Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Walter Trout - On The Mend! - The Rock Guitar Daily Interview

Photo by Jeff Katz
Today Walter Trout is on the mend, but it was not long ago that things were looking somewhat bleak for the blues rock legend. In less than a year Walter lost over a hundred pounds, his hard earned callouses, much of his physical strength, and very nearly his life, but he came back to win the race and acquire a new liver with which to fight the good fight of recuperation, which he is now doing.

In the interim he did what he's always done - he took care of business. He wrote and recorded a new album, The Blues Came Callin', co-wrote with Henry Yates a new biography, Rescued From Reality: The Life and Times of Walter Trout, he's the subject of an in progress documentary film, and he has even managed to keep his longtime band on the road and working. He may not play a single gig this year, but he still has more than enough to keep someone quite busy, all while fighting a life threatening liver failure.

To keep his band working, Walter and his wife Marie came up with the notion of having his protege, British guitar wiz Danny Bryant, and Trout's son Jon step in and front the show for a month of concerts, doing Trout's tunes with Trout's band. In turn, Bryant's wife and manager, Kirby, started a fundraiser which has to date raised over $241,000 to help defray the tremendous financial burden caused by Walter's illness. There's a lot of love, respect, and reciprocal generosity in this tale, something the world can always use more of. Everyone in this story, from the Trout family, the Bryant's, and a legion of worldwide fans and friends has performed admirably to respond to this situation, and turn it from a potential tragedy into the feel good blues story of the year, 2014.

I spoke with Walter from his hospital room in Omaha, Nebraska, and later that day he moved from being an in-patient in the hospital to being a resident of their state-of-the-art rehabilitation facility, where he is working three hours a day with occupational and physical therapists to get back to where he wants and needs to be - onstage in front of his fans and at home with his family.

Photo by Jeff Katz
I started our chat with a very tentative, tongue-in-cheeked, "Walter, how the hell are you doing?"

His tone and answer told me much of what I had hoped to hear - this is a man clearly on the mend:

Walter Trout: "Well Tony, you know, I'm hangin' in!" 
"Never do anything half-assed, right?"

I laughed, and suggested that perhaps 2014 was not going exactly to plan:

Walter Trout: "Not at all - this thing really threw a monkey wrench into all the plans we had for this year. But, I just push on, I keep going. 
"Soon this will all be past, and I'll be back. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. 
"It's going to take me a little while, and be a lot of work to get my strength back, but I'm taking it on gladly. 
"Trying to have some more good years of life, you know?"

I agreed that this was a good idea, and that it was great that he had the opportunity at all, given the direness of the situation just weeks before, when the guitarist was in an induced coma waiting for a donor liver:

Walter Trout: "Well, I wish that I could do this quickly, but it's just not going to happen. 
"I canceled two major tours, so I won't be doing one gig in this year. That's kind of weird, I haven't gone a year without playing in a very long time. 
"I've lost all the callouses on my fingers - the other day my son came in, and he brought me a guitar, and I played it for about two seconds. It was excruciating! So it's going to be like when you're ten years old, and you first pick up a guitar, and your fingers bleed. That's the way I'm going to have to do it. 
"I've been through shit like this before, nothing this intense, but I've been through some injuries, and loss of motor skills - and worked hard to get back. I'll just keep on pushing, you know?"

I asked if anything in his life or career had prepared him with the coping skills to deal with something this traumatic:

Walter Trout: "Boy, I don't know. That's a tough question to answer. 
"I don't think anything prepared me for this. I didn't really realize I was ill - I thought I was in great health. The career was kicking ass, I've got a beautiful family, I was just raging, and all of a sudden this stopped me dead in my tracks. 
"So, I don't think I really was prepared for it. I didn't have any clue that this was going to happen, and it happened really quickly."
Photo by Jeff Katz
One thing that has been beautiful to watch has been the outpouring of love and support to Walter from his fans, friends, and family. I've watched many musician related crowd funding projects, and I had never seen one like this - the first day was a big success, and it just kept escalating. It's a fantastic lesson in paying it forward, directed at a guy who has long been known for being generous to those around him:

Walter Trout: "Yeah, that's been pretty amazing! 
"I did the same thing - I was sitting there watching it, and it just kept going and going. It just blew my mind. 
"It was kind of overwhelming - it brought tears to my eyes. 
"The support of the family, my friends, and the fans who send me messages and stuff, that's really the stuff that keeps you going through all of this. Feeling that love from these people, and realizing that you've got a lot to live for.  
"There's a lot to go on and do. Without that support it would have been a lot easier to just say 'fuck it,' and pack it in."

