(Photo By Greg Waterman)
It doesn't happen very often that we humans get so close to Afterlife and, for some unexplicable reasons that we like to call miracles, we manage to make a comeback and live our lives in perfect harmony.
Walter Trout from Huntingdon Beach, California belongs certainly to this very restrict elite of people able to make an extraordinary comeback to life. When virtually everybody was convinced that he would never, even if he would have survived to the liver failure disease he went through, make a return to the music scene, this very talented guitarist and singer/songwriter took by surprise the whole world making a full recovery.
In the space of a year, Trout didn't just make his return to music activity but also released a studio album called Battle Scars, the chronicle in music of his battle for life, followed by a brand new live album called ALive In Amsterdam.
Bluebird Reviews is honoured to reunite, once again, with not only a Blues/Rock Guitar Hero but also with an old friend of our website to discuss about the new live album, why the concept of family matters so much to the American artist and why Amsterdam and The Netherlands have got such a special place in his heart.
BBR - Hi Walter, thank you so much for talking to us again at Bluebird Reviews. ALive In Amsterdam is a live recording that frames an important moment of your life and career, given what you have been through during the last 2/3 years. Which are the immediate memories that you have of that fabulous night of music?
WT - Well, I remember it was, to be perfectly honest with you, a rather stressful night. There were many logistic sides to be put together. My wife Marie was trying to coordinate all the different aspects of the concert and its recording so it was rather stressful for her too. I do particularly remember one thing, though, about that night. When I walked on stage, that roar from the crowd and the incredible love that the fans showed me in Amsterdam had the same intensity of the one I felt at the Royal Albert Hall in London, for the Leadbelly Tribute Night. It was truly special.
BBR - I guess that The Netherlands is one of those special places for you, as an artist. That is the place where the first Walter Trout Fan Club started and among all the places in the world where you have been playing throughout your career, The Netherlands is a country that feels a special connection with your music. What is the secret of the special bond that links you and your music to the Dutch crowds?
WT - I couldn't tell you, really. From the very first time I played in The Netherlands with my band, they have just embraced my music and myself completely. The first time ever I went there to play with the Walter Trout Band, I was amazed by the number of the people that showed up. In many countries where we had previously performed, at our very first concert there might have been something like ten people, because we hadn't made our mark yet, in such countries. Then the numbers would have increased with each passing gig. When we did our first show in The Netherlands, in those days, we were expecting pretty much the same amount of people we had in other places. Instead, the whole place was sold out and when we walked on stage the crowd went completely crazy and it was such a beautiful sensation. I was also very lucky, in a way, that in the very same country, later in 1990, I had this major hit with the song The Love That We Once Knew. That song was so successful, in The Netherlands, that it reached the No. 1 in their music charts! I couldn't believe that my song was at the top spot, followed by Madonna, Bon Jovi and Brian Adams. You have no idea how great that felt on many levels. Not only because, for once in my career, I reached the No. 1 with one of my songs in a country but also because The Love That We Once Knew allowed me to reach, through that Number One spot, a bigger and wider audience, becoming also a phenomenal radio hit. You can hear, on my new live album that, as soon as I go into that song while I was doing the Encore, they all start singing it. There is also another song of mine called Say Goodbye To The Blues, present on the live album too and written in cooperation with a dear friend of mine Tim Jahnigen which, for five consecutive years on the national Classic Rock station in The Netherlands has been voted by the people as the best blues song of all time. What a honour for me. Those two songs have been my most important hits in that part of the world and I am so thankful and overwhelmed for the love that the people of The Netherlands has showed me since the beginning. Words cannot even start to explain my gratitude to them.
BBR - ALive In Amsterdam's tracklist includes, as one would expect, many tracks from your latest studio album Battle Scars. Do you ever feel uncomfortable to play certain songs from that album that rewind back to a difficult time in your life?
WT - I don't feel uncomfortable but sometimes some songs affect me emotionally, because, as I am singing those lyrics, it feels like I am re-living the experience. Occasionally, it really takes that pain back in my mind and I must confess that more than once, on my last tour, at the end of one or two of the songs of that album, I needed to hide for few seconds from the audience and have a little moment on my own. I always like to be able to live the lyrics of the songs I write but I guess that, in Battle Scars, there are times in which that emotional involvement and by living those lyrics in a particular time of my life it gets a bit too much even for me.
