Walter Trout is a bluesman to the core. Inspired to play live blues by a chance meeting with Duke Ellington and cured of destructive drinking and drugging by a close encounter with Carlos Santana, Trout plays live over 300 days a year. In Europe he can barely walk down the street without being noticed, but in America, home of Brittany Spears, he’s happy filling up the Coach House on a good night, and his fans are happy to have him.
Trout is a mountain of a man known for his funny “guitar faces” and sense of humor. Every night he plays a song he wrote for his wife when they were struggling through a pregnancy that threatened their baby. He is a good man, and gave me the favor of a few email responses during his most recent visit to Southern California.

Walter Trout
Carlye Archbeque: The liner notes for the new live CD tell the horrible tale of the sleep and food deprivation you suffered before you recorded in Tampa Bay. What did you do when the show was finished and you could walk off stage?

Walter Trout: Walked immediately to the Blues Revue booth (Blues Revue Magazine) and signed autographs for three hours. Then went to the RV which served as our dressing room and ate some sandwiches. Then crossed the street with my wife and children to our hotel and entered unconsciousness until the morning!

CA: Urban legend has it that you were inspired to play live blues by a chance meeting as a kid with Duke Ellington. How did that chance come about and how old were you.

WT: I started studying the trumpet at age seven. I was pretty serious about it. For my tenth birthday my mother took me to see Duke Ellington (who we’d seen many times before) and Tony Bennett. We went to the theatre early in the afternoon to get tickets and my mother said: “I have an idea”. We walked over to the artist’s entrance and she knocked on the door. A man came and opened the door and my mother said: “My son is an aspiring trumpet player and today is his 10th birthday. Is there any chance Mr Ellington could say hello to him”. Within five minutes we were ushered into the dressing room and ended up spending a few hours with Duke and his orchestra. One of my main memories of that day is having Duke sit and talk to me one on one about a life in the music world. And then having legendary trumpet player Cat Anderson show me his technique for playing those incredibly high notes he could play. This meeting changed my life. I had never met such warm, kind, sincere and charismatic people before. And I decided I wanted to be like them. Four years later I met Buddy Rich and that almost changed my mind….. but that’s another story.

CA: How soon after that did you play your first live gig?

WT: On the trumpet I was playing in bands and orchestras all though my childhood. But my first gig as an electric guitarist happened in 1967 in a record store in New Jersey.

CA: If you were tutoring a young blues guitar player, what are the first three albums you would tell him to listen to?

WT: 1. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band: (self titled album) 2. Buddy Guy: A Man and the Blues 3. BB King: Live at the Regal

CA: What is the difference, for you as a musician, between studio recording and playing live? How much does the interplay between yourself and the audience bring to your playing?

WT: Playing live is the ultimate experience for me. Sometimes I find the studio too confining and controlled. And as my drummer, Bernard Pershey says: ” Using the word ‘control’ and ‘Walter’ in the same sentence doesn’t make sense”. The audience is incredibly important because I feed off the energy they give me, and am able to use it to hit greater heights.

CA: If you could have any other profession, what would it be?

WT: Brain surgeon.

CA: What do you think of the state of the blues in America as compared to Europe?

WT: The State of the Blues? Is that near California? Just kidding…. I think the Blues is at it’s healthiest time in America right now. In Europe I think it peaked about 10 years ago, but it is still doing great.

CA: What’s your favorite pass time when you’re not on the road?

WT: Freelance brain surgery.

CA: I know each live show is different, with its own energy and life, but what would you say was the best show, best meaning most over all fun, you’ve played?

WT: I don’t have one favourite show. I have done so many. In the last 30 years I’ve played constantly and taken very few breaks. I’ve got many great memories, but not one that stands above the rest.

CA: Is there any venue you haven’t played that you really want to? What is it and why?

WT: No.

CA: What’s your proudest accomplishment?

WT: My untapped skill at brain surgery.

Live Trout
Ruf Records

Live Trout – Walter Trout And The Free Radicals
Trout has a new album out, a live set recorded at the Tampa Bay Blues Fest. It captures a set pretty similar to the one he played at the Blue Cafe. And it has the same strengths and weaknesses.

The sonic blast which kicks off the album, a furious frenzy of notes, gives you a good idea of what’s ahead: lots and lots of notes, played with, at once, precision, feeling and overkill.

Cut by cut, it is an intense showcase of hard rocking blues and astounding guitar licks. Trout demonstrates his skill in slow, funky blues (“The Reason I’m Gone”), down and dirty blues (“Gotta Broken Heart” and “Serve Me Right to Suffer”), slow rock (“Walkin’ in the Rain”), and basic rock’n’roll (“Good Enough to Eat”). He also turns in a wonderfully soulful cover of Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released”, revealing the blues beneath the folkie.

However, with over two hours of music, the two disc set can get a bit overwhelming. Especially when, as in the live show I saw, Trout’s solos are up front and constant. The whole disc is hampered by an overblown approach to everything. Quite enjoyable in smaller doses, but, frankly, listening to the whole thing gets tiring.

G. Murray Thomas

Blues Cafe, Long Beach, CA
Friday, Sept. 15, 2000

Walter Trout has the worst case of guitar face I have ever seen. He plays his expressions almost as much as he plays his strings. But he can’t seem to help it, he enjoys playing so much the faces just come. So he might as well exaggerate them and make them part of the show.

A Walter Trout show is like that. The best thing to do is ignore the overblown aspects and occasional corniness, and just get into it. Get into it until you are making funny faces yourself. Trout’s band, The Free Radicals, play every variety of basic blues. They are incredibly tight and lay down a very solid foundation, which Trout then runs all over with his guitar show boating.

Trout’s technique is superb. Whether playing blistering runs, slow sustain, or tweaking with effects, he hits everything right on. Just watching his fingers, and following the sounds they produce, is amazing. And he definitely delivers the energy and enthusiasm necessary for a rocking blues show.

So it doesn’t really matter that you’ve heard almost every lick he plays a hundred times before. Intensity is much more important here than originality. He does have a real nice, original echo effect, but he used it so many times that it was almost a cliche by the end of the night. Which points up the main flaw in his guitar playing — there’s just too much of it. His style is “all solos, all the time.” It got to the point where his nonstop soloing was actually getting in the way of the music. As I said, his band was tight, tight, tight, and they laid down some heavy grooves. But Trout’s constant solos, instead of supporting those grooves, sapped their energy.

It wasn’t until well into the second set the Trout finally pulled back, and got into the grooves himself, started supporting the band’s boogie. And at that point, the audience, which had mostly just been watching, finally started dancing.

G. Murray Thomas