WALTER TROUT (Live at The Playhouse, Whitley Bay, U.K., May 1, 2017)
Photo: Mick Burgess

Many artists lay claim to having the best fans but in Blues guitarist, Walter Trout’s case, this is indisputable. When he fell ill and lay at death’s door with liver failure his fans rallied around and paid for a life saving transplant. Trout is back and fitter than ever and in Europe on an extensive tour. Mick Burgess caught up with Trout ahead of his UK shows to talk about his music, his fans and health scare.

You’re back out on the road around the UK in a few days. Are you looking forward to getting started?

Oh yes. I’ve got to say that the UK has been supporting me and my music for 28 years. It’s very moving that people still come out to see me play after all this time and I try to give them my best.

You played a lot of shows in October and your back for the second leg of the tour. Is it important for you to get out and play to your fans in as many places as possible?

It’s important for me to get out and play. It nurtures me and sustains me. It’s what I love to do and I’ve loved to do that since I was 15 years old. That’s over 50 years that I’ve loved to get up in front of people to play and sing. When I was 15 years old I made a decision that this is what I was going to do with my life. I wanted to be a musician who played live and toured. I love it and need it like a plant needs water. So it is important to me but that word doesn’t quite justify how important it is to me. It’s something I have to do. People often ask me when I’ll retire but retirement is for people who don’t like what they do. What am I going to do? Sit on the couch and watch TV? No, I’m a musician and that’s what I was put here to do.

What have you got lined up for this tour?

The show will be a little bit different to the one I did in October. The show is different every night anyway as we have such a large catalogue of songs. There’s certain songs that I do play each night as I feel I have to right now. They are some of the songs off the Battle Scars album where I tell the story of my illness and tell the stories of the songs. I feel I still need to do that as at the end of the show and each night I do a little talk about the importance of organ donation. I’m a patron of the British Liver Trust so I feel I need to perform songs from Battle Scars as that whole album is about my transplant.

You’re playing a lot of shows on the tour not just around the UK but in Europe too. How do you pace yourself on the road?

I can put it this way. 35 years ago it was cocaine and hookers now it’s Perrier and vegetables and lots of sleep. My rider now has a veggie tray and San Pellegrino sparkling water. It’s all pretty health conscious stuff now.

Back in October you were joined by up and coming hot shot Jared James Nichols. Is he joining you on this tour?

The support that I have on this tour is going to be The Trout Brothers Band. That’s two of my sons and a friend of theirs that plays bass. They do all original music and they are really awesome. Make sure you get there early and don’t miss them. It’s going to be a Trout family evening.

When you see guitarists like Jared, Aynsley Lister and Samantha Fish do you see that Blues is in safe hands for another generation?

Blues music is in great hands. There’s even another crop that are younger than Jared and Samantha who are just starting out and coming up through the ranks who are showing a lot of potential. I think there’s always an audience for someone who sings and plays from the heart and tries to address common problems of humanity which is what the Blues is about. I don’t think this music will ever go away. There’s now this huge crop of guitar players and I think it’s a backlash against the last 20 or 30 years of corporate media shoving stuff down their throats. They hear this stuff on the radio and then one day they’ll hear Muddy Waters or Stevie Ray Vaughn and just can’t believe what they’re hearing. It is just so real and genuine. I think the Blues is in great safe hands and is in a very healthy place.

Your latest release is a great live record called Alive in Amsterdam. Why did you decide to put out a live record at this point?

I’d just done Battle Scars and it had won Album of the Year at the Blues Awards in Memphis and I hadn’t done a live album in a long, long time so it was just the right time. I recorded that in a beautiful theatre at Carre in Amsterdam. It’s the most prestigious in Holland and it was a great place to do it.

Back in 2013 you fell very ill with liver failure. Were you on the road at the time?

I was in Germany on tour at the time and it was pretty horrible. I woke up in the middle of the night and my stomach was swollen and looked like I’d swallowed a basketball and my legs were twice the size they usually were. I had two shows to do and I had to do those sitting down. When I got home I was diagnosed with Hepatitis C and that was causing my body to fill up as my liver was failing. They put a drain into my stomach every week and take out 12 litres of liquid. It was awful.

How long did it take you to get a liver transplant?

