Transcript: Transcript Walter Trout: From Canned Heat to Stardom – The Journey



Hello, and thank you so much for your company. I hope you’ve had a terrific week. I’m excited today to introduce you to one of my favorite artists. He’s probably one of the best performers I’ve ever seen live. And I can tell you, I’ve seen a few. Walter trout just gives his absolute all to his music. And I guess with the backstory he’s about to share. It really comes as no surprise. Walter knows and appreciates just how lucky he is to still be on this earth. And his music reflects the honesty of the life that he’s lived. Walter’s career began in the late 60s When he became a sideman playing with people like Joe Tex, Bo Diddley, Big Mama Thornton and the late Greg John Lee Hooker


Between 81 and 84 Walter played lead guitar for Canned Heat. He toured with them extensively, and then went on to be lead guitarist in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. From sidemen to band member to band leader Walter trout has notched up five decades of making great music in which he speaks of life and death and love. Think I’ll let him tell you more.


Well, I can tell you, your perspective on life changes drastically. And your idea of what’s important and what’s not really important changes drastically. Well, just remembering what happened to him in June of 2013. While he was touring Germany, he started suffering symptoms of liver cirrhosis, weakness, loss of appetite, weight loss and nausea. His health began to deteriorate rapidly, but he decided to continue the tour despite the fact that he was told by doctors that he needed a new liver within the next 90 days.


So what happened I had a liver transplant six years ago and this is the fifth album I put out since I came back.


I love making music. I just love it more than anything and this one was very personal I think I think it’s about as honest as I can write my previous album was called survivor blues. The original plan was I was going to do two albums simultaneously I was going to do an album of old blues songs, and I was going to do an album of all original songs, and I was supposed to record them all at the same time and they were going to come out as a package deal. I finished the blues album, and I did seven or eight songs of the original album, then I had to go out on tour and the tour lasted for months and months so it became well let’s let’s release the blues album. Right so when I got back from the tour and it was time to finish the original album, I listened to it again with fresh ears and through most of it out and started over and rewrote pretty much the whole thing.


I can tell you this I think I’m happier with this record almost than any record I’ve ever done most of the records I do I listen to them once or twice then I don’t want to hear it because all I hear is oh I should have sung that different or I could have done a better solo there. Why did we have that drum beat in this song it should have been you know a different symbol line or something this one I don’t get that I’ve listened to it 1000 times and I still go I’m not hearing anything that I would change but I have to say I work harder on it. I can give you an example of ballad on there it’s called My foolish pride and the rhythm guitar on that song I read did maybe four times with four different sounds for different amplifiers for different approaches. I would go in and I would spend half a day getting it where I thought it was perfect then I would get up the next morning go No that’s not it. I wanted it to sound kinda like a Buffalo Springfield rhythm guitar. It took me four different tries before I got it right.

This album was pretty special to you before it was even created. You set out with a different mindset from the start.


That’s true. This album, ordinary madness. Everything was thought out in advance and there was a lot of planning and then things changed. There was a lot of fun. It was really creative. I think what moves me about it is that it is truly a collaboration Between my wife and I, we were sitting in our house in California, I was strumming my acoustic and I said, Well, I have this melody. And it’s really pretty. Listen to this melody, listen to these chord changes. And it’s almost McCartney esque. And I said, but it’s got all these syllables, edited, edited, edited, and then it’s got all these words I have no idea what to do with this thing. And she said, we’ll play it again for me, and I played it again and her eyes glazed over and she walked out of the room and came back a half an hour later and said, Here’s your lyrics. The music is me the lyrics. It tears me up.



How’d you two meet each other in first place.


It was September 29. It was 1990. I was in Denmark recording my second album, which was called prisoner of a dream. And I did a music festival in a little town called Holstebro. We’re in a big hall. And there were 2000 people there. And I kept seeing this beautiful blonde haired girl in the back of the room and our eyes were vibing back and forth across the people. And we were just communicating across these people. And she started moving toward the stage and the crowd. This is all true. The crowd parted like the Red Sea. And she came up and stood in front of the stage. And I sang and played to where I couldn’t stop looking at her and I fell over the microphone and I had finally said, Hey, you i We have to meet. And we went out and we walked around this little Danish village together. And 40 minutes later I said you’re going to move to America. We’re going to get married, we’re going to have children and we’re going to get old together. And she said You are crazy. And then I said and you have no say in this because this is destiny. And a week later she said yep. And that was 30 years ago and three kids kind of weird. It’s like right out of a movie. You know your life has been a bit like out of a movie, hasn’t it? It’s like a complete fairy tale.


