Turns out, me and Walter Trout, we’ve got something in common. Granted he’s probably the finest blues player around and I am just some bloke who loves his records. But, me and the big man share a view on covers.
Just before Christmas, I went to see Black Stone Cherry. Decent gig and all that, but they dragged a version of “Hoochie Coochie Man” out so long that it tried my patience and I turned to my mate and said: “does anyone need another version of this?”
Now a couple of weeks before I had been to watch Walter Trout, as I have done plenty of times. During that gig he played a new song called “Me, My Guitar And The Blues” and I wrote this. In fact I liked the damn song so much that I even started the review with this paragraph: “Walter Trout told us to keep this secret – but it’s too good. Towards the start of his set, he plays a new song. “Me, My Guitar And The Blues”. It is, he explains, from a new record that no one knows about (sorry Walter…). If the emotion his guitar conveys during it, is one thing, then the way it explodes before the end is quite another. It is an astonishing cut – and considering his last two albums have been immense, then there’s no reason to doubt him this time, either.”
I didn’t know then, but I do know now, that the song is a cover. Indeed, “Survivor Blues” is an album of covers. But, here’s the thing. Blokes like me aren’t meant to know these songs. Walter does, though and he puts it like this: “I’m riding in my car sometimes, I’ve got a blues station on – and here’s another band doing ‘Got My Mojo Workin’. And there’s a little voice in me that says, ‘Does the world need another version of that song?’ So I came up with an idea. I didn’t want to do ‘Stormy Monday’ or ‘Messin’ With The Kid’. I didn’t want to do the blues greatest hits. I wanted to do old, obscure songs that have hardly been covered. And that’s how Survivor Blues started…”
Which is basically the point. So yeah, “…The Blues” might be a Jimmy Dawkins tune, but here it belongs to Walter and the boys. Like always and like they all do.
A wonderful aspect of The Blues generally is its ability to have universal appeal and themes. So it is Sunnyland Slim’s “Be Careful How You Vote” will have resonance still, wherever you are in the world, but listening to it here is simply to listen to a band at the very peak of its powers.
“Woman Don’t Lie” sees them get soulful and the funk filled vocals are superb. Assembling a crack team around him of drummer Michael Leasure, bassist Johnny Griparic, the spell-casting fingers of Trout conspirator, Skip Edwards on keyboards (and his organ makes this as much as Trout’s wonderful playing) ensures that these were always going to be more than copies. It is no exaggeration to say that even if you know these they sound like originals in these hands.
“Sadie” to that end, doesn’t half sound like The Doors, and even one of the few here I did know before this record BB King’s genius “Please Love Me” is turned into a Walter Rip Snorter, while he has a nod to his former life as a Bluesbreaker in the lyrically powerful and sonically beautiful “Nature Disappearing” and the theme of environmental concerns continues on the wonderful hard rock of “Red Sun”, which is a real departure from the norm.
“Something Inside Of Me” is most definitely rooted in the blues, and “It Takes Time” sees everyone here have fun, while – although Trout’s playing is restrained throughout – you just know he loved “Out Of Bad Luck”.
My younger brother had a compilation of really old blues songs. One of those 5CD anthologies. Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “Goin’ Down to The River” was on it. Not like this, though and most definitely without Robbie Krieger on. And goodness me, can that man still let it go! And as Trout ends with “God’s Word” and turns it into a 12-bar classic of biblical proportions, you are left wondering how he does it too. How he makes it look so effortless, how he can even do covers so well.
“I’m a survivor (what), I’m not gon’ give up (what) I’m not gon’ stop (what), I’m gon’ work harder (what) I’m a survivor (what), I’m gonna make it (what) I will survive (what), keep on survivin’ (what)” Those, according to Google are the lyrics for Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor”. The reason for quoting Beyonce and the lasses on the site for the first (and probably only) time is twofold. First, those words, might apply to Walter, and second he could probably do a version of that and make it sound ace too.
“Survivor Blues” is one of the great covers albums, by one of the great artists.