Walter Trout: The Blues Came Callin'

Veteran bluesman delivers an album that stares down his own mortality.

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The Blues Came Callin' is said to deliver a life and career-assessing work, as Walter Trout faces mortality with guitar-shredding fearlessness.

Former employer John Mayall guests and co-writes, as significant covers of formative Chess label influences Chuck Berry and JB Lenoir feature alongside ten originals.

But surely Wilko Johnson has taken the prime position for blooze guitarists delivering righteous affirmations as the reaper’s ever-lengthening shadow extends?

Think again. The Wilkmeister’s ability to survive and thrive against the odds is equalled by Trout’s remarkable story. As recounted in new biography Rescued From Reality, it’s a roller coaster of changing musical fortunes, personal dissolution and recovery. This time round, considerable life experience combines with the terrific form signalled by his recent Luther Allison tribute Luther’s Blues. Walter’s take on Lenoir’s The Whale is suitably agonised, and on The Bottom Of The River he depicts a drowning man fighting his way back to the surface, promising, ‘now is not the time to die’.

Sounds like heavy going. I know they say that ‘the blues ain’t nothing but a good man feeling bad’ but it’s a shame that Walter can’t find anywhere to lighten up.

You want a graceful picker with a light touch and a headful of sweet dreams? Shake another tree. But the blistering, self-identifying, affirmative calling card of Born In The City, and Willie, a furious takedown of music business dirty dealing, are informed by Trout’s long years on the road with Mayall, Canned Heat, and by his own tenure as band leader. So crowd-pleasing dynamics, good humour and laconically philosophical takes on existence - whether on the knockabout instrumental Tight Shoes or on Chuck Berry’s Take A Little Time - come as standard. This is a performer who understands it’s only worthwhile slaying demons if the good times are going to roll in their wake.

OK. All well and goo, but Walt has been around the block. Can he really be delivering the best music of his career at this advanced stage?

Why not? The musicians he loved all thrived in the winter of their years, and Trout’s career has consistently shown him outrunning his journeyman roots. The Blues Came Callin’ is a direct date with destiny and Walter isn’t about to be found wanting.

Gavin Martin

Late NME, Daily Mirror and Classic Rock writer Gavin Martin started writing about music in 1977 when he published his hand-written fanzine Alternative Ulster in Belfast. He moved to London in 1980 to become the NME’s Media Editor and features writer, where he interviewed the Sex Pistols, Joe Strummer, Pete Townshend, U2, Bruce Springsteen, Ian Dury, Killing Joke, Neil Young, REM, Sting, Marvin Gaye, Leonard Cohen, Nina Simone, James Brown, Willie Nelson, Willie Dixon, Madonna and a host of others. He was also published in The Times, Guardian, Independent, Loaded, GQ and Uncut, he had pieces on Michael Jackson, Van Morrison and Frank Sinatra featured in The Faber Book Of Pop and Rock ’N’ Roll Is Here To Stay, and was the Daily Mirror’s regular music critic from 2001. He died in 2022.