Over the course of the last several decades, Walter Trout has been a prolific artist. He’s regularly released offerings from the studio, so this moment of offering a new covers album, Survivor's Blues, is somewhat of a curveball. His 2017 all-star release, We’re All In This Together, shows no sign of burning out and continues to receive accolades and sales on a global basis, alongside four awards for Blues Rock Album Of The Year. He reflects, ”It’s really overwhelming. 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.
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?”
There’s rarely been a Trout record without a tip of the hat to Mayall, and here the Brit-blues godfather is represented by “Nature’s Disappearing.” He reveals, “I was nervous about doing it because it’s by my mentor and surrogate father. John told me he’d read an article about ecology and pollution – he put the magazine down at the end and wrote that song in five minutes. It’s even more relevant today, with all the environmental regulations being thrown out and national parks being sold off to oil companies.
You don’t hear a track like Goin’ Down To The River every day either, with Mississippi Fred McDowell’s ancient gem decorated with slide guitar from a very special guest. “There was something about the lyric,” muses Trout. “Y’know, ‘I’m going down to the river, I’m gonna let the waves and the water wash my trouble down’. It tore me up. But the original is very different. I decided to take the verses that spoke to me, and then rearranged the song almost Muddy Waters-esque with that slide lick. Robby Krieger was coming in every day, listening and hanging out, so I said, ‘I’d love it if you played on this song’. So when I say ‘Play it, Robby’ – that’s Robby Krieger from The Doors. We just did that in the studio – boom, there you go.”
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’.”