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.
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?
CA: What’s your proudest accomplishment?
WT: My untapped skill at brain surgery.