I was home for a few months where I could hardly walk. They were trying to monitor me. In January I was hospitalised and I didn’t get home until September. I got the transplant at the end of May but I had to stay in hospital for many months as I couldn’t walk or talk. I had to relearn how to talk.

Your fans set up a crowdfunding site to pay for your transplant. How did that make you feel?

It was a really moving moment but by the time all of that happened it was all I could do to take my next breath. I’d lost 120 pounds, I couldn’t speak and had brain damage and I couldn’t recognise my wife or children. It was very moving but I was so out of it that I wasn’t really aware of it at the time. To think of what they did for me is quite incredible. I just can’t thank them enough.

What were your feelings when you walked out on stage the first time after your operation and saw and heard your fans?

That was at the Royal Albert Hall and the pressure was on. I hadn’t been on stage for 2 years. When I got out of hospital I had to learn to play the guitar again so I worked on it every day for a year. Calling it emotional is an understatement. I didn’t know how it would turn out. I didn’t know if I would be able to stand up or move. I didn’t know if my fingers would be able to play or what would happen. As soon as I counted to four and the band kicked in I just felt completely at ease and felt like this was where I lived on stage. I’d done it 10,000 times before and I felt that I was back being who I am. When I was in hospital once in a while at night I’d go on my phone and watch a video of me playing but I couldn’t relate to that person. I couldn’t do that as I couldn’t walk or even breathe. I didn’t have a bite of food for 6 months and was fed through a tube in my nose. I couldn’t relate to that person so when it came back to me at the Royal Albert Hall it was an unbelievable and profound milestone in my life.

Has this new lease of life made you look at life differently now?

It changed my outlook a whole lot. I learned not to worry about the small stuff. When you face death every day for a year and you see people being carried out of the liver ward every day little things cease to bother me anymore. I’m so grateful for what I have. I used to get caught up with why someone else had sold more records than me and now I don’t care. I just want to play music and if people like it then that’s great. I’m just so happy to have a career in music and if I’m never on a level of success-wise as Eric Clapton or somebody like that, I just can’t be bothered to worry about that anymore. I just don’t care, I’m just so happy to be alive and to play the music that I love.

How therapeutic was it for you to make the Battle Scars album?

It was very therapeutic. It was almost like talking to a psychiatrist while sitting on a couch. I had PTSD as a result of the illness and I needed to get it out. I wrote that whole album in two days.

That was two years ago. How close are you to making the follow up?

My next album is being mastered today. It’s all done, written and recorded it’s being mastered as we speak. It’s an album of duets with special guests. I have a guest on each song and the guests I have are stellar, spectacular musicians. I think you’ll love it. There’s quite a few legendary names on this record.

Back in the early days of your career you were in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. That band has in the past featured Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Mick Taylor and Andy Fraser too. It’s almost as if the Bluesbreakers was a training ground for great Blues players. What was John Mayall’s strength at nurturing this talent?

John has an eye for talent. As I toured the world with him for 5 years he would always watch the support band and if there was a musician in the band he thought was special he’d go and get their name and phone number. He had a huge list of musicians and was always on the lookout for new talent. He just has an ear for talent. Working with him was some of the most fun I’ve ever had in my life. I can tell you that he is on my new album with me but I can’t tell you any of the other names.

You also got to play with one of the greatest Bluesmen of them all, Lee Hooker. When did you play with him?

I did a bunch of live shows with him in 1979. I was deeply honoured to play with such a musician as John Lee Hooker. I was in a band of musicians in LA that backed him up and also Big Mama Thornton, Lowell Fulson, Bo Diddley and Joe Tex. It’s funny, I remember when I played with Joe Tex, he paid me in counterfeit money so I quit. He bragged to me that it was counterfeit and how good it looked so I didn’t get properly paid for my work so that was my last night playing with him.

Your UK tour ends on 10th May at Leamington Spa. Where do you head after that?

I head over to Europe to play some shows in Germany, Switzerland and other places. I kind of never know where I’m going. I just get on the plane and when Andrew my tour manager tells me to go and play I get off and go and play. I’ll continue to play until I look over at him and he tells me to stop, then I stop.

Walter Trout’s UK tour starts at The Playhouse, Whitley Bay on 1st May.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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