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Walter Trout: Thriving With The Blues

Jim Worsley By

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I considered using the word surviving, instead of thriving, in the title. However, as you will see, Walter Trout has done much more than "just survive" his real life blues. Trout speaks candidly about his struggles and near fatal experience with liver disease and the ensuing transplant. He also spoke with humor, vigor, and a renewed energy and zest for life. Oh, and we talked about music too.

All About Jazz Thank you so much for taking the time to talk today.

Walter Trout: No problem. Just give me a minute to put my guitar down.

AAJ: Of course, while you do that let me say that the first time I heard you play was way back in 1987 at the legendary Golden Bear in Huntington Beach, CA with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. I didn't know who you were walking in the door, but I sure did by the end of your set. That had to be a blast playing with Mayall.

WT: Well, you know, people sometimes ask me about my sideman years. I was a sideman for seventeen years. The most fun I ever had was playing with John Mayall. It was a blast. He is ridiculously funny when you're out on the road with him. His humor is incredible. Being a bandleader is a talent in itself. He has the knack for keeping things lighthearted. He's one of the best. The music was always very free. He gives you a free range. I can tell you that when I first played with him I had grown up being a student of his older albums with Eric Clapton, Mick Taylor, and Peter Green. The first couple of gigs we were doing some songs that he had done with Clapton. I was in awe of the tradition and playing the Clapton solos. So I played the solos and afterwards John says to me, "If I had wanted Eric Clapton, I would have hired Eric Clapton! I love the way you play and I want you to give this your own approach." He freed me and I really grew as a musician after that. It was like going to the Harvard University of the Blues. But, you know, with every band you are dealing with personalities and sometimes guys end up hating each other. John was very aware of that and tried to keep things fun. The band may be on stage for two hours, but the guys are basically living and traveling together all the time.

AAJ: It must have indeed been a great education playing and learning with the Father of British Blues.

WT: I can tell you a good John Mayall story. When I did my first solo tour I was still in his band. He was going to take about four months off. So this promoter in Europe says if I put a band together he will book me a little tour. Before I left, John gave me a cassette tape wrapped in brown paper. He said, "Two weeks into the tour you guys are all going to start hating each other. When it reaches a breaking point you unwrap the tape and play it." Sure enough, two weeks into the tour we're all starting to fucking hate each other. So, I unwrapped the tape and played it. It was forty-five minutes of him farting. He went around with a little recorder and every time he needed to fart he recorded it. He had labeled the tape "The Farter of British Blues." So, minutes into the tape, we were all dying of laughter, and it completely broke the ice. Then, when I got sober, John was very proud of me. I gave up cocaine, stopped drinking, and stopped doing blow. Later in the mail I received a package from John. Turned out to be an espresso machine. It came with a note that said, "This will keep you wired." I just love the guy.

AAJ: That's hysterical. It must have been a kick then to have Mayall on your latest record, We're All In This Together. Can you talk about the song "Blues For Jimmy T" that you wrote, and the two of you did together?

WT: Jimmy T was Jimmy Trapp. If you look on like my first ten records or so, you'll see that he was my bassist. Jimmy came up through the ranks playing in bar bands in Orange County back in the early 70's. We were best friends for thirty years. He died in 2005 at the age of 52. It has taken me a long time to even be able to write about him because I really miss him deeply. So, to be able to play that song about my old buddy with my surrogate father is probably, for me, the most emotional number on there. Sometimes it is hard for me to listen to it, because it brings up so many feelings.

AAJ: The diversification of fourteen guest artists on the record provides wide-ranging layers of the blues genre. Was it a challenge to write compositions to best fit their individual styles?

WT: It was a challenge, but it was also fun. It was something I took on joyously. Many of the artists are good friends of mine and I was very familiar with their work. Others I took pleasure in getting into their catalog to get a better feel. For Kenny Wayne Shepherd I had a few selections to choose from. So, I still have some in the can. There is one that is kind of an Elmore James kind of thing and another that is a slow minor blues. It was the same with Joe Bonamassa. I decided that we were either going to do some heavy rock deal, or let's do kind of a slow blues. I ended up with the title track. Edgar Winter does such a wide variety of styles of music that I told him I wasn't sure what to do with him. I loved his quote. He said, "Well, my first love is the blues. But when I heard my brother start playing the guitar, I figured he had the blues covered, and I needed to do other stuff."

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