(Photo by Jayne Tansey-Patron)
Rewind the clock. It's June 15th and the Royal Albert Hall in London hosts a Tribute Evening to the late great Lead Belly. Among the many guest artists performing throughout the evening, Walter Trout's name is certainly among the most expected to be seen on stage, in this stunning English venue. I have been waiting to talk to Trout for a long time now and no better chance to interview him than tonight's special music event.
Trout is due to come on stage in about 30 minutes and Marie, Walter Trout's wife, kindly reaches me to tell me to do the interview right now. When I enter the Dressing Room, Trout looks visibly tense and almost absent, mind solely concentrated about what is gonna happen in few minutes on stage. When we start the interview, I sense Walter is not really with me and the American Guitarist realises that too, asking me kindly to postpone the interview because he couldn't focus at all on my questions. I struggle to recognise that very same artist I just saw half an hour later. When Marie Trout announces him on stage and after the crowd homages Trout with an almost 5 minutes Standing Ovation, the moment Walter plays the first note, it just feels like he has returned to live again. The 20 minutes set he offered that night had been the first time in 2 years that Trout had been playing on a stage, given his long running battle with liver disease that almost took his life away.
Back few weeks later and talking to Walter Trout is a completely different affair. The American Blues/Rock artist is in great shape and one can easily understand that the night in London had been an emotional roller coaster for him. "It's really good to be back. I never thought I would have been able to and I am overjoyed to be able to be here and talking to you right now. That night in London, was for me a huge milestone of my life. It was one of those moments I shall always remember as one of the biggest emotional experiences of my entire life. And the moment I vividly remember of that night, was, standing in the wings with my guitar on, looking out at that beautiful, incredible venue , hearing my wife introducing me. Hearing her beautiful voice and then walking on stage, having people stand up and just direct all that love at me, Man, that was really intense. I embraced my wife and we both started crying, literally weeping like babies. I remember that part of that night more than the playing part, strangely enough. I hadn't been on stage for almost two years and that moment, has been for me one of the most profound experiences I had ever".
The last album Trout managed to put together, before undergoing the liver transplant that saved his life was a very emotional one, called The Blues Came Calling. A record that sounded almost like a music testament, which must be carrying for Walter Trout certainly painful memories. "That album was very difficult for me. I was very sick when I made that album. I was on a walker and every couple of weeks, I would swell up with liquid in my abdomen. Then I would have gone in and they would put a drain into my abdomen and they would drain out something like twelve litres of liquid out of me. So here I was, being incredibly sick and I would drive to Los Angeles (I live south of L.A.), to the studio, very ill and I would be able, maybe, to play and sing for about an hour and a half and then I would have to tell Eric (Corne), my producer, "Sorry Man, I can't do anymore, I don't have the strength". My hand was cramping too, due to my liver disease and as a result, some days I couldn't play at all. When I felt a tight more stronger, I would have gone in, play a solo guitar part or two but it was, overall, extremely difficult. I was, though, very determined to finish that record because I thought it was going to be my last record ever. You can tell the frame of mind I was by listening in the Blues Came Calling, when I sang "You'll never be the man you used to be". I figured, my life as I know it, it's over and even if I survive, I would be an invalid and won't be able to perform, play or being a good father ever again. I shall be just a vegetable. With that dark frame of mind and being so ill, there were even moments in which I couldn't even sing two lines in a row. I had the strength just to sing one, then stop, get my breath back and then do the next one. And when you have to record each and every song like that, with that pace, because I had no choice, trust me, it was incredibly time consuming. Right now, the Blues Came Calling album is for me a very difficult album to listen to, because just brings back to me the darkness of that time I was living."
That difficult moment of Trout's life and career seems now long gone and Trout has now started touring again in America, although on a slow pace. Among the many messages that Bluebird Reviews received about the return on stage of this fabulous artist, many came from Italy, which unfortunately has not been included on Trout's forthcoming tranche of the European Tour. "I would love to get back to Italy. I love playing there, people are always so gracious with us and so kind and they are a great audience. It just hasn't worked out this year. There are a lot of places I would love to get back to but we are going a little bit slow here. At the moment, given what I have been through I don't feel, at least for a little while, to be able to go at the same pace that I used to. But Italy will be on my tour map, if all plan out well, maybe next year."
