I met with Walter Trout when he played The Redstone Room in Davenport Iowa. Opening the show was Johnson & Resch, a trio from the Quad Cities. They ran through their set to an enthusiastic audience.
Walter Trout came on stage and introduced his boys. I’m talking about his sons who it turns out were the real opening act. Jonathan 13, plays guitar, Michael 10, was on drums and a spunky little 4 year old named Dylan sang background. The boys seemed right at home on stage and did a good job on the two songs they played. The Trout family is loaded with talent. I’m sure we will be hearing a lot of music from the whole family for years to come.
Walter Trout and the Radicals took the stage and just blew the roof off the place. They have more energy than the energizer bunny. When Walter takes off on a solo he just keeps going and going. His fingers have got to hurt after the show. Drummer Joey Pafumi is another guy who never seems to get tired. He keeps the beat with bass player Rick Knapp. What a great rhythm section! And then there’s Sammy Avila, a master at the Hammond B3. Sammy also has a good voice and did one of his own compositions. There is also the backup singer who when not on stage is the road manager. When Andrew Elt isn’t on stage he’s running around checking sound and everything else that needs to be done to keep things running smoothly.
Walter Trout and the Radicals are a great bunch of guys and Walter’s wife Marie and boys are some of the nicest people you could ever meet. Walter sat down with me and talked about the making of his new CD “Full Circle“. When we finished the interview I felt like I had known Walter for years.
I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I enjoyed talking with Walter. When Walter Trout and the Radicals play near you, do yourself a favor, go see them and when the show is over you’ll want more, so go buy a CD and have the guys sign it for you. And please tell Walter, Billy Rose said hello.
Billy Rose: Walter before we get into this interview, could you take a couple minutes to talk about Jimmy Trap, whom you dedicated this CD to. Just tell us what kind of person he was.
Walter Trout: Jimmy I met in ’76 when I was in a little bar band in California. Our bass player was gonna quit and we needed a bass player. Actually in the beginning it was just for a weekend. Our bass player was going away for the week and we needed somebody to play a Friday and Saturday night. The rhythm guitar player in the band said I know a guy, who’s a really good bass player, but he got married and has kids and a day job and he doesn’t play anymore. But maybe I could get him to come and do the weekend. And we said we want to audition him, before we just hire him. Jimmy said he would come down and jam with us at this guys house and he showed up at the house and we hung around and told jokes and laughed and we never played…and we gave him the gig…and he showed up for that weekend and played and he stayed for 29 years (laughter).
Billy Rose: So he made a pretty good first impression, huh?
Walter Trout: He was my best friend for that whole time, ya know.
Billy Rose: Walter, “Full Circle” is just fabulous. It has a feel to it that says hey we’re here to play, but more than anything we want to have fun. Can you talk a little about all the guests on the record and how it was playing with them in the studio?
Walter Trout: Well there’s a lot of great players on this record. My original idea was to call up as many players as I knew that I respected and were my friends…maybe I had some history with and …um just jam. Originally we were just gonna go in and jam on blues songs. But as these guys started showing up, we looked at each other and said instead of just doing some old blues song, let’s write somethin’.
In came John Mayall…Eric Sardinas…Coco Montoya, Joe Bonamassa, Guitar Shorty, Bernard Allison and Junior Watson, James Harmon…uh I had Johnny Ray Bartel and Bill Bateman from The Red Devils as the rhythm section for a cut, and Steven Hodges backin’ me up with James Harmon, he’s the drummer with Tom Waits and John Hammond…on six of the cuts I had Richie Hayward of Little Feat, Robert Plant, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan…I mean his resume is incredible. They all came in and uh, Jeff Healey of course is on there. But I went to Canada and recorded with his band…’cause he couldn’t get to L.A. And they all came in and we looked at each other and said what are we gonna do? So we sat down and put stuff together. We weren’t trying to come up with Sergeant Pepper or Highway 61 Revisited or something. We were trying to just basically…as you said have fun. Play spontaneously and worry more about the playing and the charisma between the players than you know coming up with some brilliant song. It was much more about let’s have a good time. I wrote in the studio with a lot of the guys…with Mayall, with Eric Sardinas, with Joe Bonamassa, um Junior Watson we wrote together. It was a blast, we were really having fun…no pressure…well there was pressure in a way in that for instance when Mayall came in I knew he was there for…five or six hours and he wasn’t comin’ back (laughter). It was a Sunday and he was like hey man I’m coming down to the studio today. I was like great. But I knew that whatever we did that day was it. This is it; you got one shot here with these guys.
So it was all pretty much one take. There were no fixes, no overdubs. It was let’s put this together and let’s go…and we had a ball.
Billy Rose: Well that comes through loud and clear on the record.
Walter Trout: Great! Thanks man!
Billy Rose: You’ve been friends with John Mayall for years. On “Full Circle” you wrote “Highway Song” with him, is this the first song the two of you wrote together?
Walter Trout: Ya know it is. He’s recorded three or four of my songs on various albums. I recorded one of my songs with him when I was in his band…”Life In The Jungle”. But this is the first time he and I actually sat down and worked out a song together.
