Interview by Robert Cavuoto
Blues guitarist Walter Trout will be releasing his newest CD, Survivor Blues on January 25th via Provogue Records. It’s a twelve-track collection of lesser known blues songs chosen by Walter and performed by him and his bandmates, Johnny Griparic [bass], Michael Leasure [drums], and Skip Edwards [keyboards].
The CD features songs by artists like guitarist Dawkins, John Mayall, Sunnyland Slim, and Otis Rush. It also features Robbie Krieger of the Doors fame who plays guitar on “Goin’ Down To the River.”
I had the pleasure of speaking with Walter about the creation of Survivor Blues, the physical hardships the band has overcome, and how a chance encounter as a kid with the legendary guitarist, BB King, at a shopping mall set him on his lifelong mission to play the blues.
Robert Cavuoto: All the band members have had their share of physical hardships, how did that contribute to the title and concept of this CD?
Walter Trout: All the musicians on this CD are survivors. I have been through my liver transplant with eight months in the hospital then out of commission for two years. Bassist Johnny Griparic and drummer Michael Leasure are in recovery, and keyboardist Skip Edwards recently had bypass surgery and survived. We feel that we are old guys who have survived the trials and tribulations of years in the music business. It also has to do with the songs as well. I purposely choose old obscure tunes. I chose them because I think they are worthy of being heard and in their own way the songs have survived. They have relevance and beauty making them great songs.
Robert Cavuoto: I hope you are feeling better and doing well since your liver transplant?
Walter Trout: I’m doing well and feeling great!
Robert Cavuoto: When recording these songs, was it a challenge to strike a balance of keeping the warmth and beauty of when they were originally recorded while incorporating today’s modern technology?
Walter Trout: I was not out to copy them. I wanted to take these songs and do them in our own style. We were not trying to mimic the originals but pay homage to them and put our own little slant on them. It was a lot of fun, I brought the songs in, and we as a band discussed how to approach them. On a few songs we created different versions with different grooves and approaches, then we picked the one we liked best.
Robert Cavuoto: Do feel you did the songs justice giving them what they truly deserve?
Walter Trout: I hope, but that is up to the listener to discern. I certainly gave it the best I had! I put everything I had into it. The band worked really hard as did the producer Eric Corne; he, my wife, and I worked on the mix and mastering. A lot of time and energy went into making this the best it could be.
Robert Cavuoto: Did you use any special guitars to help capture the historic guitar tones?
Walter Trout: No, I used the same guitar that I use on the road. I’m a one guitar guy. I’m not a guy who uses a different guitar on every song. I like to establish a relationship with the guitar. I have to have a connection with the guitar. It’s like a woman, do you want a real relationship with love or just a one night stand!
Robert Cavuoto: You and Eric Corne deliver wonderful dimensional guitar tones. What’s the process when the two of you were dialing in sounds?
Walter Trout: A lot of that is up to Eric with the mixing. My wife had some valuable input when it came to mixing it. She suggested approaching the mixing in a different way from our other albums; to not to make it sound like an old blues album and make it sound big and expansive. We were originally going to make it sound like an old blues record. She is a musician and has great ears. She felt in this modern day and age; you don’t need to make it sound like it was recorded in 1951.
Robert Cavuoto: Kudos to her, I think that was a tremendous idea.
Walter Trout: Thanks I’ll tell her
Robert Cavuoto: You picked John Mayall “Nature’s Disappearing” to cover on this CD. John gave you a big break back in the day when you joined his band. What was the significance of picking that song as you could have chosen any one of his songs to cover?
Walter Trout: I was determined to do one of his songs. He is still a dear friend of mine and has appeared on four of my solo albums. In many ways, he is a surrogate father as he has that position in my life. I love and respect him so much. Mr. Mayall back in the 60s and 70s was a trailblazer in songwriting. He wrote blues songs about current events and topical subjects. They were just not about relationships or being broke. “Nature’s Disappearing” spoke to me because he wrote and recorded it in 1970 and in many ways it could have written yesterday as it’s a relevant topic especially with all the regulations being thrown out about clean air and water. To not let coal companies dump their waste back into the water. The world is seeking sustainable energy to save the planet. When I decided to record that song, I called him up to tell him, and he shared with me an interesting story about its creation. In the 1970s when he was in a doctor’s waiting room, he read a magazine article about pollution. In the office on the back of an envelope, he wrote the song in five minutes after spending 15 minutes reading the article.
Robert Cavuoto: Did you share the final song with him?
Walter Trout: Yes, I was a bit nervous, and he wrote me this beautiful email saying that he listened to the song over and over and he is going to keep listening to it. He thought I did a fanatics job and thanked me. That meant the world to me.
Robert Cavuoto: Did you play that song live when you were performing with him.
Walter Trout: During those five years I was with him I don’t recall playing it live. I have to say that during the first couple of years with him I was drinking and drugging so we may have played the song; I just don’t remember. I got sober while I was in his band.
Robert Cavuoto: I really enjoyed your cover of BB King’s “Please Love Me,” what can you tell me about that songs selection and what BB meant to you as a player?
Walter Trout: I can tell you a story. I was 16 years old and had a job in a little shopping center in New Jersey. I was playing guitar and was very serious about and playing The Beatles, The Animals, and The Rolling Stones songs. One day, in walks BB to the shopping mall. I recognized him because my Dad had BB King records. I went up to him and told him was I learning to play the guitar, how I love the blues, and asked if I get an autograph. He said, “Let’s sit down and talk!” He talked with me for over an hour about the blues and the music business. It was incredible. I was so inspired that I went home from work and told my parent the story. I told them I’m going to be a blues guitar player and I never looked back. That cemented my musical direction. When I was ten years old I got to hang out with Duke Ellington, but that meeting with BB changed my life, and I devoted my energy towards the blues. Years later when I was with John Mayall; BB became my friend, and we did a lot of shows together. I told him about that meeting. Unfortunately, he didn’t remember it. I told him that he might not have remembered it, but I sure do. He was such a warm, generous human being.