Interview: Robert Cavuoto
Photo Credit: Alex Solca
Walter Trout will be releasing a new studio CD titled Ordinary Madness on August 28th, via and Provogue Records / Mascot Label Group.
Across his five-decade career, the great US bluesman’s music has always been a lifeline and call-to-arms, reminding listeners they are not alone. As the world seeks solace from a tragedy that has touched us all, he comes armed with a boundary-exploring new studio record and eleven searingly honest songs that bring his fans even closer. Ordinary Madness was completed mere days before the US shutdown, its cathartic songcraft and themes of shared troubles couldn’t chime better with a period in which our souls and spirits are under fire from tumultuous global events.
Pre-orders can be purchased here: http://smarturl.it/walter-trout.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Walter about creating this CD and how he has stayed true to himself for 51 years.
Robert Cavuoto: Ordinary Madness has a very intimate and atmospheric feel to it, like I’m sitting in a dimly light smoky bar watching you showcase your skills. I can feel the passion and honesty dripping through the speaker. Do you think this is your most ambitious record yet?
Walter Trout: Thank you that so cool for you to say that! We worked really hard on this record as I took a lot of time getting guitar sound and arrangements within the band. Some records I would go into the studio with my stage rig and blow through the songs. That’s how we did Survivor Blues; we basically played those songs live. For this record, we worked on the rhythm sections, drum beats, and bass parts. I have some incredible musicians in my band in this genre. I’m a little prejudice, but I think I have the best band in the world! The bassist, Johnny Griparic, was with Slash for 12 years, played with Carole King, and Steve Winwood. The keyboardist, Teddy “Zig Zag” Andreadis was with Guns N’ Roses, Alice Cooper, and was Carole King’s musical director. The drummer, Michael Leasure, was with Edgar Winter, but he has been with me for 13 years. There is something about the way we play together that I never had as a band before. You can hear it on this record. These guys are tight, and I gave them a lot of freedom. I told them, I love the way you play, here is how the song goes. Let play it until we find an approach. It was rather ambitious as I haven’t thought about that word, but you’re correct.
Robert Cavuoto: After 51 years of writing songs, tell me how you never run out of inspiration for emotional and impactful lyrics?
Walter Trout: That’s great to hear. I have to say that a lot of the lyrics were written as me doing therapy on myself riding in the van for five or six hours between shows. Right before this record, I was doing a lot of self-reflection. I’m incredibly, deeply grateful, and thankful to be here. With that said, I am very aware of my limitations and flaws. Maybe its wounds from my youth that are still affecting me; things I kept under wraps and inside. Many of the lyrics on Ordinary Madness like “Wanna Dance” and “My Foolish Pride” were written from that perspective. If I had a bad gig the night before, where I didn’t feel like I was giving it my best, sometimes I do my best, but I fail. I know it happens to everybody. I try to hide my shame and then get wrapped up in myself in the bigger scheme of things. I was looking at my book and what I had written; out came “My Foolish Pride.” The first verse is exactly what was in that book and it doesn’t rhyme; it wasn’t written as lyrics. They were written to be therapy, like talking to a shrink.
Robert Cavuoto: I’m intrigued by the title of the CD, is there a meaning behind it?
Walter Trout: It’s not a song about mental illness. The lyrics talk about the sadness, fear, and anger with the self-doubts which are inside everybody. I found myself while on tour getting caught up in it when I was writing for this record. Since I have come back from the dead, I get wonderful messages from people who attend a show or met me afterward telling me I’m an inspiration. I’m thankful for those messages, but sometimes I want to reply, “I’m still all fucked up!” [Laughing] Things I went through as a kid which I have managed to hideaway. It still affects me. I can put up a video and read 500 positive comments from people who say it’s the greatest thing they have ever seen, and one person can post that it sucks, and I’ll walk around for weeks with that on my mind. My wife would remind me of the 500 that positive messages, but once I get it in my mind, it sticks, and gets to me.
Robert Cavuoto: Do you typically improvise your solos, or do you work out note-for-note structurally?