Yeah it’s, it’s been interesting. And I’m still going, even really just being here doesn’t really compute that I’m still here because the illness I had, I was in that hospital bed for eight months. I had brain damage. I lost 120 pounds. I didn’t recognize my wife or my children. I lost the ability to speak. They finally gave me the the transplant the new liver. I didn’t have a bite of solid food for six months, I had a hose in my nose and I had to get speech therapy and relearn about talking. I also had not used my legs in eight months. So I had to go in originally when I got out of the hospital, I was in a wheelchair and then I moved to crutches and a walker. And then I moved you know, I was in physical therapy a lot. But the real bummer that happened for me when I got home because I had had brain damage. I didn’t know how to play the guitar anymore. We had to start over again from scratch and teach myself from the very beginning how to play chords and how to play barre chords and how to play scales and how do you bend a note I had to do all of it and I worked on it seven hours a day every day for a year and then after not being on a stage for two years. I made my return to the stage at Royal Albert Hall in London. So yeah, it’s it was pretty exciting for me, you know, why did that experience leave you with you obviously must see life very differently having gone through all that?


Well I can tell you your perspective on life changes drastically and your idea of what’s important and what’s not really important changes drastically in your appreciation for every moment that you’re here changes drastically after you stared death in the face every day for months and months and months and in that liver ward there were people dying all around me every day and that really why I’m here is I go through that all the time.


You can always revert to Billy Preston’s line that that’s the way God planned it!2


Yeah, but what is the plan for me? I think what I came upon, I did an album called Battle Scars when I got back and that album tells the story, it’s the story of the whole thing. And it ends with a song called gun to live again. And that song was me asking the higher power Why have you kept me here in the last verse? I think I find the reason I say I think I know the answer. I think I know the plan. I have the chance to be a better man


Are you kidding me?


Walter Trout becoming the better man. Standby for more.


Thanks for being here. I’m chatting with blues giant Walter Trout, who’s already shared a little bit about the excesses of his darkest era. Walter says it could all be traced back to his troubled childhood, where an unstable stepfather was a terrifying presence. Thank goodness, his mother nurtured him and his talent. So well. There are

a lot of musicians. I know who when they were kids, and they told their parents, I think I want to be a musician, the parents, that’s just a pipe dream. You have to have a real job. And you know that they were discouraged by their parents. My parents from the time I was a little kid. They took me to see great music and Broadway plays and Shakespearean plays, and they loved the arts. And from the first time I started playing, and said, I think I want to do this. They were like, Oh, we think that it’s great. And even in sort of my teenage years, when my mother was on the faculty of my high school, I ended up quitting school and saying, I just want to go play in a band. And she got a lot of greedy from the other teachers at the school your kids drop out. And she would say no, Mike, my kids, a great musician, and that’s what he’s gonna do. And she would say to me, I hear you playing the guitar in your bedroom and man, you can do it. I think you can go out and you can do this and you can be successful. My parents had divorced and they had both remarried, and both sets of parents that I had supported me completely and loved that I wanted to do this. So I was really lucky. Do you remember what music you were most influenced by?


It depends on what a Ah, we’re talking about, I went through a phase where I wanted to be in musicals. You know, I saw Robert Preston in the Music Man, that movie and I thought, my God, I want to be Robert Preston, I want to sing. You got treble right here, River City, you know, with a capital being that rather than all that stuff, and my mother always took me to Broadway, we saw all sorts of great musicals and great Broadway stars in person. And then I wanted to be a jazz trumpet player, I started the trumpet at age five. And I was listening to Coltrane and Miles Davis and Clark Terry was a big favorite of mine. He’s a great trumpet player. But then, at a certain age, I gotta say, my brother, when I was into being a jazz trumpet, or my brother comes home and says, I know, this is not what you’ve been listening to. But I think you need to hear this guy. This is really unique. And there’s really something going on here. I was 10 years old. And he brought home the very first album by Bob Dylan. And all of a sudden, there were these very simple songs. But with all this, these messages in it, and it was so unique at the time, and I was just like, wow, this is a whole other thing that I’ve been hearing. But I don’t know.


