Blues Veteran Walter Trout Releases Blistering New Covers Album

Survivor Blues features “obscure songs that have hardly been covered”

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There’s nothing fishy about Walter Trout. For five decades, the guitarist has played and lived the blues, initially as sideman for the likes of John Lee Hooker, Joe Tax and John Mayall during the ’70s and 80s, and starting from 1989, as a solo artist. Now, Trout has released a covers album aptly titled Survivor Blues, featuring tunes he feels have been underappreciated. Since there are only so many ways you can play the blues, I think it’s all about execution. If you dig electric blues, you’re in for a trout, I mean treat!

Born on March 6, 1951 in Ocean City, N.J., Trout started his career in the Garden State in the late 1960s. In a cool video about the making of Survivor Blues, which is published on his website, Trout recalls how as a 16- or 17-year-old he met B.B. King. After spotting King in a New Jersey record store, he asked him for an autograph, saying he loved the blues and was trying to figure it out on the guitar. King ended up talking to him for more than one hour. One thing’s for sure: That conversation did not discourage young Walter Trout to pursue the blues!

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Walter Trout in 2018

In 1974, Trout moved to Los Angeles and became a sideman for R&B singer and songwriter Percy Mayfield, who among others wrote Hit The Road Jack, which became a no. 1 hit for Ray Charles in 1961. Other artists Trout backed during the 70s included  John Lee Hooker, Big Mama Thornton and Joe Tex. In 1981, he joined blues rockers Canned Heat as a guitarist. From 1985 until 1989, Trout was part of John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, following the trail of many other blues musicians. One night, he was spotted by a Danish concert promoter who offered him to pay for a solo tour.

Trout left the Bluesbreakers, and in 1989 his solo debut Life In The Jungle came out. He has since released more than 20 additional records, initially as Walter Trout Band, then as Walter Trout and the Free RadicalsWalter Trout and the Radicals and, starting with The Outsider in 2008, simply as Walter Trout. Survivor Blues is the 10th album appearing under his name and follows the award-winning We’re All In This Together. The 2017 album of original tunes features many other blues heavyweights like Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Sonny Landreth, Robben Ford and Charlie Musselwhite.

“I didn’t want to do ‘Stormy Monday’ or ‘Messin’ With The Kid.’ I didn’t want to do the Blues greatest hits,” Trout commented on the new album. I wanted to do old, obscure songs that have hardly been covered…My idea was to do these songs like me, to arrange them for my band and style – not to just copy the originals note-for-note.” Trout also sought active input from his band on how to render the songs, which were mostly recorded live in study, a smart approach, in my opinion.

walter trout 2

Trout’s wife and manager Marie came up with the record’s title. ‘You’re a group of survivors,’ she told him. ‘You’ve all been through hell and you’ve come back. These songs are survivors. This album needs to be called Survivor Blues.’ In 2014, Trout received a liver transplant after he had been diagnosed with liver failure – likely a result from alcohol and substance abuse he overcame in the ’80s. Reflecting on the members of his band, Trout said, “Mike [Michael Leasure, drums] is in recovery. Johnny [Johnny Griparic, bass] almost didn’t make it. Skip [Skip Edwards, keyboards] has had a triple bypass. And I almost didn’t make it after my liver disease in 2014.”

Time for some music. I’d like to kick it off with the excellent opener Me, My Guitar And The Blues. Written by Jimmy Dawkins, the tune was the title track of his 1997 solo album. Trout couldn’t get enough of the electric blues guitarist’s records during his early years as an up and comer in New Jersey. “The last line – ‘Since you left me, All I have left is Me, My Guitar and the Blues’ – is one of the greatest lyrics I’ve heard in my life and I start crying just saying it,” Trout stated. The lyrics are also a perfect way to set the tone for an album titled Survivor Blues.

Please Love Me, co-written by B.B. King and Jules Taub, was the opener of King’s 1956 debut album Singin’ The Blues. Trout calls King “the greatest blues man that ever lived.” Something tells me Trout’s sentiment may reflect the above noted long conversation with his hero.

One of my favorites on the album is Luther Johnson’s Woman Don’t Lie. The track appeared on a record titled Born In Georgia, released in March 2008. On his take Trout shares lead vocals with blues vocalist Sugaray Rayford. The result is just beautiful!

