I was able to interview Walter Trout before his show at Universal Studios City Jazz Club on Oct 7, 1999. He played a three-hour show and left everyone in the club impressed and yelling for more. His show that night was incredible with tons of energy and amazing ability on the guitar. There is nothing fake or artificial about a Walter Trout show. The sounds that he gets out of a guitar are impressive since he is just plugging straight into his amp and just playing. It's all Walter Trout's technique and skill. If you want to know why he was voted the sixth greatest guitar player of all time in the UK, just attend one of his shows. You won't be disappointed! I would like to thank Marie Trout and Walter Trout's management company for their assistance in arranging this interview.
Copyright © 1999 Robert Murphy
Murf - You're a blues guitar player from New Jersey & now California. How did you wind up being more well known in England & Europe than the United States?
Trout - My band really....as a serious band started in Europe and I was offered...it's kind of a famous story in Europe but not too known over here. I was playing with Mayall, and he got sick in Denmark, he couldn't play. So I basically went on and fronted the band. When I came off the stage after singing and playing for about three hours with the band without John....and...there was a Danish record label representative there and there was a concert promoter there. And I walked into the dressing room and the guy said "I want you to do your own album" and the promoter goes "I'll book a tour for you". And the first album I did was for a Scandinavian label.
Murf - What was that?
Trout - It was Electra Denmark, which is no longer around...a Danish subsidiary of Electra.
Murf - Which CD was that?
Trout - "Life in the Jungle". You probably have the Provogue one. They took it over later. (Walter looks over some of the CD covers I have with me) Yeah you have the Provogue one...the original one said Electra Denmark. And this was originally only released in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland. Just Scandinavia. I did a second one for the same company called "Prisoner Of A Dream" which again was only released in Scandinavia. And we started touring constantly there…about the time this came out. A year after this....a Dutch label licensed these records for the rest of Europe....for Germany, Holland, England...like that...and on this record I was lucky enough to have a top ten AM .....MTV hit....called "The Love That We Once Knew." And that propelled me very quickly up the ladder in Europe. ...from a club act to an act playing in arenas and stadiums.
Murf - A national act?
Copyright © 1999 Robert Murphy
Trout - Yeah....right...doing shows with Elton John and people like that. So that's how it happened and I just toured over there constantly. I had a big hit record over there and became very well known and in the meantime I wasn't really trying that hard to even get going there. I was so busy over there that when I would come home I sorta wanted to relax ...you know....and I would play down at the local club in Huntington Beach. My band was the house band there and we would do like four, five nights a week down there and I was happy to do that cause I got to stay home for awhile cause I was in Europe...probably seven or eight months a year. So that's really what happened and then…Electra Denmark went out of business, stopped existing, and that's when Provogue took over the albums for all of Europe. And then I went with Ruf records here in America. I did one album for Silvertone and the reason I went with them cause they said we'll put a record out in America for you if you come with us. They wanted me for Europe and then the apple they dangled in front of me was if you sign with us for Europe, we'll release that in America....and I thought OK I can get a record out in America. And what they did consequently was.......they didn't do a very good job for me, either in Europe or America. All my record sales in Europe started to go down and I realized......that....Europe was my bread and butter......and that in order to get my sales back up where they were....on the charts.... I have charts at home where I’m up with Bono and John Cougar and stuff.....You know.
Murf - You were listed as the #6 top guitar player in the UK.
Trout - Top greatest guitar players of all time....twenty greatest guitar players of all time.
Murf - You were listed higher than Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jeff Healey, Peter Green, Rory Gallager, Joe Satriani and even B.B. King.
Trout - Yeah...out of 100,000 votes cast I was only two votes shy of Jimmy Page who was number 5...which if I had known that I would have sent in three votes for myself (laughing)..... you know I thought what the heck ..when they announced it and they said between six and five there's only two votes....I thought man if I had known that I would've voted you know, but I didn't. But it's sort of a long story but that's really what happened....this was thrown in my lap...the night Mayall got sick. You wanna make your own record and that had always been my dream. I did the sideman thing for 20 years. I played with John Lee Hooker, Big Mama Thorton, Loel Colesen, Percy Mayfield.....Canned Heat, Bobby Hatfield and the Righteous Brothers, John Mayall, Peter Crayton....20 years of that and the whole time it was my dream to have my own career.
Murf - How did you wind up playing with...these are all high profile people...how did you wind up with all these people...just the luck of the draw?
Trout - No that's....when your....when you get to be a sideman in a really well known act....one job will follow another. To give you an example.....by playing with John Lee Hooker....who has a close association with Canned Heat. I got to know canned heat. And then when they needed a guitar player they called me. While I was playing with Canned Heat, we did some shows with John Mayall when he had the original Bluesbreakers together...we opened up for him. John called me and said "you know...I'd like you to play second guitar to Mick Taylor...I like your playing" and I said fine and I went out and did some shows with the original Bluesbreakers even though when their albums were out I was in high school. I was up on stage playing rhythm guitar to Mick Taylor.....and a year later John called and said I've had enough of the super star band...I wanna start my own band. So what happens is...when you get with one of those acts...you do festivals or you do shows with other acts....you get to know those people and they hear you play....and you become friends with them. You get calls. I pretty much from the time I started as a sideman.....pretty much was never out of work. You know there was somebody always calling up and saying "Hey...I need a guitar player...I got a tour coming up...you wanna do it?...I got an album I'm gonna make...you wanna do it?" To go on with that question.....once you're a side man in an established group its really easy to meet people...they call you and you get a reputation among musicians and you get called.
