Photo by Brittany Fay
Walter Trout has released 22 solo albums over a career that has spanned the globe, and delivered notoriety as one of the great purveyors of the Blues. At the age of 62, in tribute to friend and legend, the late, great Luther Allison, he has recorded a album of covers for the very first time. Trout reveals, “I’ve thought about doing this album for years. Luther was one of the all-time greats, and it was just an unbelievably potent thing to watch him perform. Just the energy and commitment that guy had, he was one of a kind. We played together once, and just as we walked offstage, somebody pointed a camera and we hugged and smiled. And that photo is on the cover of the CD. When he died [in 1997], the idea of this album was planted in my brain.” Luther’s Blues will be released on June 11th via Mascot Label Group’s Provogue.
Trout’s back-story is a page-turner you won’t want to put down. Five decades in the making; it is equal parts thriller, romance, suspense and horror. There are musical fireworks, critical acclaim and fists-aloft triumph, offset by wilderness years and brushes with the jaws of narcotic oblivion. From 1973 when he left his New Jersey home headed to Los Angeles, he followed a road that afforded him an opportunity to just play, sharing the stage as a sideman with Jesse Ed Davis, Big Mama Thornton, Lowell Fulson, Joe Tex, and of course the great John Mayall following a 3 year tenure in Canned Heat. Trout recalls, “As far as being a blues-guitar sideman, the Bluesbreakers gig is the pinnacle. That’s Mount Everest. You could play with B.B. King or Buddy Guy, but you’re just gonna play chords all night. This guy features you. You get to play solos. He yells your name after every song, brings you to the front of the stage, and lets you sing. He creates a place for you in the world.” And that destiny continued on down a road that has been nothing but prolific.
On March 6, 1989, the guitarist who had brought thrilling flammability to the Breakers’ sound and produced stone-cold classics including “One Life To Live,” was newly sober and on his 38th birthday sensed the hand of destiny. He walked away from the Bluesbreakers, embarking on a solo career that has yielded a catalogue that establishes a deep legacy in the world of Blues. A quarter century later, what seemed like career suicide has been vindicated by 22 solo albums, a still-growing army of fans, and accolades including a nod as “the world’s greatest rock guitarist” in legendary DJ Bob Harris’s autobiography The Whispering Years, and a #6 placing on BBC Radio One’s countdown of the Top 20 Guitarists of All Time. Meanwhile, Trout’s most recent original album, Blues For The Modern Daze, was heralded by titles like Classic Rock Blues as perhaps his finest to date. In the U.S.,USA Today selected the track “Lonely” as their Pick of the Week publishing, “Trout is the man who followed Eric Clapton, Peter Green and Mick Taylor as chief guitarist for John Mayall’s blues outfit, and who had a long career as a leader of his own band. He brings all of his life experiences to bear on Modern Daze. ” Trout offers, “I feel like with Modern Daze I found the style I’ve been searching for over 20 albums. It’s working, it comes out good, and I can play it well.”
Of all the peaks in Trout’s trajectory, his abiding memory of the late Chicago bluesman is perhaps the most literal. It’s 1986, and high above Lake Geneva, at the palatial Alpine chalet of late Montreux Jazz Festival Svengali Claude Nobs, lunch is being served. “So we’re up at the top of the Alps,” Trout recalls, “in this big room with John Mayall, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Robert Cray, Otis Rush, and as we’re eating, Dr. John is serenading us on acoustic piano. I sat there with Luther Allison, and we had a great talk.”
This collection was bottled at Hollywood’s Entourage Studios alongside producer Eric Corne: the same combination that birthed 2012’s acclaimed solo release, Blues For The Modern Daze. The atmosphere, remembers Trout, was one of spit, grit and seat-of-the-pants energy: “Spontaneity is so important with this sort of music. Everybody was saying, ‘Well, aren’t you gonna get together and rehearse?’, but you don’t want to over-analyse or get too sterile. This album was all pretty much first or second takes. It’s gotta have warts on it. It’s gotta have a bit of grease in it.”
As Walter Trout powers into his 25th year as a solo star, there’s no whiff of the ennui or creative autopilot that hobbles the later output of most veterans. On the contrary, there’s a sense of growing momentum, perhaps even of a little surprise. “It’s hard to believe I’m still alive, to be honest,” he smiles. “I should have been dead by 30, with the life I was leading. But I still have a career, and at 62, I’m still climbing the ladder, which keeps it exciting, instead of trying to rekindle past glories. I feel like I play with more fire than when I was 25. I’m still reaching, y’ know…?”