About no world can get around with you. You got to have a diversity. You’ve been in lions. I come a woman as you wouldn’t even have that. Sometimes you as sweet as anybody. When you get a Christian notion jumping out of me when you give me the blues, I get your city. And you give me the blues on and I ended up I got myself a cheap acoustic and started learning three chord folk souls. And that was sort of the turning point for me. I kind of never went back, you know, I did. I did play the trumpet all through high school in the marching band and the orchestra. And the awesome thing in high school, that if I was in the marching band, the orchestra and the choir, I didn’t have to go to gym class. Anything to go out other guys were other guys were running around the track and doing all that and I was singing or playing music. You know?


Were you popular at school?


I don’t know. I had a group of friends who were weird musicians and artists. But we were sort of the outcasts. I was in a school that was very geared towards athletics. As a matter of fact, my mom told me who was worked there. She said, You should go to a different high school you’re not going to fit in here. You’re an artist, and this school is all about athletics. But I found a group of you know, in the in the orchestra learn and acquire. I found a group of like, folks, but we were definitely weird and ostracized. But we had our own little group and we were artists, and I still know a lot of them. And did the girls like musicians or like they like the athletic jocks?


It depends on which girl you’re talking about. You know, there were some very artistic and musical girls. And you know, my first girlfriend was the piano player who backed up the choir. She was in the same grade as me and I actually wrote my my one big European hit, I wrote it about her. It was a gigantic European hit in 1990. And we’re still friends actually, I had dinner weather in California, two weeks ago, and I played her some of my new album, and she’s one of my wife’s best friends. So this is the truth. I walk with my arm around each of them. And I go first. And last,


How long did it take you to start writing your own material? High

School. Here you go. If you want to insert something, that girlfriend I told you about my first real serious one. My mother who was a teacher used to have the summer off, and we’re in New Jersey, she would take off and go to Oregon and California for the summer. She loved the West. And I would be in our apartment alone. 1617 years old, and which was great. Had no good times. My girlfriend was over there one night, and then she had to go home and I looked and there was a pair of her earrings that were left on the table. And there was some of her cigarette ashes on the floor. And the first song I ever wrote was called earrings on the table. And I recorded that on my second album. So if you play that one that’s the first song I ever wrote.


It seems also no since you hear in my head, all we said is do so clean. You have to hold you need you. When I’m lonely. I can hold you laughter and smiles are still in my head. I still see your imprint on a bed. You earrings on a table? These ashes on the floor? I wish I’d see you standing by. It builds up from there then.


I mean, you’d made the decision you were going to be a professional musician. It did take a bit of time before you got a record deal. I didn’t.


Oh, it took a long time. Yeah, but I went through many years as a sideman. I was a very successful Sideman. I was in a band in New Jersey, right out of high school, even still when we were seniors. But right out of high school, we had a horn line. And we played in clubs, and we did Chicago and blood sweat and tears and then we would do stacks, songs and Motown tunes and was for people to dance to but we worked all the time. Then I ended up moving to California to really pursue my career and I became a sideman, and in those years I played with John Lee Hooker and Big Mama Thornton and Percy Mayfield in Lowell, Folsom and Pee Wee Creighton and Edie clean Advents and Bo deadly. I played two years with the great Mr. Jesse Ed Davis, and if you’re not sure who that is, you have to look him up. He’s at the concert for Bangladesh playing with George Harrison and Bob Dylan. He was an American Indian and he was one of the Greatest Guitarists of All Time and I got into his band when I was 22 playing rhythm for him.


He mentored me, so I had 15 to 17 years as a sideman and it was a great career. I got to tour the world and then I got in With Canned Heat,


I want to talk about them. How did you get your break in the first place to join any of those bands from John Lee Hooker


How does that happen? For a young kid,


There is a thing. First, you have to have the talent and the ability. But there is also a bit of luck, a bit of being at the right place at the right time. And I can tell you exactly how it started for me. I was playing in a club band in Orange County, California, and we were very successful. We had a residency in a beautiful nightclub. We played five nights a week, five hours a night for almost two years. But we didn’t play on Sundays. And we were doing, again, top 40 songs, eagles, Beatles, stuff like that. And a friend of mine said, Hey, Walter, I was on the Redondo Beach Pier last Sunday afternoon. And there were these older African American fellows and they were only playing the blues. And I asked them if I bring my friend up. Can he sit in? They said, Sure. So my buddy and I drove up to the Redondo Beach Pier that day in there. They were a group of elderly, African American guys playing blues. And they said, Yeah, okay, you can come up and play one song. Kind of begrudgingly, they looked at me, and what’s this kid doing? I got up and play the song. And I said, Hey, play another one. I play in another one. They said, stay up for the set. I stayed up for the set. And they said, you want to join the band. And it was John Lee hookers backup band, the coast to coast blues, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, bang, bang, bang, bang, boom, boom, boom, boom, bang, bang, bang, bang. All the way. Whoa. And I love the way when you Whoa, that was told that you knocked me out. Out off my feet. Boom, boom, boom, bang, bang, bang, bang, boom, boom, boom, boom, bang, bang, bang, bang. Wow.


