.
NRR: Obviously, we are heading towards the end of this year and 2018 is just around the corner, I just wondered what’s on the cards, what are your plans going forward?
Walter: My plans are to … you know after facing death every day for almost two years like I did, my plan, in the long run, is to keep playing music as long as I can, but my immediate plan is to just get through the day. I’m profoundly aware that we are all on borrowed time and I just want to make the best of whatever time I have left and that means try to play music to the best of my ability, to get out to play for people because it’s what I love and it’s what nurtures and sustains me. Also to try to be the best husband and father that I can be and that’s all I’m interested in is those things.
NRR: Thank you so much again for taking the time to speak to me today Walter I really appreciate it, it’s always a pleasure to chat with you, it’s always great to see you over here in the UK as well. I saw your show in Whitley Bay earlier this year, and hopefully, I will catch you again in a few weeks time when you are back in the UK.
Good luck with everything you’ve got going on, good luck with the album release and the US tour and we will see you over on this side of the pond again very soon.
Walter: Hey thanks, Adam. Good talking to you man.