Walter Trout Talks Blues and Survival

Walter Trout, an American blues guitarist and singer songwriter chats with Kevin Cooper about his illness and recovery, his fondness for John Mayall, his Battle Scars album and his UK tour.

Walter Trout is an American blues guitarist and singer songwriter, whose career began on the Jersey coast scene of the late 60s and early 70s. When relocating to Los Angeles, he worked in the bands of John Lee Hooker and Joe Tex.In 1981 he became the guitarist for Canned Heat, which then led to him playing in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. Leaving the band in 1989 he formed the Walter Trout Band which made its UK debut in 1990.In 1998 Trout released his self-titled US debut album and renamed his band Walter Trout And The Free Radicals which he later changed to simply being Walter Trout. In June 2013, while touring Germany, Trout got the first signs that he was suffering from cirrhosis of the liver. With his heath deteriorating, he continued to tour until he was told he needed a liver transplant within 90 days. By 2015 Trout had recovered and was able to go on Tour in Europe.In 2016, he won two Blues Music Awards for Gonna Live Again (Song of the Year), and the Rock Blues Album of the Year for Battle Scars.

After giving us all a scare recently I have to ask, how are you?

I will tell you something, I have just been into the bathroom to brush my teeth and comb my hair and I took a look in the mirror and said "I feel great"

You have recently been made a Patron of the British Liver Trust. How did that make you feel when they approached you?

It really is awesome. I feel like I am in a position in the public eye behind a pulpit from where I can preach organ donation from, and I can reach out to people. I feel that it is a great thing. I had never thought about organ donation before I got sick. I knew that it existed and I had heard about it but I never found it on my realm of concern at all. However, I now realise just how important it is and the fact that you can save lives. You can really help other people; not just saving lives but you can do other things such as donating the corneas of your eyes to blind people or your skin can go to burn victims. It truly is an amazing thing. For me to become a Patron of the British Liver Trust was awesome for me. I'm so glad that they thought of me and I was very flattered that they asked me.

I now consider it my mission to spread the word. In some ways I almost feel like that was one of the reasons why I was kept here because by all reasoning I really should be dead. Why I survived what I went through there has got to be some reason, not just to play music or be a dad. I feel that it is because I can go out and spread the word. I talk about organ donation every night from the stage. And every night someone comes up to me after the show and tells me that I have made them think about it and that they are going to sign up for it when they get home. That makes me feel that it is the best thing that I can do in my life right now.

Were you pleased with just how warmly your album Battle Scars was received?

I was totally blown away. I didn't put any thought into what kind of song I should be writing. I wrote that whole album in two days. In fact I wrote six of the songs in one afternoon. It all just came out of me. I didn't know how it would be received, but what I did know was that it was rather dark and graphic but it was something that I had to do for my own self. Writing the album was my therapy session. I still suffer from severe PTSD after that experience which I went through, and instead of going to a therapist and trying to talk about it I just put it all into music. The way the album was received just blew my mind. It warmed my heart too.

Battle Scars has just been voted as the Blues Rock album of the year. That must make you feel good?

To be honest with you it is hard for me to describe just how that makes me feel after what I went through and just how close I came to death many times. You have to remember that I was in the hospital for seven months and so for me to come back and have my career rejuvenated like this is amazing. It is totally amazing.

I was speaking to Joe Bonamassa recently and he simply can't speak highly enough of you. He only has nice things to say about you.

That is really great to hear, that's awesome. I do have to say that Joe played on the Full Circle album and we had a ball. When I went to hand him a cheque he said "no, I won't take that, this has been fun for me. I won't take your money, please use the money to promote your album". I thought that was a really beautiful gesture. That was an amazing gesture.

You have briefly mentioned your forthcoming UK tour; it kicks off here in Nottingham at Rock City.

It does although I wasn't aware of that fact until someone pointed it out to me. It will be good for me to get back to Rock City as I haven't played there in years now.

What can we expect from the show?

Well, I have to say that the band is kicking ass. Right now I think that it is the best band that I have ever had. We will be playing a lot of the songs off Battle Scars together with some old blues songs. We will also be playing some of the old songs from my back catalogue and we are killing it right now. It's an awesome band and we are so excited to be getting back out on the road over there in the UK.

Is the blues currently in a good place?

I think so. In fact I would say that the blues is in a great place. You have people like Joe (Bonamassa) who have broken through and taken it to a higher level of acceptance and have put it out there in front of people. It has always been a bit of a niche market if you know what I mean. But there is always somebody who comes along every generation and breaks through which Stevie Ray Vaughan did twenty-five years ago and now it is Joe. Every town that I go into there is always kids of about thirteen years old who play the blues. There is an entirely new younger generation coming up that in ten years from now there is going to be a whole new generation of blues guitarists.

I personally think that the blues is thriving and my theory is that it is a backlash against all of the corporate produced computerised shit that the mainstream media forces down our throats. Kids who grow up hearing that shit on the radio all of the time suddenly hear a Stevie Ray Vaughan album and it blows their mind. They can't believe that it is a human being playing an instrument. They can't believe that there is emotion and feeling in it. It's visceral and it comes from the gut, it's not slick bullshit. So I think that there is this incredible new crop of young blues musicians who are coming up. It's a backlash against all of the shit that they have been raised with and so the blues is in a healthy great place I think.

What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

Coming back from the brink of death and starting over again (laughter). I can't mention one particular gig because there have been too many but to come back from the brink of death and start over again has to be at least one of the highlights. When I got out of the hospital I couldn't play, I had to start over and relearn, which took me over a year. So for me to get back and suddenly have my career hitting new heights I would have to say is the highlight of my career. With regards to my musical life I am at the very best time of my life right now.

You have played with some of the greats, Big Mama Thornton, John Mayall, John Lee Hooker and Joe Tex to name but a few. Who has given you the greatest pleasure?

The five years that I was with John Mayall I have to say was probably the most fun that I have ever had as a musician. It's not that I haven't had fun on my own but when it is just me then there is a certain pressure there. People come out to see me and if I am not on my game they say "we saw Walter Trout and he wasn't so good". But touring with Mr Mayall I just had to tour the world, have a great time, play four or five solos every night and his sense of humour is second to none. It was like touring the world with Monty Python (laughter). It was so much fun and he is such a character and so unique. He manages to lead a band by keeping it light-hearted. Even when it gets gruelling out there and you are tired, had bad food, there is always humour. That was the most fun that I have ever had, those five years on the road with him.

Kevin Cooper By NottmPostEG Nottingham Post | Wed 12 Oct 2016

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