Walter Trout is clearly on full steam, remarkably, especially considering what he has been through in the last 24 months. His writing mojo certainly seems to benefit by this new found energy from the American artist and sounds like an album is now ready to be released. "That's a good question and I have a great answer for that. I went through a creative Renaissance and you, being Italian, you know damn well what I am talking about (smiles). When I started writing again, I found out I had so much I wanted to say that the songs just kept pouring out of me at a rate I have never known before. I could just grab my acoustic guitar, sit down and just, boom!, I could write a song in about 5 minutes. One day, I managed to write six songs and I had so much material that we had a hard time figuring out what songs to put on the new album. The album is done now and Eric Corne, my producer, has just finished to mix it. To me, it's a sort of Musical about my life in the past two years and what I have been through. It's a concept album about what happen to me every step of the way and it is called Battle Scars. It starts off with a song called I Am Almost Gone and it's about me, looking into my wife's eyes, with her, trying to be strong and positive but deep inside, we both know underneath that I may probably gonna die. There are also songs, in the album, about me being in the hospital and feeling, at night, that there were people surrounding me that were dying and I was able to hear the pain their families were going to with their departed beloved. Other songs in the album are about my inability to walk at the time and so on. In brief, a sort of journal of those painful days. The final song of the album is called I'm Going To Live Again and it is about me having a conversation with God, asking him about the reason why he decided to keep me here on earth and allowing me to survive. I keep saying to God that I don't deserve to survive because I feel I have been a bad person in my life. When I finally manage to find the reason about me, surviving to all this, I just keep saying to myself that I need to be a better man, now I have been given the chance to do that."
I am wondering if Trout is going to play the songs from the forthcoming album on the current leg of the American Tour but it doesn't sound possible, according to Walter. "Well, we can't play them live right now because of something, which everyone knows about, that is called YouTube. The thing is, if I go out and play them now, by the time the new album comes out, via a vehicle like YouTube, for example, everyone would have already heard the songs and very few would buy the record. The album comes out in October and I guess that, due to the fact I am touring Europe in November, you guys in Europe will be able to hear the new songs."
Trout has been and still is a true blues pioneer, as a solo artist or by being part of great music projects, one for all, the Bluesbreakers. Still, I wonder what really "Blues" means for Trout, should he be able to put into words. "Well, what a question! What it means to me is truth, it means a pure, simple, uncomplicated expression of human feeling. It means a beautiful community, because the blues community got behind me when I got sick and it is an extraordinary community, made of great fans and great musicians. It's that thing that, all my life, by the time I discovered it, as a young boy, gave me the opportunity to realise I had the ability to play the guitar and sing. Once I discovered that, I just realised that blues was all that I wanted to play, it gave me self-respect, it gave me purpose. I feel that, to play music from the depths of my heart and to play as honestly as I can, it's a noble endeavour for me. I feel it is my attempt, in a tiny small way, to make the world a little bit of a better place and do something that is honest and true and cut through all the bulls**t of this world.
Going back to that magic night at the Royal Albert hall in June of this year, Bluebird Reviews had been asked to pass to Trout many messages from fans and fellow artists, welcoming him back on stage, which our website duly did. After so many years in the music business, it must be a fantastic feeling for Walter Trout to get still such amazing love and respect by music veterans or young fellow blues musicians. "It is simply amazing. I mean, like I said, one of the thing that kept me alive while I was sick, was my wife Marie reading me messages, both from artists and from fans. People saying that my music meant something to them, what I do meant something to them. They just don't consider it light-hearted pop fluff, that you hear on the radio but rather something that has got some sort of depth and meaning to it. To get those messages from people, especially when I came back and to hear them saying "Hey man, we are happy for you", it meant the world to me. And what I think as well is, in this modern age which is so full of bad news, I think in a certain way, my survival makes a good news story. After all, I was not suppose to survive, the doctors didn't think I was going to survive, realistically, nobody on the planet thought I was going to survive! But I made it through and that means that there is still hope out there, in the world. We can take bad, horrible situations and we can turn them around and make them into something good."
During the years, old and young generations of music lovers have had the chance to admire and love the many layers of Trout's immens talent as a musician. He infused his music, his songwriting, his guitar style with what life was throwing at him on each of Trout's records. One can just guess what version of the Chameleon Walter Trout we shall see on the next album. "If people is under the impression that I am coming back with low energy, in a very understated, mellow way, they are going to be greatly surprised, because this album is rocking all the way! And I mean, it is fu**ing rocking! I played the opening track for my son Michael and he said to me: "Man, all you need is Robert Plant and you are Led Zeppelin!". There are some little acoustic moments and ballads as well but it is, fundamentally, a high-energy fuelled rocking record through and through. I remember the time I was playing some of the songs at home and my kids were saying: "Jeez, who do you think you are, AC/DC?". It is important, for me, to feel the vibes coming from my family about the album. For instance, Marie, my wife, tells me that the new album reminds her of my early records back in the 90's, when I started, but with more power than back to that time."
To talk to Walter Trout is such a gift. To see him with such an amazing spirit and energy is one of life little great miracles. I wonder what life would have been, for Walter Trout, without music. "I don't know if you have read the book about my life, in particular about some of the things that happened to me back in the days, during my childhood. I really feel that the music saved me, rescued me, as the book title suggests. I think if I hadn't discovered music, there is a good chance I would have ended in a mental hospital or something of that ink. The music gave me an outlet, it's therapy for me. I always had a lot of inner demons in my life, that's why I went through all that drug addiction period. I tried to run away from pain and ghosts and I think that, without the music, I would have become a wreck of a human being."
Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
Battle Scars will be released on October 25th by Mascot Label Group