Walter Trout & his wife Dr. Marie Trout
BBR - This live record sees an energised Walter Trout on many levels. Your ability to play guitar is second to none but the really surprising factor is that your singing style has reached some new fabulous highs. How much has the first leg of the Battle Scars Tour helped you to reach this new found and incredible singing versatility?
WT - That is hard to say, because, when I was very ill, I remember I could barely speak. I did not have any strength at all and if you remember my vocals on the album The Blues Came Callin', I finished that record after a really long and painful process, right before I went to the hospital. There was a song on that album that I wrote for my wife Marie, called Nobody Moves Me Like You Do and when I hear that song, I can remember and hear the struggle I faced in recording those vocals. I literally had to sing that song one line at the time, take a break for five minutes, get a bit of strength back and then press the Record button again to sing the next line, because I did not have any energy left in me. So, when I started to get my strength back, to sing became a brand new and rather joyous expression for me, like I never felt before. It was the same for the guitar playing. When something like that is taken away from you and then that thing comes back through hard work, it becomes more meaningful and important for you then it was before. When I am singing, it feels very liberating for me because I feel like I gained that power again, in my voice.
BBR - You have covered a few songs of some of your fellow blues/rock musicians throughout your career, as also shown in this new live album in which you play songs from John Lee Hooker, BB King and Luther Allison's repertoire. Has the fact that you have been recently to Jeff Healey's memorial inspired you to record one of his tracks, in the future?
WT - I might do that but, to be honest with you, I had not really thought about it. I am just starting to think about making another studio album, to be made probably in January or February 2017 and that is on top of my agenda. But it would be a good idea recording some of Jeff's music. I loved his music and I was very lucky to get to know him even before he became famous worldwide. When I went to play in Canada, back then, there was, as opening act, this local kid that I had never heard of and I remember that myself and Coco Montoya sat in the wings of the stage and we had our jaws dropping to the ground by watching Jeff playing. I have got to watch him go from being a little, local kid in Canada to become an international music hero. I have been so privileged to see him blossoming, not just as an artist but also as human being. Jeff was really a very special person in many ways.
BBR - You allowed a lot of artistic freedom, on ALive In Amsterdam, to Sammy, Michael, Johnny, your son Jon and your long time friend musician Andrew Elt. Do you feel like this new album is not just your personal "Thank You" to all the fans that have supported you through thick and thin in your career but also to your "On The Road" family?
WT - Of course. Those guys were there with me all the way. When I was sick, they told me that if I could ever get back to music, they would have been there for me. They had the chance to go on and play with other people but they waited for me. Michael (Leisure, drummer of the band) once told me: "I don't care if Roger Daltrey hires me to play drums. If you get to the point where you can play again and you really want to play again, I am here for you". All the boys in the band told me that. I so much love those guys. I am so in debt with those fellas for hanging there with me for almost two years. They prayed and they waited for me, having no idea if I would ever get back again to music and I want always to be there for them as much as they were there for me. It is a real family On The Road. All of them auditioned for me, no matter whether they have been in the band just for one year, like Johnny (Griparic, the band's bass player) or something like 9 years for Michael or even for 16 years like Sammy (Avila, the band's keyboard player). But they all auditioned and when I hired each of them, I said to all of them from Day One that I wanted to make this band feel like a family because I want us to be a family, when we are on stage. I want that feeling to translate into our live shows. We are not just four guys going up there, trying to play together and put up a good show but we are four guys that really care, respect and love each other. I want us to communicate that to the crowd, as we play. I always wanted that. I remember the time when I started to be a musician, age 14. My ultimate goal that I really wanted to achieve was to be in a band like The Beatles. They really blew my mind and I saw their cameraderie and their tight, close relationship, especially when they first came on the scene. They stuck together like one sole unity, like one person and I thought that was a wonderful thing, what an incredible bond. The actual concept of a tight, close, hard working band like The Beatles, that was exactly what I wanted my band to be.
BBR - Amsterdam, coincidentally, is not only the place in which you recorded your splendid new live album but also the place in which you shared the stage with the all-stars project called Supersonic Blues Machine, on their very first live performance ever. Can you share with us any hidden backstage and onstage tales of that special concert?
