Latest album: We’re All in This Together (Provogue)Website: www.waltertrout.com/
Veteran American blues guitarist Walter Trout is globally respected in both the guitar and blues music community. As one of the still living blues players who has endured and survived a variety of setbacks including some self-inflicted damage over the years, he most recently dodged death through the generous luck of a donated liver that enabled a successful transplant operation. Now with a not surprisingly fully focused mindset, his career renewal is now reaching new peaks with his latest album We’re All In This Together which includes an inspiring list of guest musicians throughout the album. Loud Online took the rare opportunity to chat to Walter by phone from his home in California.
Your latest album, We’re All In This Together, is chock full of top level guest musicians.
Well, I had eighteen lined up but they capped me to fourteen so I had to cancel four of them.
Given there were so many contributions on the album, was there a lot of editing to do?
There wasn’t any editing. There were a few guys who came into the studio and played with us [Walter and band consisting of Sammy Avila on keyboards, Mike Leasure on drums and Johnny Griparic on bass]. Such as Joe Bonamassa, Edgar Winter and my son Jon [Trout] but that was it really. For the rest, I just mapped out the song. I said, this being an example, ‘okay, we’re going to do a song [in this case, ‘Gonna Hurt Like Hell’] and send it to Kenny Wayne Shepherd as he’s going to play on it. I’ll play the intro, I’m going to sing two verses then we’re going to let him do a two verse solo then I’m going to sing another verse, we’re going to do a break and then I’m going to do a solo. Then we’ll do a twelve bar chorus of he and I trading. I’ll take the first trade, so I’ll do four bars and then we’ll leave four bars empty so he’ll do four bars and so on’. So it was just mapped out where I left space for everybody and then we’d say, ‘okay Kenny, on the second verse I want you to play fills around the vocals’. There was no editing but there was a lot of planning that had to go into it. I have to say, when I listen to a lot of them, it is pretty hard to tell that we are not on the same room. If you listen to what Warren Haynes did [on ‘The Sky Is Crying’], it sounds like we’re looking at each other.
Technology allows that to be readily achieved nowadays. Given blues thrives on improvisation, does not having people in the same room to play parts impact on your sense of spontaneity?
It didn’t kill my spontaneity and I don’t think it killed their spontaneity either. I think that is what you’re hearing in there. When Edgar Winter blew that sax solo [on ‘She Steals My Heart Away’], it was as spontaneous as he could get.
The song ‘Ain’t Goin’ Back’ features slide guitarist Sonny Landreth and of course, the slide playing is quite impressive. Have you ever tried to play slide guitar the way that he does?
There is nobody on the planet that can play slide the way that he does. I don’t care who you bring up, Sonny Landreth is the greatest slide guitar player that ever walked the face of the earth. That is just the way it is, the guy is the greatest that ever lived. That’s my opinion but if anybody wants to argue with that, put on a song of his called ‘Pedal to the Metal’. Listen to that and then tell me there is anybody else on the planet that can fucking do that. It is almost like he is an alien from another planet, the way he can play slide so no, I never tried to play slide like Sonny. I mean, I can play slide but I prefer not to do it because I feel like I am just mediocre at it and I don’t want to be mediocre. When I listen to him or when I hear Derek Trucks or Ry Cooder, I kind of leave it up to those guys.
Agreed. I suspect that there is a similar approach to someone like Eric Gales [on ‘Somebody Goin’ Down’] as his style of playing guitar is unique. No one can really do it like that except him.
Yeah, just his vibrato alone, you try to figure out how he gets that vibrato, it is unbelievable. He’s an incredible guitar player, you know, he is frightening. He is a good friend.
Also, playing guitar with your son Jon [on ‘Do You Still See Me At All’], I believe that when he initially took up guitar, he wasn’t into soloing but has learned those skills. Can you elaborate on that?
I am very proud of him. He has always played guitar but it was a little side thing he did where he could strum chords. He was into the Ramones, Green Day and stuff like that when he was a kid. He was never really into the blues but he knows all about it because he was raised in my house. So he knows every blues player but it was never his thing. I think that because it was Dad’s thing, he wanted to do something different. When I got ill four years ago and I was expected to die, he decided at that point that he needed to carry this music on and so he immediately started practising formally and playing blues. He plays in my band now and we do a couple of guitar duels. As a matter of fact, when we do the Joe Bonamassa song [‘We’re All In This Together’] live, my son plays the other part on the song and he’s incredible live. Anything I throw at him he throws right back at me and even more. He is probably technically better than I am but what I have on him is that I’ve been through addictions, divorce and homelessness. I have life experience to put into what I am playing. He’s 24 years old and he doesn’t need to have that and I hope he doesn’t ever become a heroin addict or go through a couple of divorces and have a year of homelessness where he is out on the street. I have been through all of that shit. But technically he was got it on me, you know.
Do you feel that your guitar tone has changed over the years at all?
