Walter Trout Interview: Fish Jokes Not Included
By Jim Wormimgton
What blues is and is not, what it can be and shouldnít be--these are matters open to debate. Blues/rock guitarist Walter Trout has his opinions, but he wonít let any argument limit his guitar playing style.
Trout heard a lot of jazz in his home as he was growing up and it had an effect on his view of music. When he got into blues as a very young man he found he wanted to approach it with an open mind. That hasnít changed.
ďI get accused of playing a lot of notes,Ē Trout says. ďBut Iím coming out of Charlie Parker and John Coltraine and you canít play any more notes than those guys. Iím trying to use that mindset and do it in a blues framework, so sometimes I take it pretty far out. The (blues) purists hate it and I donít care.Ē
With guitar heroes as diverse as Junior Watson and Jeff Beck, Trout is more-than-prepared to press the boundaries between blues and rock. He does so with a contagious, unique energy, cranking out solos in a lively improvisational style that lets you know that his influences run the spectrum and music runs in his veins.
Some of Troutís largest scale career successes have been across the ocean.
ďI started as a European act on a small European labelÖon my second album, in 1990, I had a massively huge hit: MTV, number one record in Holland (and a couple other countries) that year. I still have the charts at home that have me at number one. There I am, under me is Bon Jovi, Madonna, and Bryan Adams. I only did it once. Iím a one-hit-wonder there; but I went, in the course of two months, from playing little clubs to playing at a free concert in the park, in The Hague, in Holland, and I drew 500,000 peopleÖit enabled me to get an audience and a lot of them have stayed with me for twenty years.Ē
That song, ďThe Love That We Once Knew,Ē (re-recorded for American release) can be found on an album called Liviní Every Day.
Troutís been jamming for more than four decades. The list of musicians heís played with or shared a stage with over those years is impressive (for an extensive bio check out his official website: http://www.waltertrout.com/bio.php
); but Trout is a very accessible guy and utterly without pretension. After hearing him blast out a set that rocked Chicagoís House of Blues, I got to sit down with him for an interview. The following is a portion of that conversation.
Jim Wormington: I took a look at your touring schedule and, man, it is jam-packed. Whatís that like, the constant traveling?
Walter Trout: Iím probably one of the lucky musicians in that I, 95% of the time, really still enjoy the road. I find it an adventure.
Things like--we played last night, we got back to the hotel at two, maybe three. We left at eight this morning, drove here. It took us eight hours. We got here at something like four oíclock. Didnít have a hotel. They didnít have a dressing room. So we hung out here (at the House of Blues) for six hours. Didnít bathe. Didnít change our clothes. I went out and walked around Chicago for three hours and got some exercise. Iím, like, hallucinating now from tired.
Wormington: Sleepís not important.
Trout: This is one of those things that, a week from now, Iíll be laughing about. One thing: Iím never bored. And I consider that a blessing. I may be beat up, tired, maybe grumpy, but Iím never bored. Iíve been doing this for forty years and I love it.
Wormington: You are a hard working player.
Trout: Itís what I wanted to do as a kid. I wanted to be a touring musician who got up and played for people.
Wormington: So youíre living the dream even though it beats you up.
Trout: Yeah. Sometimes your dreams will beat you up a little bit. Theyíre worth pursuing, you know?
Wormington: From what I can tell youíre a Fender man. Do you ever stray sometimes, pick up a 'Paul (Gibson Les Paul) to get a different sound? Or are you pretty much faithful to Fender?
Trout: Well, hereís the story. I just made an album with John Porter and heís got ninety-five guitars, literally. He brought in this incredible í59 Les Paul. I was in the studio, it was time to play a solo, I had the Les Paul going and it sounded really cool, and I said, ďWait a minute.Ē And I picked up my Fender.
Wormington: So thereís something about the sound of it, the feel?
Trout: The feel of the Strat, yeah.
Wormington: The í73 Strat is still your favorite axe?
Trout: Yeah, it is. It has my spirit in it. Itís like an entity.
Wormington: Hearing Mike Bloomfield play guitar was a pivotal moment for you when you were young. Were there other equivalent or near-equivalent sound revelations for you?
Trout: Um, there were a few. The first time I heard Bob Dylan. His first album made me want to play the guitar. Up to that time I was playing the trumpetÖI was trying to be a jazz trumpet player. Along came Bob Dylan and suddenly I wanted to strum and sing. It blew my mind.
The other thing was February 9th, 1964, eight oíclock, Channel 2, in Philly.
