Walter Trout is the consummate bluesman, a singer, songwriter and blazing guitarist whose career has seen him performing and recording all around the world with a litany of the genre’s very best artists.
His new album, “We’re All In This Together,” released today on the Provogue label, is both a testament to his stature and the affection for which he is held in the music community. It is also a stunning achievement, for Trout gathered 14 of his best musical colleagues and then wrote original songs for each one, which he performs with them on the record.
If Trout’s new album is a landmark work, it’s also a most remarkable revival for a man whose very survival was in doubt by the end of 2012. Trout, a New Jersey native who had moved to Los Angeles and joined John Lee Hooker’s band in the early 1970s, went on to a stint in Canned Heat. Perhaps his most famous work as a sideman was in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, from 1984-89, when he and Coco Montoya provided the British blues legend with one of his most potent groups.
Trout had gone solo in 1989, and steadily won acclaim, mostly in Europe at first – his American solo debut album didn’t arrive until 1998. But he had built a solid and very loyal fanbase on both sides of the Atlantic by the time his liver began failing. Early in 2013 Trout had a liver transplant in Nebraska, thanks in large part to fundraising efforts by his family, friends and thousands of fans. Trout had lost 100 pounds by the time of his surgery and it took time to rebuild his strength enough for the stage.
But his 2015 comeback album, “Battle Scars,” was a powerful blast of his muscular blues-rock, showing his gravelly baritone voice was back and his fluid guitar work was as fiery as ever. The album was a riveting collection of songs depicting his struggle and rebirth and it struck a chord with fans everywhere. The Blues Music Awards in 2016 recognized “Battle Scars” as the Rock/Blues Album of the Year, and chose the tune “Gonna Live Again” as Song of the Year. Last year Trout released the live CD “Alive in Amsterdam,” and he’s continued touring all over the world. The new album will be his 26th as a leader.
Some of the many stars on the new disc include Mike Zito, Joe Bonamassa, Charlie Musselwhite, Mayall, rocker Randy Bachman, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Warren Haynes, jazz guy Robben Ford, Eric Gales, Sonny Landreth, Joe Louis Walker, Edgar Winter, and son Jon Trout. Writing songs for all those different people and then adjusting to performing with them sounds like a lot of work.
“It was a little daunting, but actually a lot of fun, too,” said Trout from an Ottawa tour stop this week. “We worked in some different ways. For Kenny Wayne Shepherd, I came up with three different grooves for the tune and we did all three and then picked one we liked best. I did that with a few of the artists and we’d try the various grooves and see what worked best. That part was fun.”
“Actually we had 18 artists lined up to do this,” Trout added. “But the record company wanted us to hold it to 14, so I had to call four people and tell them we’d have to wait until the next record. But this project required a lot of planning and logistics and for that I have to thank my wife. She booked all the studios and scheduled all the work. A couple guys recorded their parts while on tour and she found them studios. She played the major part in putting this together – all I did was write songs and then play.”
Mike Zito has been effusive in his praise of Trout and credits him for helping him get sober. Trout has said his health problems probably trace to his wild lifestyle in his younger days.
“I thought the track Mike Zito did turned out awesome,” said Trout with enthusiasm. “As far as that other, I sort of did for him what Carlos Santana did for me 30 years ago. He just sat me down for a long talk, told me to check myself out and what I was doing to myself and helped me see what I had to do. That’s all I did for Mike, but I was happy to be able to help and he’s a massive talent.”
Trout can look back on those Mayall years and appreciate how it raised his profile internationally. “Playing with John from ’84-’89 is a pretty good credential,” Trout chuckled. “I am very proud of that period. Being in his band makes you part of a very exclusive club. And Coco Montoya, to this day, is my brother and my dearest friend.”
While “Battle Scars” marked his physical recovery and a universal critical acclaim, Trout still finds some of it difficult to perform.
“It feels great to have had that album get so much recognition and honor,” said Trout. “But that album was pretty emotional to write and perform, and doing those songs live is still really emotional. It is all about the experience I was going through and I got very involved in it and it was life and death. I’m also very aware that I’m lucky to have come out the other side. Some of those songs bring me back to those difficult times, but I am able to do it and celebrate the outcome.”
“This new one is either my 26th or 27th album,” Trout added. “But when I’m dead and gone, I think people may look on ‘Battle Scars’ as the crowning achievement of my life. And I’m alright with that, because it was done with a lot of tears and means so much to us. But, this new album is a whole ’nother side of feeling, an album that is very joyous and fun.”
One standout pal on the new record is Musselwhite, the legendary harmonica ace who has been a major part of the blues scene since even before Trout arrived. “He’s an old friend. I’ve known Charlie since my days with Canned Heat,” Trout explained. “After (original Canned Heat member) Bob Hite died, they asked me to go on their last tour. I was playing with John Lee Hooker at the time. They intended to finish that one tour and break up, but they decided to continue on after that.”
“Curtis Salgado had been scheduled to play with us and he had his heart attack and then open heart surgery (in New Hampshire),” Trout explained. “I was very fortunate to be able to call John Nemeth. It was awesome of him to make time for us, and I had wanted a harmonica player there, since I had written a song with Curtis in mind. John came in and did it immediately, and we were only a day late turning in the finished album.”
No doubt Trout’s favorite cut is “Do You See Me At All,” featuring his son Jon Trout on guitar. When the transplant took Walter off the road for months, Jon stepped in and fronted his band to fulfill all their upcoming dates, satisfying fans and also keeping the Trout band working. “That’s the best song for me, and Jon’s with us now, playing great and serving as my road manager,” said Trout.