I asked how it felt to have his son Jon following him in his footsteps:

Walter Trout: "I'm very proud of him. 
"He's playing great, he's finally figured out that he wants to front a band, and that's what he wants to do with his life. So, he's really going at it heavy - he's practicing all day, every day, and I'm just incredibly proud of him.  
"I think he's really got a great talent. He needs to develop it a bit more, but it's all there."

I was curious as to how Trout and his wife Marie had come up with the solution to keeping his band on the road while Walter was in the hospital, and on the road to recovery:

Walter Trout: "It was when we finally decided that we had to cancel an entire year of work - I had to call these guys who have been with me for so many years, who depend on that paycheck, and say that I'm not going to have any work for a year. 
"We were sitting around, and saying, 'There's got to be a way for these guys to keep working while I'm healing,' and we just sort of came up with this idea."

News had just come over of the passing of the great Johnny Winter - I asked Walter for his thoughts:

Walter Trout: "Yeah, that's a sad thing. 
"He was one of the all time greats, and that's a big loss. What an amazing talent he was, and he was a really nice guy. I got to know him pretty well, and this is kind of a sad day for us in the blues community."

In the course of his illness, Walter had lost not just a hundred pounds, but also most of the muscle mass in his body due to the rapid deterioration of his liver. His recuperation will be a long one, and he faces many months of rehabilitation:

Walter Trout: "I'm going over to the rehab unit today, in about three hours.  
"Right now, I'm still in the hospital (later this day, the financial arrangements and medical decisions were made and put in place to have Walter move into the rehab facility full time). 
"Basically, at the hospital, you sort of lay around, and you don't do much. You're sort of bed-ridden in the hospital. It's very hard for me to walk right now, because in my legs I lost all my muscles. Hopefully, after a few weeks of rehab, I'll be back starting to regain some strength. 
"It'll just be great to be back onstage, that's my plan!"

It's strange to think that one could go through so much so quickly. In just over a year, Walter Trout had seen his health deteriorate, and wait through the difficult wait for a donor liver, and then to endure the surgery itself. I asked Walter about the onset of the illness, and how soon he realized its severity:

Walter Trout: "I was in Germany on tour last May. 
"I woke up in the middle of the night - I felt weird, and I got out of bed. My legs looked like telephone poles, and my stomach looked like I had swallowed a basketball! 
"I finished the tour, as I only had a few days left - I finished the tour sitting on a chair. 
"Then, when I came home at the end of May, I went to the doctor, and he told me it was my liver that was fucked up. So it came on pretty quickly, man"

True to his nature as a working class bluesman, Trout didn't let a little thing like liver failure keep him down - he got to work on writing and recording his new album, The Blues Came Callin':

Walter Trout: "Well, I was ill through that whole thing, but I wasn't completely laid up.

"It took me a long time to record, because what I would do was if I was having a good day, I'd call up Eric, the producer, and say, 'Let's do a couple of hours,' and I'd drive up to LA from Huntington Beach, and I'd play and sing for like two hours. Then I'd drive home, because after about two hours, I'd be burned out. 
"I was definitely swelled up, and I had a hard time walking - I was very, very ill. You have good days and bad days, you know? 
"I would wait for a good day, and I'd go, 'I feel OK today, I'll go up for a while and record.' It was kind of hit or miss - it took a long time."

Having Danny Bryant fill in for Trout on tour this summer kind of completes a series of goodwill exchanges between the two guitarists. I asked Walter what his thoughts were on his protege stepping up to fill the void:

Walter Trout: "It's just great, because Danny is almost like a son to me.

"I've known him for many years, I met him when he was just a little kid. I gave him guitar lessons, I've watched him come up through the ranks, and he's got his own thing going.  
"I'm really proud of that kid. I think he's going to do great things. When I first met him, he was like thirteen, so it's been awesome to watch him grow up, and take his place!"

Wrapping up our conversation, I just told Walter that it will be a thrill to see him back where he belongs, up onstage in 2015:

Walter Trout: "Yeah, I've definitely come out on the other side! 
"Now, I just have a lot of hard work to do, to gain my strength back, and then I'll be back at it full bore!"
Photo by Jeff Katz
The story of Walter Trout is a true inspiration - both from a musical standpoint, and as a human interest story. I'd highly recommend that you take a trip to his website, and read the whole story. It'll make you feel good.


Anonymous said...

We love you Walter!!


James Reed said...

So happy you won your battle. I had complete faith in you.