Walter Trout - Biography
No ordinary artist. No ordinary covers album. From the day he conceived the project to the moment he counted off the first song in the studio, Walter Trout had a bolder plan for Survivor Blues. "I'm riding in my car sometimes," says the US blues titan. "I've got a blues station on – and here's another band doing Got My Mojo Workin'. And there's a little voice in me that says, 'Does the world need another version of that song?' So I came up with an idea. I didn't want to do Stormy Monday or Messin' With The Kid. I didn't want to do the blues greatest hits. I wanted to do old, obscure songs that have hardly been covered. And that's how Survivor Blues started…"
Returning with a covers album represents an eye-opening curveball from a bluesman whose original songcraft has never been more acclaimed. Even now, the critical wildfire from 2017's all-star release, We're All In This Together, shows no sign of burning out, leading Trout across the planet to auspicious sell-out venues and scoring a head-spinning haul of statuettes. "We're All In This Together has won four awards for Blues Rock Album Of The Year," he reflects. "It's really overwhelming. But how do I follow that up? I've always respected guys who went out on a limb, like Neil Young or Bob Dylan. You never know what they're gonna come out with."
Likewise, long-standing fans have given up trying to second-guess Trout's next move. The tracklisting of Survivor Blues is a window into the 67-year-old's fast-moving backstory, chronicling a five-decade career whose one constant is his deep love of the blues. Opener Me, My Guitar And The Blues tips a hat to cult hero Jimmy Dawkins, whose records Trout devoured while cutting his teeth as a '60s axeslinger in New Jersey. Nature's Disappearing nods to his celebrated '80s tenure in John Mayall's near-mythical Bluesbreakers. In-between, you'll find cherished favourites from a lifetime's listening, with songs that caught Trout's ear at key junctures in his journey, from backing up John Lee Hooker in the '70s, to bringing the groove to Canned Heat in the '80s or breaking through as a solo artist in the '90s.
The roll-call of artists might be eclectic, but there's a cohesion to Survivor Blues. From the outset, Trout made it his mission to harness the power and spirit of the originals, while stamping his inimitable musical personality onto each new take. "My idea was to do these songs like me, to arrange them for my band and style," he explains, "not to just copy the originals note-for-note."
It takes a stellar lineup of musicians to reinterpret the greatest sunken treasures in the blues genre. But last September, as recording began at the Los Angeles studio of iconic Doors guitarist Robby Krieger, Trout and long-standing producer Eric Corne shared their vision with the only band who could measure up. The thunder and finesse of drummer Michael Leasure. The muscular groove of bassist Johnny Griparic. The spell-casting fingers of keyboards session god and regular Trout conspirator, Skip Edwards. "I'd play them the original," remembers Trout, "and then I'd say, 'Here's how the song goes, what have you got?' I'd give these guys a lot of freedom. The record was mostly done live, with us set up in a circle, just to get the feel of us going there together. And you can feel it, y'know?"
All they needed was a title. And as Trout surveyed his bloodied-but-unbowed cohorts – and reflected on a collection of blues songs whose raw power remained undimmed – he knew the suggestion of his wife and manager, Marie, couldn't be topped. "We started thinking about these enduring songs and the guys playing on the album," he reflects. "Mike is in recovery. Johnny almost didn't make it. Skip has had a triple bypass. And I almost didn't make it after my liver disease in 2014. So Marie said to me, 'You're a group of survivors. You've all been through hell and you've come back. These songs are survivors. This album needs to be called Survivor Blues'. I just looked at her and said: 'You got it'."Of course, when it comes to Walter Trout, survival is an understatement. Survey the glittering late-bloom career of this ageless bluesman and all evidence suggests an artist on a steep upward trajectory. Trout nods: "My career is going great. My kids are doing great. My wife and I are madly in love. I'm the most healthy I've ever been. So I haven't just survived. Right now, I'm in the best time of my life…"