I immediately went back to the bar band in Orange County and said, I’m out of here. And with these guys, is how I got to play with all those people. And while I was playing with these guys at a legendary nightclub in Hermosa Beach, called the lighthouse bladder, great jazz players played there and great live albums from I think people like cannon ball out early and stuff came out of there. But I was playing there and a group of kind of crusty looking fellas came in and sat there all night and listened to me. They came back the next night I go with those those same guys and they walk up and go, Hi work, and he would you like to join our band. So that experience of going to the pier that day. If I had not done that, I might still be playing in the bar. Of course, I had the ability and the talent, but that was being at the right place at the right time. And I didn’t want to go that day. My friends, like come on, let’s go and I’m like, Hey, man, I just played Five Nights. I’m gonna sit on the couch and watch a movie and he goes, No, man. I told him your common you got to so I go. Okay. Yeah, that day, complete completely changed the trajectory of my life.


How confident were you in your own abilities? Did you know how good you were? He must have.


I did. But I also knew that however good you are, there’s always somebody better. There’s always somebody to look up to. There’s always something to aspire to. And I always knew that no matter how much you learn on an instrument, you don’t really know anything because it’s limitless. You’re only limited by your imagination, what you can think of. And to me that for example, what made Jeff back the greatest ever was his imagination. He never shredded. He barely played fast. But everything he played you’re like, how did he come up with that?


He was legendary wasn’t he? the late great Jeff Beck. Back in a sec with more. This is a breath of fresh air with Sandy Kaye.

He’s known as one of the best blues guitarists on the planet. And playing with Canned Heat nearly killed him. Walter Trout.

It was my first really touring band. I’d been in these club bands that we’d go to a ski resort and play there for a month or do something like that. So those were road trips, but this was one nighters city after city after city. Yes, there were lots of drugs and alcohol. And I was young and I was moved to LA from a little farm town in New Jersey, and I was living the life and I paid for it years later because I’m on liver number two. I’ve been sober since 1987.

Congratulations. How low did you have to get to decide that?

I got pretty low. I hit bottom. But I was playing with John bail, the great John Mayall, the first tour I did with him, he and I were both drinking. And we bonded over our drinking. And we would sit in the backseat of the van and just get rip roaring drunk every day. And then he quit. He got sober. And he kind of encouraged me and it took a while. Also, when I was home, and I was not on tour, I had a house band at a bar in my band for a while I had Richie Hayward, the drummer from little feet. And he was sober. And he would encourage me but the final straw was I played a gig in East Berlin in Germany when it was communist in 87. And Carlos Santana was there. And he came up to me afterwards. And he’s like, What are you doing, man? And what do you mean? He said, You have a gift of music. You’ve been given a gift, and you’re so drunk up there. He said, You’re doing this. And he said to me, pointed that to the sky. And he said, You’re doing that to where you got the gift. And he gave me a book to read. He said, Go upstairs and read this book. And let’s talk tomorrow and he spent the next two days we had great long talks. What a great man, I went to Mr. Mail and said you will never see me drunk or high again.

The books said everybody has something that they’re passionate about, or something that they have a certain talent for. And what they need to do is figure out what that is they need to take it seriously. They need to nurture it and develop it to the best of their ability. And then by sharing that with the world, they make the world a little bit better place. You might be a car mechanic, you might be an engineer, you might be an Uber driver, but whatever you’re doing, do it to the very best of your ability and take it seriously was called discovery your possibilities and it was by Reverend Robert Schuller and that’s what Carlos told me is instead of the party man while you’re out here, you need to be an artist you need to develop your music you need to take your gift seriously. That’s what I’ve done ever since.

yYou music would have benefited from that, right?

