"My friends and I went through hours and hours and many bags of weed blasting that record": The soundtrack of Walter Trout's life

Walter Trout studio portrait
(Image credit: Leland Hayward)

“I was really lucky that I heard so much great music growing up,” says Walter Trout

Over a fifty-plus year solo career, including shifts with Canned Heat, John Lee Hooker and Big Mama Thornton, Trout has let everything from blues to rock to jazz flow through his writing and virtuoso playing. His latest album, Broken, with guest appearances from Beth Hart and Dee Snider, is a soulful, 12-song enquiry into our fractured world, with all the blistering guitar breaks fans have come to expect from Trout. 

About to turn 73, and on the eve of a world tour, he says: “I’ve been through it. I’ve been a heroin addict and an alcoholic and everything else. But now I want to savour every moment that I’m here. And music lets me do that.”

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The first music I remember hearing

My parents loved big-band and swing. In the mid-fifties, when I was a kid, they used to take me to black jazz clubs in Atlantic City. And I wanted to be a jazz trumpet player like Miles Davis or Clark Terry. When I was ten I got to spend the day hanging out with Duke Ellington and his Orchestra! All that music sunk in.


The first song I performed live

In Collingswood, New Jersey, a guy opened a record shop, and for opening day he had me and my eighth-grade buddies come in and try to play some blues. I was paid with a Dean Martin album and a Frank Sinatra album.


The singer

When I was five, I saw a movie called The Jolson Story, with Larry Parks portraying Al Jolson. What I remember is the beauty of performance, and how it could affect an audience; how a man could just sing a song and be filled with joy. That had a big impact on me. Later it was Ray Charles.


The songwriter

Bob Dylan. A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, Masters Of War, Blowin’ In The Wind. Those are astounding songs. He’s still writing astounding songs. There’s a reason he won the Nobel [Prize In Literature in 2016]. At the same time, on a very different track, I love Anthony Newley – What Kind of Fool Am I? and Who Can I Turn To? As someone who had a rough childhood, I related to those songs. It felt like Newley really got who I was.


The guitar hero

In 1965 I heard the Paul Butterfield Blues Band album, featuring Michael Bloomfield. I liked George Harrison and Keith Richards, but Bloomfield was on another planet, playing blazing blues licks with this rock’n’roll fire and aggression. Just astounding. To this day, he remains the guy who made me want to do what I do.


The cult hero

Just out of high school, I got into a band with a guitarist named Craig Farley. One of the greatest players I’ve ever heard in my life. To this day, he did things on the guitar I’ve never heard anybody do. Then one day he said: “Hey, I just discovered something called Scientology.” He stopped playing and disappeared. I never heard from him again.


The greatest album of all time

The one that really made me want to play the guitar and not be a jazz trumpet player was The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. I was eleven, and my brother came home with that record. I can’t even describe the impact it had on me. These simple songs with three chords had so much depth and substance, and so much to say. It completely changed my whole view of what music could be.


The live album

Goodbye by Cream, which was half studio tracks, half live. It blew my mind. My friends and I went through hours and hours and many bags of weed blasting that record, while we lay on the living room floor with the lights out, in awe. I still marvel at Clapton’s guitar playing on that.


The best record I made

Battle Scars. I’d had a liver transplant, and was in the hospital for eight months. I had brain damage. I had to re-learn how to speak, re-learn how to use my legs. And then I had to spend a year to re-learn how to play the guitar. My wife and kids said: “We’re so happy you’re home, but you’ve been through a severe trauma, and you’re not a nice guy to be around.” My wife said: “Try writing some songs, just as therapy.” I went into the back room, and in two days wrote eighteen songs about what I’d been through. I just poured everything into that album.


The song that makes me cry

Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s Alfie. It just destroys me. [Sings] ‘Something even nonbelievers can believe in…’ I get choked up thinking of it. If I could sum up my view of life in a song, it would be Alfie. That’s a song that will last forever.


My Saturday night party song

I’m home in California right now, and two of our sons are here visiting from Denmark. Last Saturday, we were running around the house, singing, and jumping around to Take On Me by A-ha and Space Age Love Song by A Flock of Seagulls. Blues purists would say: “What are you doing?” But I don’t care [laughs].


The song I want played at my funeral

Instead of something sad, let’s have Good Golly Miss Molly by Little Richard, the greatest rock’n’roll singer of all time. Let’s have some joy and some life and some energy. 

Broken is out now via Provogue/Mascot Label Group. Walter Trout tours the UK in October.

Bill DeMain

Bill DeMain is a correspondent for BBC Glasgow, a regular contributor to MOJO, Classic Rock and Mental Floss, and the author of six books, including the best-selling Sgt. Pepper At 50. He is also an acclaimed musician and songwriter who's written for artists including Marshall Crenshaw, Teddy Thompson and Kim Richey. His songs have appeared in TV shows such as Private Practice and Sons of Anarchy. In 2013, he started Walkin' Nashville, a music history tour that's been the #1 rated activity on Trip Advisor. An avid bird-watcher, he also makes bird cards and prints.