Wormington: Gotta be The Beatles.
Trout: The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. Boom. Done. Then it became an electric guitar. Then Bloomfield, and that focused me in a blues direction.
Wormington: Iím curious. Are there any rock guitar players that you really admire?
Trout: Jeff Beck. To this day, if I watch Jeff Beck I pretty much wanna just quit. Heís unbelievable. He pretty much destroys me. When I watch him I just shake my head. Itís not so much his technique; itís what he thinks up. You can get to a point where you have all this technique, and then itís a matter of what you think. Itís a matter of your imagination. And that guyís imagination is off the hook.
Thereís a blues player who I put in that category. Thatís Junior Watson. I think heís a genius. He plays in a traditional blues format but no one thinks like this guy. To me heís a genius. He played with me on __Full Circle__. Check him out sometime.
Wormington: Iíll have to. Walter, youíve conquered some addictions and things that have ruined other musiciansí careers and even ended some of their lives. I understand there was an encouragement from Carlos Santana that was a part of what helped get you past those things, but Iím wondering what kept you clean after that?
Trout: Once I got done with all that, I was a completely different person. It was really nice to look in the mirrorÖit was really nice to suddenly just say, ďOkay, Iím going to be who it is in me to be, see who I actually am.Ē It does not cross my mind to get wasted. No matter what I go through. I may have some tears and some anger and throw some stuff at the wall but I donít want to get high.
Wormington: The monkey is off your back, totally.
Trout: For twenty-two years, twenty-three years this July.
Wormington: Thatís a long time. Good for you. Based on some of the lyrics and some of the liner notes on your album The Outsider, it seems fair to assume faith plays some part in your life. Has that been true for you since childhood or is there a more recent personal awakening that you can point to?
Trout: It was there in childhood and then it went away in the dope years.
Wormington: A familiar story.
Trout: But I did, umÖhow into this do I want to go for publication? (pause) I had a revelation before Santana turned up. I had a revelation that God said to me that if I wouldÖ
Trout is visibly moved, has a brief moment where it seems difficult for him to go on.
Wormington: Your call. You donít have to go any deeper than you want to.
Trout: Öif I would show him the strength to be the person he made me to be, to use the talent he gave me, and quit being an idiot, he would give me the desire of my heart. And he was as good as his word. When I quit getting loaded he presented this woman to me and we fell in love and we had three kids. He gave me a career. So, itís hard to argue with something like that.
Wormington: Itís tangible.
Wormington: Youíve got a new project coming out. Whenís that going to be released?
Trout: In July.
Wormington: Two questions: has it got a title yet and how would you describe the album?
Trout: Itís called Common Ground and I think it came out pretty good. The title track is a gospel song, itís pretty blatantly religious. But I think, in a certain sense, there are a few tunes that are a whole new level of songwriting for me. Then thereís just some good old blues on there.
I have some incredible players with me, guys that came into the studio. I had Jon Cleary--he played with Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton, he has his own band now. I had Hutch Hutchinson (Bonnie Raitt, Joe Cocker, Mick Jagger). And I had Kenny Aronoff--heís the number one rock drummer in the world. Look him up.
Wormington: Is everything in the can then?
Trout: Itís done. Itís being mixed right now.
Wormington: Very cool. Thatís gotta be exciting.
I like to ask at least one non-musical question just Ďcause itís kinda fun. My last name is Wormington so, as you might imagine, Iíve been called ďWormĒ and every nickname in the book. Trout. Iím thinking you mightíve gotten a little teasing here and there with that last name.
Trout: When I first went solo, all the newspapers in England--everything was about my name, every headline. So in í91 I made a CD named No More Fish Jokes.
Trout: On the back cover of the CD Iím holding a big, dead trout. I have a trout on my shirt. I have a fish through my head.
Wormington: still laughing
Trout: And my bass player at the time has a sharkís head on and weíre standing there. I made a collage of the headlines. (Originally) I gave it to my record company and said, ďThis is the cover.Ē And they said, ďNo, itís not.Ē I said, ďYes, it is.Ē And they said, ďNo, itís not.Ē So (it ended up) on the back of the album.
Wormington: working hard to stop laughing Thatís great. Thatís funny.
getting up to go Youíre a tremendous player, man. I enjoyed listening to you guys a lot.
Wormington: I can tell you feel itís a feeling for you.
Trout: It is. Itís about expression.
Wormington: Hey thanks a lot, Walter.
Trout: Good meeting you, Jim.
Wormington: Good to meet you.