Murf - Eric Clapton once described touring with the Bluesbreakers as living like monks, just playing the gigs and traveling, no parties or girls. How does that compare with your experience?
Copyright © 1999 Robert Murphy
Trout - When I was in the Bluesbreakers?
Murf - Yeah.
Trout - I was anything but a monk....I would say living like Thelonious Monk...if you have to pick a monk...but no...but also you know.....I live like that now cause I'm married and I love my wife and I'm clean and sober.....I don't do dope, I don't drink...and I don't chase girls....but I see a lot of television and I read a lot...you know. But when I was with John, I was out of my mind. I was heavily into drinking and drugs and anything faintly resembling a vagina I was chasing desperately. Eric's experience in the Bluesbreakers was definitely different than mine.
Murf - Your CD's have been available in England & Europe for years, but only available in the United States as imports. Your last three CD's have been released in the US (finally). Is this something that your US fans can look forward to in the future?
Trout - You mean the Euro CD's?
Murf - Any future CD's and your earlier ones.
Trout - As for the earlier CD's...I don't know. A lot of those when I listen to them....I hear that they could be better. You know what I mean.....cause I feel like I play better, I sing better....I write better with each succeeding record and I also feel like I know more about the recording process so I don't know if I even want to pursue them being released. My record company may do it...that's their prerogative, and I can't really say anything. As far as new CD's...I intend to keep recording as much as possible.....I think my next one for America will probably be a live one...that should come out....before next summer or right around next summer so that I can do the...... the festivals so that I can have a new album out.
Murf - Is there anything in particular that caused your to name one of your CD's "No More Fish Jokes"?
Copyright © 1999 Robert Murphy
Trout - Yeah!...the English press....meaning England...just went overboard about my name.....and they could not write an article or a review or anything without putting as many jokes about my name as they could do. I even have one magazine....Guitar Magazine from England....in the opening paragraph of the article...there's like 27 different fish references. It's like all they picked up on. And to me...it's so obvious....OK....I have the name....it's the name of a fish...ha ha...now lets get on with life....and talk about the music and get past that really obvious really ridiculous thing. To me that's something a third grader would do you know....this one English journalist....who's a very well known journalist over there, his name is Dave Ling and he writes for a lot of big magazines. He did an interview with me and the first thing he said.. "Aren't you tired about all these jokes about your name?" And I said "yeah I am" ...He laughed and he said "you should make an album and call it 'No More Fish Jokes" and I thought about it....and when it was time to do that live record and we needed a name...I thought that was cool.
Murf - I thought it was a great title.
Trout - And all the little headlines in there (on the inside of the CD cover) they're right out of the English press. We took those out of the English press and made a collage. They're all real headlines. So that's why I did that...I thought we need a name for this live album...instead of calling it you know...."live" ...like every live album...we'd use this guys idea to make a little statement in there.
Murf - I knew there was a story in there somewhere.
Trout - Yeah...it was suggested to me in jest and I ended up saying "wow"...pretty good you know.
Murf - Any particular reason for changing the band name from "Walter Trout Band" to "Walter Trout and the Free Radicals?"
Copyright © 1999 Robert Murphy
Trout - Well...that was....I went with a new record company and I wanted to feel like I was starting....a new era....getting going here in my own county. A lot of guitar players and blues acts...their band has it's own name. Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble....Collens and the Ice Breakers...there's hundreds of them. I wanted a name for the band....Walter Trout AND...so that there was not just band...this anonymous band that they sort of have an identity. My doctor gave that to me....unwittingly...she was talking about the free radicals in my bloodstream....and I went "What's that" and she started telling me that there's these kinda poison molecules....and I felt that after the life that me and these guys have led ...that that was a pretty funny name. That was another one that .....I suggested that kind of in jest and they thought it was hilarious and said "Yeah..lets do it."
Murf - Does any of your early horn & jazz influences get incorporated into your music. You played trumpet at an early age.
Trout - Sometimes...when I'm thinking....improvising....when I'm sitting around I find myself think more in horn lines than guitar lines. ....still....even after all these years of playing guitar.
Murf - I've got a couple of guitar geek questions here. Tell me about your 73 Fender stratocaster and how it came to be your main guitar. What was special about that guitar.