Well, I’ve been using Mesa Boogie amplifiers for thirty five years since I was in John Mayall’s band [John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers]. In 1984, they endorsed me and I’ve been using Boogies ever since. I started with a Mark 1 [Mesa Boogie] amplifier, I went to a Mark II then a Mark III and now I am on a Mark V. I just think that they are the most versatile amps on the planet. I am very devoted to them and what you are hearing on that record is my stage rig and that is a Mark V through a 4×12 [inch speaker] cabinet with absolutely no pedals. I just plug straight into the amplifier and play.
Mesa Boogies are great amplifiers used by some incredible guitar technicians. But, a Boogie is not an amplifier that is generally associated with blues music. Normally it’s the Fender Twins and Bassmans.
Yeah, I agree with you and there are not a lot blues guys that use Boogies. Most of them tend to have tones which are very similar to each other because they do use a Fender Stratocaster through a Fender amplified and they throw a Tube Screamer [Ibanez overdrive pedal] on there. That’s a beautiful tone but I have always wanted to have something a little different. I think I do and sometimes it pisses the blues purists off and when I piss off a blues purist it makes me very happy.
When you were starting out, did you take close notice of say Clapton’s ‘woman tone’?
Oh of course I did because I started with a Les Paul. That was my first really good guitar. I had some cheap ass shitty electrics back when I was a kid but when I was eighteen and I had just gotten out of high school, I was in bands so by that point it was time to get a real guitar. I got a Gold Top [Gibson] Les Paul in 1968 and then I went to a Gibson 335 as I was a big fan of Cream. I saw them twice in concert and I was heavily into it but one day I was at a jam session in Philadelphia in about 1970 and a guy said, ‘try my Stratocaster’. I said, ‘no way man, I’ve got my 335’ but he insisted so I played the Stratocaster [Strat] and I felt like I had found my partner for life. That was it. I went out, got a Strat and I sold the 335. I have played Strats ever since.
Did you use the Strat in your Bluesbreakers days as well?
Of course, when I was a Bluesbreaker, it was always a Strat. I used the Strat in Canned Heat, I used it with John Lee Hooker, Big Mama Thornton, Percy Mayfield, Bo Diddley, Lowell Fulsome, Pee Wee Crayton, Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson, Joe Tex and with Bobby Hatfield and the Righteous Brothers. I used a Strat for all of them.
Nice work. Just on the album again, you also got in Robben Ford who can pretty much play anything, how did you arrange the track [‘Mr. Davis’] with him?
Well, I had to write a song for each one of these guys, right, except for Warren because we did ‘The Sky is Crying’ but with Robben, I did a gig with him with the Supersonic Blues Machine in Europe and we were jamming together. The footage is actually on YouTube where you can see me, Robben Ford, Steve Lukather, Lance Lopez and Billy Gibbons jamming. But I was sitting with Robben and he had said he would be on the record and I said, ‘well Robben, you’ve played with Charlie Musselwhite, Miles Davis and Joni Mitchell. I’m not sure what the fuck I should be writing for you.’ He said, ‘I really love the blues’. So I told him, ‘how about I come up with something like the old Freddie King instrumentals’. Freddie King used to these guitar instrumentals that were iconic like ‘Hideaway’ or ‘The Stumble’ and Robben was keen to do that sort of thing. Also, on that cut you have the final recording of the legendary Hammond organ player Deacon Jones who was with Freddie King for twenty years and then was John Lee Hooker’s band leader for twenty five years. That is his final recording.
Wow. That also links to Joe Louis Walker being on the album for the song ‘Crash and Burn’.
Joe was awesome and he was really great on that cut and I think his playing has a lot of humour to it. He is a really dear friend of mine. We’re good buddies and we’ve played together a lot and I tend to think of Joe as an icon of this music. He’s the real deal, man. I’m not sure if he played with Freddie King or John Lee Hooker but I know that he was Michael Bloomfield’s roommate for a long time and that is something else.
Finally, is there any chance you might be coming back down to Australia again soon?
You know I would love to come back to Australia. I was actually booked to play the Bryon Bay Blues Festival in 2014. My old friend, Peter Noble, who puts that on, had booked me there and he had also booked me a couple of club shows and I was excited to get back there. However, then I got ill and I had to cancel an entire year of work. I ended up in the hospital on my back for eight months and had to get a liver transplant so when I say I was ill, that is an understatement. I was on the verge of death, you know.
It is truly staggering stuff. We’re all indeed very happy that you’re still with us. It has been a pleasure to talk to you.
Well, thanks a lot man, you know, I played Australia constantly with Canned Heat and constantly with John Mayall. I have so many friends in Australia and I would so love to get back there. I used to have a great time there. As a matter of fact, when I was in Canned Heat, I and Adolfo ‘Fito’ de la Parra [drummer of Canned Heat] decided that we were going to move to Australia and hire some Australian musicians so we could have Canned Heat based in Australia. We applied to move there but we were turned down because they told us that they figured that Canned Heat was a criminal organisation. I’m not making that up but to be honest, in those days around 1980 or 1981, they weren’t far from wrong.