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Walter Trout

With a raw, biting, overdriven tone, flawless technique, and relentless energy, Walter Trout is among the world's most formidable blues guitarists. His high-profile stints with Canned Heat and John Mayall's Bluesbreakers in the 1980s resulted from a decade of backing blues and R&B performers including Joe Tex, Percy Mayfield, Big Mama Thornton, Lowell Fulsom, and John Lee Hooker. After leaving Mayall's employ in 1989, Trout led his own bands and started recording as a bandleader. He issued acclaimed early albums for European labels including Telling Stories in 1991 and Transition in 1992. Issued in the U.S., 1994's Tellin' Stories for RCA/Silvertone imprint drew critical notice, while his fortunes in Europe were far greater. 2000’s Live Trout, was his first charting album Stateside. By the time he issued 2009's Unspoiled by Progress, his offerings regularly notched spots in the Blues Albums Top Ten. After the 2013 U.S. issue of Luther's Blues: A Tribute to Luther Allison peaked at four, Trout was sidelined with cirrhosis and Hepatitis C; he required an organ transplant. During recuperation he penned Rescued from Reality: The Life and Times of Walter Trout with journalist Henry Yates. He returned with 2015’s number two-charting Battle Scars and resumed touring -- his first gig was a blues festival at the Royal Albert Hall. 2017’s We’re All in This Together marked his first number one outing, a run he continued with Survivor Blues two years later. Trout was born in New Jersey in 1951. He began playing guitar in his early teens and by 1973, with a bellyfull of experience playing in local bands, he moved to Los Angeles, where he slept on couches and scrabbled for work. His first gig in the City of Angels was as a lead singer in a country band. With his third paycheck he bought the Fender Stratocaster that continues to adorn his album covers. He met guitarist Jesse Ed Davis at a party and joined his band; Trout spent two years apprenticing with a master. Thanks to contacts he made while working with Davis and a burgeoning reputation as a gifted axe slinger, Trout began working with Big Mama Thorton, Lowell Fulsom, and Joe Tex. After a stint with John Lee Hooker's band, Trout was invited to replace the recently deceased Bob Hite in Canned Heat in 1981. No stranger to bad habits and substances, he was a natural fit for the hard-living West Coast boogie ensemble. Two years later, addicted to drugs and alcohol, he filled in one night for an ailing John Mayall. Trout's impassioned performance was so impressive, the British blues legend invited him to join the Bluesbreakers. He spent five years with Mayall and was lionized by the music press. In 1989 he was spotted by a Danish concert promoter who agreed to finance a solo tour. He agreed and informed Mayall he was leaving -- a decision friends and musicians called career suicide. After assembling a backing band, Trout released Life in the Jungle for an independent label in 1990. After signing to Elektra Denmark, he followed it with Prisoner of a Dream in 1991, followed by 1992's Live (No More Fish Jokes). In 1992 Trout signed a non-exclusive deal with Germany's Provogue label and released the acclaimed Transition. He signed a one-off with RCA's Silvertone for 1994's Tellin' Stories. Though the record sold well and received universally positive critical notice and selective airplay, it did not translate into the touring receipts he saw in Europe. After the release of 1997's Positively Beale Street, his domestic fortunes improved: the clubs were bigger and festival invites were more frequent. Trout continued his steady release stream: a self-titled offering -- one of his best -- was issued by Ruf Records a year later while, Livin' Every Day from 1999 showcased his songwriting prowess. With his Free Radicals outfit he issued Live Trout in 2000 (recorded at the Tampa Bay Blues Fest) and saw his first American chart success: it peaked at 15 on the Blues Albums list. Each of his recordings since has placed on the that list. The guitarist loved live sound, and for 2001's Go the Distance and 2003's Relentless, he recorded live-in-studio for an invited audience. With 2006's Full Circle, Trout realized a dream: He cut an album with some of the musicians he most admired, including John Mayall, Coco Montoya, and Joe Bonamassa. The 2009 compilation Unspoiled by Progress was a handpicked retrospective of live tracks recorded on the road throughout his career; he followed with the number-six charting Common Ground in 2011. A year later, Blues for the Modern Daze, showcased 15 originals based on his blues influences. The following year Luther's Blues, a tribute to late friend and mentor Luther Allison, was released in the U.S. (it had been released in Europe three years earlier), resulting in a number four chart peak. Trout had been experiencing health problems for some time, the end result of years of substance and alcohol abuse. He discovered his liver was failing in late 2013, and went on a transplant list early the next year. On May 26, 2014 he underwent successful transplant surgery. Two weeks later, Provogue issued Blues Came Callin', a recording that marked his 25th anniversary as a solo artist. Trout continued to recover, albeit with some complications that required another surgery. A series of interviews with British journalist Henry Yates during recuperation resulted in the autobiography Rescued Reality: The Life and Times of Walter Trout, published in early 2015. Less than a year after his transplant, he cut another album entitled Battle Scars, which was released in the fall and peaked at number two. He also performed at a London blues festival at the Royal Albert Hall and received a prolonged, dramatic standing ovation. 2017 saw the release of the aptly titled long-envisioned We're All in This Together, that featured guest spots from Mayall, Bonamassa, Randy Bachman, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Sonny Landreth, Warren Haynes, and more. It marked his first number one. After more global touring, Trout went back into the studio. He pared everything down to its essence and cut Survivor Blues, a collection of obscure blues covers he considered no less important than the standards. It too peaked in the top spot on the Blues Albums chart. In early 2020, Trout and his band entered Robbie Krieger's private studio and proceeded to shake things up. While the proceedings retained his blues origins, Trout also showcased the influence that songwriters such as John Lennon, Neil Young, and Bob Dylan had on him. Employing lyrics that honestly delved into past issues with substances, mental health problems, and the loneliness of the road, Trout showcased his inner songwriter alongside the guitarist. Using all vintage guitars, he delivered tracks based in roots rock, psychedelia, folk, and modern Chicago blues. Entitled Ordinary Madness, he completed the album just days before the world shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic; it was released by Provogue in August.
© Thom Jurek & Jason Ankeny /TiVo
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