Trout - I moved to California in 74.....I got there on Halloween....I drove across the county by myself....and...a couple of days later...I walked into a music store in Costa Mesa....and picked that thing off the shelf....I picked that guitar off the shelf and went to play it and it just.....felt great. It felt like this is my guitar. So I borrowed two hundred bucks from my buddy I was playing with and I bought the guitar.....and played it ever since. And it's...I'll show it to you up close....when I bought it....new in November of 74....it ...was pure white....it was as white as this paper here and now it's dark yellow. That's nicotine on there.
Murf - You just received an endorsement deal with Fender. Will you wind up with a signature guitar? Or maybe something that can compare to your favorite 73 stratocaster.
Trout - I think it depends on how my career goes. If I were to get to the level in America that I am in Europe, I think they would make a signature guitar. Right now they're still just getting to know me.
Murf - How about your guitar setup, what amps and effects do you use?
Trout - An amp...a guitar and that's it. The rest of it is manipulating the strings and the volume buttons, the controls and the pickups. I am using though...a Mesa Boogie guitar leslie, a revolving speaker which I'm use once in a while but that's not really an effect. It's like an organ speaker.
Murf - How does your perception of the blues scene in Europe compare to the one here in the United States?
Trout - Well my perception is probably a lot different than a lot of other people. Here I play some nights in little clubs to ten people...I go to Europe and play major festivals and draw thousands and thousands of people. So my perception is probably different than a lot of blues musicians....who are maybe doing good in both places or better over here. I find that European audiences...I have to say don't seem to be as much influenced by what the latest trend is....or what MTV tells them that they should like...you know...what's the flavor of the month. Europeans don't seem much influenced by that...they're more open to listening to music and accepting it for what it is....and if they like it...they like it. They don't worry about ...like your age. I get some reviewers telling me "Why are you starting a career in America at age 48." What should I do....just get in a wheel chair and have somebody roll me around and go get a set of dentures and put me in a nursing home...what are you talking about! In Europe they don't care about that kind of stuff. They don't care about "your not going to make it cause your 48." You know I hear that over here from certain reviewers who shall remain nameless.
Murf - I can believe that....(here the interview was interrupted so that Walter and the band could go to the cafeteria in the Universal Studios basement and eat supper. We ended up getting lost in the basement of Universal studios trying to find the elevator back to the club. An almost Spinal Tap experience)
Copyright © 1999 Robert Murphy
Trout - (discussing the American release "Walter Trout" which was released in Europe as "Positively Beale Street") The European release of "Positively Beale Street" had a paragraph in there telling about the history of the area and trying to tell the people in Europe something about the where all this music came from and why this area is so special. The record company felt that I didn't have to put my little paragraph on there (for the US release) so that's why they gave it a different title and a different cover.
Murf - You seem to tour in Europe quite often and limited national touring in the US. Is this latest tour an indication that you will be touring the US more regular?
Trout - I hope so. I'm actually hoping to be....much more visible here than in Europe in the future. I'd like to keep Europe as something I do once in awhile....and really concentrate on building my career here. In America, the only way for me to do that is to just get out on the road and go for it...you know.
Murf - Are there any particular artists that you would claim as influences?
Trout - Hundreds....it's hard to pin them down. I'm looking at a picture of Duke Ellington over there (on the wall of the club). When I was ten years old I got to spend an evening with Duke Ellington and his orchestra and sitting in his dressing room talking about music and life. That was an incredible influence on me. And then you know....Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Crosby Stills & Nash, Joanie Mitchell....Aaron Copeland.
Murf - Any comments on the Internet and how it will help or hinder artists in the future.
Trout - I have no idea. I'm gonna wait and see.
Murf - Any comments on the new young blues players such as Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Johnny Lang and some of the up and coming players such as Josh Smith out of south Florida?
Trout - I think it's really healthy for the future of blues, that there's so many young people getting into it. I really do. I think it's ...a great thing and I think when they're all.....they're all thirty years old....there's going to be an incredible group of musicians out there. I mean I think it's really healthy that so many young people are into it.
Murf - How would you respond to criticisms in the press that these new kids are too young to play the blues?
Trout - I don't know....it depends on how I feel on any particular day. I don't think you're either too young, too old, too black, too white or too green to play the blues. I don't think any race....or age group has a monopoly on emotion or feeling. I know that I felt plenty of emotions and feelings when I was fifteen.....just like I do now. If I would have been able to play and express those feelings back then...I would have....you know...so I don't think there's any monopoly on the ability to express emotions. I don't like racism in blues and I don't like ageism either.
Murf - Good answer. What particularly drew you to the blues as opposed to rock or some of the other styles of music?
Trout - The blues I found an incredible honestly and...an incredible vehicle to express myself. But I still like rock and roll also....Folk music and gospel…I like soul music....I like a lot of county western, a lot of forms of music. I ended up playing blues....when I started off, I wanted to be able to play everything. Wanted to try and play it all. And I ended up being hired by a lot of blues musicians....and really listened to a lot of blues and that is really the basis of what I do. But....I find.....that there is not even one genre of music I think is better than any other. It's like honest and heartfelt music...whatever genre.
At this point the interview concluded so that Walter could get ready for the show.
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This interview is copyright © 1999 by Robert T. Murphy, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.