And that was at his instigation. He came in and I had put together the slow blues “She Takes More Than She Gives“. He came in and said what are we gonna do, I said I got a slow blues, you play piano and harp, I’ll play guitar. Here’s the lyrics you sing a verse and I’ll sing a verse…a harp solo you know. We finished the song and I figured he was gonna say there you go Walter, raise the cup and go home and have dinner with his family. Instead he sat down, pulled a guitar out of a case and said OK now let’s write a song together (laughter). We sat down and put that tune together. We talked about how he and I had spent so much time in our life on the road. Years and years of our life have been spent touring. It’s a way of life for him and a way of life for me. We toured together for five years. That song came out of it and it was done very quickly. We’re both clean and sober…ya know put me on a jet that’s as high as I wanna get. So that was a first and it was a great experience.
Billy Rose: Wow I’m in awe. Just the name John Mayall. Makes me go wow.
Walter Trout: Yeah! Me too man! I’ve known him for 25 years, I played with him in his band, backed him up on tour with Mick Taylor and John McVie…and I’m still in awe of him. He’s the only one in the world that has that status; ya know he’s a legend.
Billy Rose: Walter Trout and Eric Sardinas are two of the world’s best known blues/rock guitar players. So it was a surprise to me to hear an acoustic number from the two of you. Can you tell us how that came about? And you also wrote “Firehouse Mama” together for this disc, was that something you planned?
Walter Trout: No, Eric is a neighbor of mine. Back when I was in Mayall’s band and Eric was a teenager, he used to come over to my house, listen to blues records. We would play acoustic guitars in the living room. And he talked about his ambition to be a musician. I was always really impressed with his ability. When he agreed to be on this record, I just had this idea that…uh…nobody’s ever really heard him do that. When he first stated off…in Huntington Beach…he was a solo artist. And he played in little coffee shops, acoustic…. played Robert Johnson stuff…and he was unbelievable. I told him people need to hear you do that. Do it without a big amp…without a marshal amp. And he was like…um yeah that’s a cool idea. Let’s do what we used to do in my living room. Two acoustics and let’s just have fun. He came in and sat down and said what are we gonna do man. Shit I don’t know man; we’ll come up with something. We went outside…it’s summer in L.A….and Eric said man it’s hot today. I went, man it’s hot like fire…firehouse…yeah that chick’s a hot mama…Eric says that’s it let’s call it “Firehouse Mama”. So once we had the title we sat down and we each came up with a line of lyrics and it took us about ten minutes. We came up with an arrangement. We went in and did it first take.
Billy Rose: Just that easy huh? (laughs)
Walter Trout: Just that easy.
Billy Rose: Finis Tasby is on the disc. I love Finis, the stuff he’s doing with The Mannish Boys, and on Kirk Fletcher’s solo disc. One thing I didn’t know about Finis was that he started out as a bass played. I read that in the liner notes of “Full Circle“. When you joined his band in ’79 was he still playing bass?
Walter Trout: Yes he was. I did a lot of shows with John Lee Hooker…and finis was the bass player. He’s a very good bass player. He played bass for Freddy King…with Big Mama Thornton…but he wanted to sing. And he could always sing his ass off. In his own band he was the stand up lead singer. Actually I had the house band at a club in Huntington Beach for a while called The Walter Trout Band. This was back when I was in Mayall’s band. When I was home I had The Walter Trout Band and Finis was my lead singer and Deacon Jones was on b3. So they were in my band for a while. We’ve done hundreds of shows together. Backing up famous blues singers and as members of each others bands.
Billy Rose: Walter I want to thank you for sitting down and talking with me. I know you’re really busy with your tour and I appreciate your time. Before we wrap this up, could you talk a little about the difference in playing straight and sober as opposed to being wasted on stage?
Walter Trout: Well the first night I went out and played sober…in Mayall’s band…every chord…I could feel it emotionally. And it was…it was tearing me up. And I realized that I had been numb for years. Not just physically but emotionally. I had gone into music to express emotion, but I had been numbing the emotions I was trying to express. I started to have a lot of realizations about it, and I realized that…for instance, when you get loaded you dull everything. Especially your feelings about things and if you’re playing in a genre that deals with expressing feelings and emotions, how you feel it when you’re masking it and dulling it…covering it up. I came to realize that musicians that think they play better when they’re loaded are suffering a delusion. And inside of that they might think that they’re feeling more or expressing more, but they’re not. God gave you…naturally all the tools that you need to express yourself. You know for years I had been under this romantic image of the hard living blues man. But it’s really a crock of shit, to be honest. Because you don’t have to be tormented, you don’t have to be…um outside of the normal range of life’s experience to play this music and play it from your heart and soul. You don’t have to be…messed up emotionally and crazy and all the things that people think you have to be to be an artist. You don’t have to be. That’s one of the things that I learned from watching John Mayall. So you know for the last 18 years, I feel every note and every chord. If you think of music as a language…and it is…think about when there’s somebody who’s really drunk and he’s trying to talk. And he’s slurring words and saying the same thing over and over again. That’s what these drunk and doped up people do with music. They’re slurring, they’re expressing the same thing over and over. They are blocking their normal channels that they need open, to really express themselves. So, there you go.
Billy Rose: Thank you Walter.
Walter Trout: Thank you Billy! And next time we’re around come and see us again.
Billy Rose: I will