Walter Trout: I play on the spur of the moment; I can’t plan a solo. Usually I play my solos with the band. If I think I can do better, I’ll go back and try it again. I never do more than two passes. On the third try, I start thinking about it and not feeling it. As soon as that happens, I’m done, and there is no feeling to it at all. It’s all about the feel!
Robert Cavuoto: When you’re deep into a solo, like off the title track, what is going on your head?
Walter Trout: I’m lost in the moment. I got to feel it and get in the zone. I can’t play the same thing twice the same way. In 1975 I was in a well-known country-rock band, and they did a Merle Haggard song, ‘Mamma Tried,” with its guitar intro. By the third night, I was struggling with it. I told them I can’t play that intro the same every night [laughing], you have to let me play whatever I feel like playing. I would get so nervous to have to play those four notes the same each night. Most of the other bands I was in, it was about playing spontaneously.
Robert Cavuoto: I heard you broke your pinky finger. How did that happen as I think you would be so guarded of your hands?
Walter Trout: This entire record was done with three fingers! I did a gig in Texas where the room was made of stone with weird angles of stone sticking out. I got a standing ovation, and as I was walking off stage, I grabbed the railing and felt something snap. Under the railing was a brick that was not flush, which my pinky slammed into. When I looked at my finger, it was at a 45-degree angle sticking away from hand. The surgeon put two screws in it. After a couple of months, he said I could start to play again; he thought I was doing some light strumming and singing of “Kumbaya.” He didn’t realize what I did. On the first night of the tour, I had my pinky wrapped in bandages. I took the bandages off and accidentally smacked it into the cutaway of the guitar and re-broke it above the two screws. I finished the tour, and when I got back home, the surgeon looked at it again and said the bone in my finger rotted and turned to gelatin. If I had waited two more weeks to see him, he would have had to cut the pinky off. He took a bone out of my leg and rebuilt my pinky. He also added a metal plate with four bolts. When I was in the studio making this record, I pushed the studio door open, and it came back on me and broke the last joint on the pinky by my fingernail. So I broke my finger in three different places in eight months. Now it’s stuck in an “L” position. I have done every gig with my finger bandaged. It’s a double entendre, but you have to play with the hand you’ve been dealt.
Robert Cavuoto: It sounds like you rose above the pain. Now that you are playing with three fingers, has it made you a better player, and are you finding new and inventive ways to make do?
Walter Trout: No, there are a lot of things I used to do that I just don’t do anymore. I joked with my band, “Now I have to attempt to play now with taste [laughing].”
Robert Cavuoto: You have the history and legacy of being in one the best blues guitarist, how do you stay true to your style while exploring a modern musical path?
Walter Trout: I did some experimenting on this record, but basically, I’m a guy who plays a Stratocaster through a Mesa Boogie amp with no pedals. In regards to staying true to myself, I have been at this for 51 years, and the one thing I can say, even when I was getting bad reviews by blues purists, I never censored myself. If I’m playing a slow blues song with a thousand notes, I’m going to play a thousand fucking notes; I don’t care! I got an email a few years back, where this guy said he came to see me and felt I played too many notes and was too loud. I figured I would own that and for years put “Too many notes, Too Loud” on the back of my t-shirts. I felt that if I’m going to be vilified, I will continue to do what I do and play whatever comes in my head. I don’t censor it because some guy in the audience might not like it. I had to be true to my impulses, feelings, and approach of who I am. That is really the only way I can be authentic is to play with as much honesty as I can muster. I’m not from Clarksdale, Mississippi; I’m a white kid from suburban New Jersey trying to play the blues. And playing the blues means you are playing it with as much honesty as you can muster.
Robert Cavuoto: When did you realize that your style of playing was having such a wide influence on people?
Walter Trout: That hasn’t hit yet [laughing]. Throughout my career, I enjoyed helping up-and-coming musicians. I have a pretty good roster of guitar players that I have tried to help out. I love hearing a guy that has exceptional talent and maybe help play on their first record or introducing them to a record label. I still want to aspire to something; I’m still climbing the ladder not only for success but artistically to be better next year than I am now.