WT - Man, that was an incredible experience and that band is really an amazing group of musicians. One thing I can tell you is that, all those guys, as accomplished, revered, esteemed and respected by the world of music as they are, they are all just so down to earth and a group of very humble people. We got there a couple of days early to do a bit more rehearsal because we never played together live before, so I got to be around them for a while. I was amazed about the fact that there was no egos involved, no attitudes and we truly enjoyed hanging out together. We all became very close friends and, since that show, we all keep in touch very frequently. We exchange a lot of e-mails between myself, Billy Gibbons, Robben Ford or even, at times, jam together, like few nights ago when Fabrizio (Grossi, bass player with Supersonic Blues Machine) came to a club where I was testing some songs with my band for the forthcoming Tour and he just joined in on stage with us. They are, sincerely, a great group of guys. We have another show, as Supersonic Blues Machine, coming up in August in Norway, at the Notodden Blues Festival and funnily enough, I am going to headline one night with my band and then next night I am going to play with those guys. Joining us as well, that night, there will be also another fantastic musician, Steve Lukather. It's an absolutely joy playing with them. I mean, take somebody like Alex Alessandroni on keyboard, which has played with artists like Christina Aguilera or Stevie Wonder. What an incredible musician Alex is and he is just the nicest guy! Then there is Doug Rappoport on guitar, insanely great musician too. Then you have, of course, the three fellas which are the core of the Supersonic Blues Machine. Kenny Aronoff on drums is a real force of nature, it's like heaving a steamed locomotive within the band. Lance Lopez on guitar, a truly fabulous guitarist and such a humble guy. Fabrizio Grossi on bass is a hugely talented bass player and the nicest guy ever. As an extra added bonus, I have got to tell you also that, after the show in Amsterdam with the SBM, I felt this tap on shoulder and there was Bonnie Raitt, congratulating me for the show! I have always been impressed by her immense talent. The first time I saw her playing was in 1970, at The Philadelphia Folk Festival. She was there, alone on stage playing acoustic and I was so mesmerised by that performance. I still am. I gotta tell you also that, after that show, we were just going away from the venue and I got this message via a Social Network from Bonnie's bass player Hutch Hutchinson, which coincidentally played bass on my albums, Common Ground and The Outsider too. The message said "Hey Man, we were looking for you because Bonnie wanted you to sit in" but sadly, by that time, we had left already. What a shame, really. To play a song with Bonnie is something that I really want to do before I die.
(Photo By P. Scalabrino) From L to R: Walter Trout, Doug Rappoport, Lance Lopez, Fabrizio Grossi, Billy Gibbons, Kenny Aronoff & Alex Alessandroni
BBR - You have just started the 2nd leg of the Battle Scars World Tour. Have you planned to play pretty much the same setlist present on ALive In Amsterdam or are you going to surprise your fans by playing different songs from your extensive catalogue?
WT - We have few songs now that we have added to the show. I call them new songs but, in reality, they are old songs that we rehearsed lately in front of people by doing few unannounced club gigs so we could test those songs in front of a crowd. I am talking about tunes like May Be A Fool or Prisoner Of A Dream, amongst others. The nucleus of the show will be still though my latest studio album, Battle Scars.
BBR - Have you had any chance to write new material, while you have been on tour in the past 12 months?
WT - Haven't thought about it at all, no. I am not the kind of guy that write songs, whilst On The Road. I do write lyrics, when I am travelling. I do sit in the back of the van, sometimes, with my headphones so I can tune out from the world. I think about things and I write them down, making those lyrics becoming poetry as best as I can. Then, when I am back home, I try to put them to music and combine the two together. Every time that I get in my hotel room, after a show, I am not the type of guy that gets out the guitar and play. I rather prefer to save myself and my energies for the stage. After all, I am on stage every night for two hours and I completely immerse myself, mentally and physically to the live show. I think it's just wise for me to use my strength for the shows and write new stuff when I am back home.
BBR - "Music is my healer" is one of the most favourite slogans of a fabulous young guitarist and dear friend of yours, Laurence Jones. How much has music been your healer, not just in recent times but throughout your whole life, Walter?
WT - It's been my healer for my whole life. That's why I called my book Rescue From Reality. Music provided me a refuge for a very insane childhood. It provided me a sanctuary that I can escape into, where nobody could touch or hurt me. After the period in which I have been sick, to be able to come back up on stage, in that splendid venue that is the Royal Albert Hall in London and, after almost two years of absence from a stage, to get that reception from the crowd, it lifted my spirit and my soul in an indescribable way. I realised, after that night, that music is now for me something different, something that allows me to get even deeper into myself and closer to my emotions. It gives me the chance to experience a part of myself and my emotions that I didn't even know it was there.
Giovanni "Gio" Pilato