February , 2011
By Terry Walsh
Common Ground for a Visionary Blues Man
JAM Magazine Interviews Walter Trout
Guitarist Walter Trout is lumped into the Blues category, but one listen to his new CD Common Ground reveals an artist too diverse to reside in one category alone. There are slow, bluesy numbers to be sure, but plenty of rockers such as "Loaded Gun" and "No Regrets". One only needs to watch his live version of "Goin' Down" on his website to realize that the man can jam. JAM Magazine talked with Walter from his Southern California home as he prepared to launch his 2011 tour beginning March 9th at the Granada Theater in Dallas. As affable as he is versatile, Walter Trout was happy to discuss a wide range of topics from hispure love of music to his Faith. Enjoy!
JAM: You're considered a "Blues" artist, but I hear a lot of straight forward Rock too...
Walter Trout: think you're hearing that in there. I think you're also hearing Soul music and Gospel. Maybe a little bit of Country. In my musical life I've sort of been influenced by all the different areas of American roots music. I grew up listening to John Lee Hooker and BB King, but at the same time I was listening to Joni Mitchell and Crosby, Stills and Nash. I was a child of the 60's. It was the Beatles and the Stones, Hendrix and the Animals along with BB King and Muddy Waters. I think that all that stuff is magnificent and valid. I'm really a music lover. If music is soulful and true and honest, I dig it whatever genre it is. I would like to not limit myself to one genre. I think of Common Ground as a singer songwriter CD that has some rippin' guitar playing on it.
JAM: Speaking of the Beatles, a friend of mine told me about a conversation he had with a guy who thought the Beatles were overrated and didn't really influence music!
I think his friend has his head up his ass! I don't know what else to say about that. To me, there are 3 acts in the history of the world that go beyond music. They startedsocial movements. One was Elvis. One was the Beatles and one was Bob Dylan. To me, you have those 3 acts, and then you have everybody else. They started movements. They changed the world. To say you're not influenced by them...
JAM: Who were some of your other influences?
Guitar wise, I'd have to say it was Michael Bloomfield. He really got me going on wanting to play lead guitar. Buddy Guy is another one. He was the first real Bluesman I saw live. I saw him in a little room with thirty people and he played for four hours. He even took a break and sat on the edge of the stage and drank,and we hung out with him. It was an unbelievable evening. I still go back to those people because, like I say, I was brought up in the 60's. When the Beatles came out in '64 I was 13. It was perfect timing for me, so by '68 and '69, I was already out playing gigs in bars.
JAM: When I got Common Ground and read the liner notes, one of the first things I noticed in the liner notes was that you thanked God and Jesus. I take it faithis a big part of your life?
Absolutely. I think if you listen to the songs you'll see that come out.
JAM: Such as the title track "Common Ground"?
Yeah! And read the lyrics to "Danger Zone". Same thing. There's a lot of it in there, you just have to look for it. I don't really consider it my place to hit peopleover the head with it. When people try to do it to me it really turns me off. But I think that I can influence people subtly by writing songs like that and singing them in a bar. In a certain way, I guess I am sort of a preacher when I'm up there on stage, but it's a subtle thing you know?
JAM: The music certainly speaks to the times we're in and how divided everything is. Where does this come from for you?
I find a lot of things a source of inspiration. These days, the divides between us kind of blow my mind. The people who are kind of really living in an alternate reality,and who don't give a crap about facts; I don't know... I spend a lot of time in Europe and see a whole other way of doing things.I don't want to get off into politics here, but yeah, the human condition inspires me a lot to write. It certainly doesn't inspire me in my life. It baffles me. But it gives me fodder for music for sure.
JAM: I've always been curious as to how artists hear and compose their songs, and there's a quote on your bio that refers to just that: "There are times when I'm playing my guitar when I enter a state where I'm not consciously aware of what I'm playing. It's like a signal coming through me."
I've found at a really early age, even before I was very good at it, that I could sit down with a guitar and start bangin' on it and kind of enter an almost altered state. And I realized at an early age that I was sort of like a radio and I was just receiving it. That doesn't happen all the time. But when it does happen and I become the conduit, I do lose complete awareness that I have a physical body or that I'm holding the guitar. I firmly believe you'll have a very difficult time finding many artists who are Atheists, because once they experience that, they realize there's something else. When I dorun into an artist who tells me they're an Atheist, I can't understand it and it's not something I wanna argue about. Then I just think 'Ok, obviously they haven't had that experience'. Because once you have that experience you can't deny it. You can't turn your back on it. You can't say, "I didn't experience that". It's pretty profound when it happens. I aspire to it every night, but when you do as many gigs as I do, especially as I age, it doesn't happen as often. It used to happen sometimes for an entire gig, now it might happen once or twice during an evening or it can happen through an entire gig. There's no rhyme or reason to it. But when it happens, even after 40 years of this, it's pretty f-in' astounding still. I'll still go back to my hotel roomand marvel at the mystical experience I've just had.
JAM: What does it feel like?