Appropriately, Trout also paid homage to John Mayall with Nature’s Disappearing, a tune from his 1970 album USA Union. “I was nervous about doing it because it’s by my mentor and surrogate father,” Trout noted. “John told me he’d read an article about ecology and pollution – he put the magazine down at the end and wrote that song in five minutes. It’s even more relevant today, with all the environmental regulations being thrown out and national parks being sold off to oil companies.” I dig the groove of this cover and think the Godfather of British Blues is smiling.

On Goin’ Gown To The River Trout is joined by Robby Krieger, in whose Los Angeles studio the album was recorded. The tune was written by hill country blues singer and guitarist Mississippi Fred McDowell.  “There was something about the lyric,” noted Trout. “But the original is very different. I decided to take the verses that spoke to me, and then rearranged the song almost Muddy Waters-esque with that slide lick. Robby Krieger was coming in every day, listening and hanging out, so I said, ‘I’d love it if you played on this song’. So when I say ‘Play it, Robby’ – that’s Robby Krieger from The Doors. We just did that in the studio – boom, there you go.”

Survivor Blues has been produced by Trout’s long-time producer Eric Corne. It appears on Provogue Records/Mascot Label Group and is available in CD and vinyl formats, as well as on iTunes, Spotify and other digital music platforms.

Trout, who fortunately seems to be in good health, is supporting Survivor Blues with an extended tour that is set to kick off in Minneapolis on January 31st. Currently, the schedule lists around 50 dates, mostly in the U.S., and stretches all the way out to August. Not listed for some reason is a gig that shows up in Ticketmaster: April 8 at The Iridium in New York City. Blues is made to be experienced live, and this show is definitely on my radar screen.

Sources: Wikipedia, Walter Trout website, YouTube

 

 

19 thoughts on “Blues Veteran Walter Trout Releases Blistering New Covers Album”

  1. Yeah, that shit sounds about like I expected it to. I will definitely give the entire album a spin today. As to his tour, I know Trout’s stuff but have never seen him. I notice he’s circling back this way a few times during his tour, hitting different venues. I will likely catch one them. Good writeup. BTW, I know his hometown of Ocean City, NJ well. You may (or may not) know that I grew up in Philly and so the Jersey Shore was my playground as a kid and later.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And I hate to say it, Trout is way more affordable than Carlos Santana or, let’s be honest here, The Stones and The Who – okay maybe not an entirely fair comparison.

      I could catch Trout as early as Feb 5 when he plays Sony Hall in NYC, together with Eric Gales. But I’m kind of curious about the Iridium, which according to Ticketmaster he’s playing April 8. For some reason that date isn’t included in the tour schedule on his website, but since Ticketmaster already is offering tickets, I suppose it’s real!

      I think seeing Trout should be great. He also seems to have a pretty good backing band.

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      1. Among other things he’s got great tone which is something guitar players spend their lives trying to get. BTW, I agree (as does my friend Bill) that B.B is the best bluesman ever. He was the whole package and we all learned something from him.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. According to Walter Trout, when he met B.B. King in a New Jersey record store as a teenager in the late 1960s and told him he was trying to figure out the blues on the guitar, King reportedly talked to him for more than an hour about the blues, touring, etc. Even if Trout perhaps embellished the story a little, I think this says a lot about King.

        I seem to recall reading a similar anecdote about Greg Allman, who once sat down with a fan in some bar to talk for an extended amount of time.

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      3. BB played at a long-defunct club in Boston called The Channel. This was back in the early 80’s and anybody who was even remotely involved in the blues scene was there. It was a real pit and God knows why he was playing there. I was in a band at the time .

        The harp player in my band suggested we go backstage – which was literally just a room – and there he sat. We chatted with him briefly, he signed something and I shook his hand. That was about it for my brush with fame.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. That’s a cool story and it seems to me yet another indication what a humble man King was.

        Obviously, he didn’t care about the fact that the place was pretty run down. BTW, an f’d up music club sounds like the perfect setting to me to play and listen to the blues!😆

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  2. Reblogged this on Music Enthusiast and commented:
    I used to play guitar with a guy some years ago who turned me on to Walter Trout. Recently I happened to be reading a blues compilation magazine which detailed the trials and tribulations of Trout’s hard-partying life. Next thing you know, Christian does this post. So, blogger synchronicity. This album is so good I wouldn’t be surprised if it was not a strong candidate for Blues Album of the Year. So I’ll give the reins over to my fellow blogger today and give him full credit as, well, it’s the Christian thing to do. 🙂

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