It’s safe to say blues guitar hero Walter Trout is making the most of his second chance in life and his fans are loving every minute of it.
The former John Mayall Bluesbreaker had built up a prolific recording and touring career on the strength of his guitar pyrotechnics, hard rocking voice and riff-laden, heartfelt songs.
However, Walter’s early years of living the old rock ‘n’ roll life of drink and drugs to the max had a disastrous long-term effect on his health.
Ironically the guitar slinger, who celebrates 30 years of sobriety in July, had been clear of booze and other harmful substances for longer than he had been taking them when he learned his liver had basically bought the farm.
And it looked like he would be following it to the great big blues jam in the sky.
That he didn’t die is testament to his spirit, the love of his family and fans, medical science, luck and possibly help from above.
So, complete with his successfully transplanted liver, Walter is returning to Glasgow’s O2 ABC on Wednesday, May 3 to show just how grateful he is to be alive.
Speaking from his Californian home, Walter said: “It has changed me, made me more aware every gig I play could be my last. It means more to me than it did and that’s because it was taken from me.
“I was on my back for eight months, I couldn’t speak anymore, I had brain damage. When I got out I couldn’t play the guitar anymore, I had to learn to play again. It came back and now it means more to me than it ever did – I can go out and play with more intensity.
“We always get such a great audience in Glasgow, it’s a blast to play for the Scottish people, who have been supporting me and my band for 28 years. I love them for that – they still come out to hear me play. It’s very moving.”
Walter’s albums from The Outsider (2008), Common Ground (2010), Blues for the Modern Daze (2012) and The Blues Came Callin’ (2014) all feature songs which are a slice of his life or based on his world weary views, but the highly personal Battle Scars (2015) is now viewed as his masterpiece.
He said: “I have more to put into the music, more to say, more life experience to put into the notes. As far as writing goes Battle Scars came directly from my heart.
“I wrote it as therapy and didn’t try to be commercial. I wrote six of the songs on that album in just five hours.”
How do you follow that?
Well Walter will release an album of duets later this year, which has the potential to top the jam-tastic Full Circle (2006).
“It’s going really well – as a matter of fact it’s in the process of being mastered as we speak. I can’t say when exactly it will be released – sometime in the summer I think.
“What I can tell you is it’s an amazing album of duets with 14 guests – we’re talking about legendary players.”
The New Jersey-born musician is now firmly focused on his live work and will be taking his family on this new tour.
“My sons will be supporting me through the whole UK tour – they’re called the Trout Brothers Band and have two of my three boys with an ‘honorary brother’. They are pretty awesome and play original music.
“They rock – my son Jon is a really amazing guitar player so I think the fans will love them.”
As for Walter, he will once again be joined by his rocking touring band, Sammy Avila (keyboards), Johnny Griparic (bass) and Michael Leasure (drums).
“It’s going to be our normal high energy show with some blues jams and we’ll still be playing songs from Battle Scars because I haven’t got those songs about my illness out of my system yet.
“I always thought for a while I’ve got two families – one is my wife and my three boys and the other is my band, which is just like a family. Now I’ve got my two sons out there with me – what more could you want?”
Speaking of young musicians, Walter can draw from a bottomless well of wisdom – which he attained the hard way – to give them advice about music and the music business.
“I have plenty of advice for young guys. Musically I tell them they should concentrate on playing from the heart. The kind of music I play is not about technique – it’s not intellectual, it’s very organic and it’s straight from your heart and your soul.
“It has to be about emotion and feelings – you don’t go out to impress someone, you go out to try and move them, to try and make them feel something.
“What you need to work on is channelling your emotions through your instrument. The technique will come the more you play and you will get really good.
“But it’s the feeling you play with that sets guys apart and separates the men from the boys.
“The big message I try to give them, and I speak from experience, is stay clear of the pitfalls that come from being in a band. The drugs and the booze are going to get in your way.
“It’s going to sap your motivation – it won’t enhance your creativity. If you’re trying to express something and you take some substance that dulls your emotions it’s not going to come out the way it should.
“Think about a drunk who slurs his words – music is a language and when you play drunk you slur your words. You’ve got to have an edge, energy and focus.
“All of this was told to me by Carlos Santana. When I listen to records I’ve made I can tell when I had no edge or intensity.
“When I got sober I got the edge and intensity. The first record I did when I was sober was John Mayall’s Chicago Line in 1988. The solo I did on the song One Life to Live is still one of my favourites.
“But there are records I did before that with Canned Heat that I just can’t listen to.”
Without doubt Walter’s longest running relationship has been with the Fender Stratocaster.
“I started playing a Les Paul when I was 17, but I dropped it and it broke. Then I was a Gibson 335 guy. One day I was at a jam session – I was 19 or 20 – and this guy handed me his Stratocaster to try.
“When I played it I felt like I had found my wife.
“I thought, I can relate to this guitar – it feels so good, it’s like an extension of your body. Jeff Beck says the same thing.
“When Leo Fender designed the Stratocaster he hit the mountain top – that’s the top of the mountain right there.”
Fans at the O2 ABC will see how good they are together on Wednesday, May 3.
Doors open at 7pm.