It feels like you lose all awareness of your physical body. You lose awareness thatyou're holding a guitar. You just become the sound. It comes through you. You open yourself up to receiving it. It also happens sometimes when I'm writing. For instance, if you go back in my catalog, there's a song called "Apparitions". I started writing a songabout seeing the spirit of my dead mother, and I meant it to be a very sad ballad, and after I started writing, something took over and I ended up writing probably 20 verses about all of these historical characters and all these weird visions that I was having. If you read the lyrics to that song, that entire song happened basically in a trance. I sat there and the next thing I knew an hour had gone by and I had written literally 20 verses and had no clue where it came from. I've never really had that happen since to that extent, but it's a pretty amazing experience. At the end of that I kind of look up and say thanks. Thank you for allowing me to have this experience where I feel like I'm communicating with whatever your idea of a greater power is.
JAM: Talking about playing live, you have quite a following in Europe. Do you get a bigger rush from playing over there as opposed to the States or does it even matter?
I get a rush from playing wherever. Last night I played at a little seafood restaurant down the street with a bunch of 15 year olds. My son's school was having a fundraiser for their music department and I went down and played 5 songs with a bunch of kids who had never jammed. I went up and said 'Ok, now we're gonna do a slow A minor Blues" and they jumped in. I got off playing there. I had a blast. I can get off playing in front of anybody. It's not a matter of the size of the crowd or any of that. As a matter of fact, sometimes I prefer a smaller, intimate venue where you can get right in their face, and where you're dripping sweat on em'. Sometimes that's more preferable to a big group.
JAM: You had a big hit in Europe in the early 90's where you were big on MTV didn't you?
I do great in Europe. In 1990 I had a massive hit over there. I still have the chartswhere I outsold Bon Jovi, Madonna, and Bryan Adams that year. I was a massive mainstream rock artist. I had a huge hit record. All the money was stolen by the way. The record label, with this massive, gigantic hit, disappeared, and I've never seen them since. The office was closed. It was empty. They took the money and ran. But hey, that's the music business.
JAM: You're kicking off your tour on March 9th here in Dallas at the Granada Theater. What should someone new to your live show expect?
Well we're gonna do some older stuff, some spontaneous Blues that we make up, jamming and we'll do a bunch of stuff off the new CD, Common Ground. I think if you open up to the feeling aspect of it, you can get quite the emotional roller coaster out of our show.
JAM: It's safe to say that all Rock N' Roll is steeped in the Blues correct?
I think so, yeah. It's gone off on tangents. I mean, I don't know how much Blues you're gonna hear in Rush for instance. The stuff that I like is based in Blues and R&B, Soul and Roots music.
JAM: I grew up on what's now considered "Classic Rock" and when I think of the Blues I picture someone like John Lee Hooker. Are "The Blues" morphing in style and becoming more like mainstream Rock?
I used to be John Lee Hooker's lead guitar player. That was really more like old school blues. Count Basie had a quote, "You can do the Blues in a hundred different ways." It's funny; you can listen to John Lee Hooker or BB King and say 'That's the Blues.' But they're vastly different. John Lee Hooker is very raw and almost like Country Blues, but played electrically, and BB King is incredibly sophisticated with much more kind of jazz influences thrown in. There are so many approaches to it and they vary so much. I do think that in the past 30 years, as more young white guys have started playing, and even guys from my generation from 40 and 45 years ago, more Rock n' Roll was thrown into it. That was the thing that really drew me to Michael Bloomfield. I was raised in this house where my parents were playing John Lee Hooker and BB King records. When I was a little kid they were very hip.My parents took me to see Ray Charles, James Brown, Ella Fitzgerald, and Count Basie, and all these people. My mom, when I was a little kid, we sat in the front row to see James Brown. I grew upon John Lee Hooker. I grew up hearing BB King. But it didn't really grab me as muchas, say, Ray Charles. Then when I heard Michael Bloomfield, and he was playing all that stuff, but he had this Rock n'Roll aggression, that knocked me over and it gave me awhole new idea how you could play this stuff. You could play it aggressively. Youcould play fast licks if you wanted. You could play it like a Rock guy. Who's to say that's not the Blues? That's a matter of opinion. A lot of Blues purists despise what I doand I say. That's great! I'm glad you do. That means I'm making a mark and I'm attempting to take it somewhere new and not leave it as something in a museum.
JAM: Do you think after 20 CD's are you're still trying to findyour voice?
Yeah... I still am. I think it's that way with any artist. When I'm making a CD, I never say 'it's finished.' I just go 'Ok. It's time to move on.' because it's never finished. Some of the stuff I played on the new CD, I would certainly play different now. I wouldcertainly sing it a little different now. I might write different words. Hopefully, as an artist, you grow day by day. It's about evolving. So yeah, I'm still trying to find my voice. I can't imagine not trying to find it. That's part of the joy of it for me-that aspiring, that questing for something a little more. To play something I didn't play yesterday. Duke Ellington once told me, "Don't go into this to be a star. Go into it to be an artist. The art is only limited by your imagination."
Walter Trout will be appear live at The Granada Theater March 9, 2011.