Oh, it benefited. Incredibly I had this romanticized vision of the hard living, blues man died young and it’s all screwed up and gotta have a drink and crazy, and all that crap. And then the first night, I was sober. And I had not played sober since I was like 15 or something. I went on stage with Mr. Male. And I went over to the test my amp, and I played a G chord and the emotional connection to that G chord is something I had not felt ever I don’t think and I started weeping. And I realized that drinking and drugs don’t don’t enhance your emotional connection to the music, they dial it, they cut it, it’s a buffer. And that if you give yourself to your art and your music, just as who you are without any stimulants or substances, you can hit levels of emotional involvement. They were unimaginable before. And I just loved going on and playing sober. And I still do. I couldn’t imagine like now having a beer or something and trying to play or smoking a joint and trying to play then you’re not you’re not yourself, you know, you’re not your heart isn’t there. There’s a wall between you and your feelings.

So in saying that it was an easy transition? Well, that was in

April of 87. Okay. Then, May, June, July, July 4. I had been sober for two and a half months, I was with my first wife. And we went up on the roof of our house, and she had a bottle of champagne. And I said, I’ve been sober for two and a half months. I’m great. I’m fine. I can have a glass of champagne, and we’ll watch the fireworks. And I had a glass of champagne. And that turned into a five day Bender where I disappeared. I went off, came back five days later hadn’t changed. My clothes hadn’t bathed. I don’t even know where I was actually. That was July the ninth and then I stopped so to me My birthday is July the ninth of 87. I also learned I can’t have a glass of champagne. If I have a glass of champagne, I need another glass of champagne. Then I need a shot or Jack Daniels and then I start needing someone to snore it’s best I just don’t do it don’t start and that’s the lesson I could you

learn it but you paid the price for all that hard living as you said didn’t you?

I did but of course months and months of work the gratefulness I feel now to be alive and to have a life and a beautiful wife and three great kids career it’s astounding to do that.

A lot of artists that I speak to say that as a blues man, you have to pay your dues you have to suffer the blues. Well, I have to say I feel like since I went through all that health stuff. I have a a lot more to say, in my music. You know, I sat down on the couch and I taught myself from scratch the same way I did in 1962. I started with some chords, and I worked on it 767 hours a day, every day for a little over a year. And then it came back, I had to really put in the work. And it came back and then it was time, I wonder what would happen if I got up on a stage. I hadn’t been on stage in over two years. Most guys that go down to the corner pub, see what happens. My dear wife and manager got me um, I played at Royal Albert Hall in London, you didn’t know no pressure, there was a high pressure booked out there. I don’t know what’s gonna happen. Can I play? Am I gonna fall over and I counted the four. And when that bad came in behind me. I was just like, this is where I live. This is what I have done all my life to I’ve been every night of my life. It was on a stage somewhere if I was able to get on a stage, and I’m home, man, and I just went okay, I’m back.

You can just imagine how well Walters returned to the stage went. Today he’s set to release his 31st album. That’s again full of passion, perhaps because he’s still got a lot to say. Yeah,

but a lot of stuff bad. I got a lot of songs.

Do you have your firm favorites?

I actually really like the ones I’ve been doing since my illness. And since my comeback. I think they have an extra added bit of as you say passion and something to say I’m a big fan of battle scars. It was the one I wrote after my illness. And again, my dear wife was sitting around after the music came back. And she kind of said, You’re not really being a nice guy. And so did my kids say this and you know, you’ve been through a trauma. And you either need to go talk to a therapist about her or she goes monitor, try writing a song about it. And she gave me that idea. Like maybe I should write a song about what happened in two to three days, I wrote 18 songs and that became battle scars. But I wrote them strictly to be therapy. I didn’t know it would be your record and they’re pretty graphic and depressing and dark but that’s as honest as I can get.

It must be very cathartic for you?

I’ve done the same thing with the new album. I think I’ve made a few statements on this one. But they just keep making music and the leave a legacy behind is important to me. I try to live now in gratitude that I’m alive. I know that we’re on borrowed time, but I’m deeply aware of that than to be able to just keep expressing myself and having a career and having a family full of love. How lucky am I You know, there are so many lessons we can take from Walter Trout’s life out there, perhaps the greatest one being whatever you’re doing, give it your all, and try to appreciate where you’re at right now. Thanks again for your company today. For those of you listening in Australia, while the trout is about to hit our shores, make sure you go and see him, as I said at the outset, one of the greatest live shows I’ve ever seen. I hope you’ve had a great time today. And don’t forget if you’d like to request a guest, just reach out to me through the website, a breath of fresh I look forward to being back with you again, same time next week by now because it’s a beautiful day. You’ve been listening to a breath of fresh air with Sandy Kaye.