Walter Trout has had a pretty torrid last year with serious illness that ended up with his being at death’s door awaiting a new liver. I saw him play in Belfast last autumn, where he looked a shadow of his former self, but nonetheless played his heart out and seemed to draw life from the response of the appreciative crowd. He’s now got his new liver and reports are that he’s recovering well. Let’s hope that continues and that we get to see him playing his unmistakable blues licks and taking command of the stage as only he can. I saw him play Glasgow about three years ago – the support band was a group of young guys, up and coming, with a guitarist who could play blistering solos, at great speed and with great intonation. They were very, very good. But when Walter and his guys took the stage, the whole gig was transformed – here was a guy who had all the technique and musicality, but who owned the stage, who connected with his audience, and who reached out and grabbed you with his music and his lyrics, and who sent you away with a smile on your face.
Remarkably, Walter’s new album is released this month – The Blues Came Callin’. Willie Dixon once famously said, “The blues is the truth.” The blues has always told the truth – not only about individuals’ struggles and feelings, but about the way the world is, the injustice it contains. Well, Walter has given us a blues album that tells the truth, is all its starkness and rawness.
The song Willie alludes to Walter’s experience of being ripped off in the music business, about someone who has come back to “pick my bones and “peck away my eyes.” We get blues about lost love in Hard Time and blues about facing your own fears in The Blues Came Callin’. And, perhaps most poignantly, Walter gives us an insight into what he’s being going through of late in Wastin’ Away and The Bottom of The River. As his health failed, he found himself looking through the mirror, realizing he’s “living day to day” and feeling like he’s “wastin’ away.” Regret for the past surfaces when he sings “lookin’ back at where I’ve been, good times and mistakes I’ve made, The people I have loved.”
He goes on to compare his experience to falling into a river and getting caught in a current so that he almost drowned. “It was cloudy – it was cold, At the bottom of the river, Is where I met my soul.” Again the past haunts him – “all the people I had loved…all I had done wrong,” yet somehow he hears a loud voice telling him “This ain’t your time to die.” “That’s when I decided to make it to the light,” he says – a remarkable testimony to Walter’s inner strength and determination in the most adverse of circumstances.
The music on the album attests to this remarkable strength of spirit. These are all blues songs, but none are downbeat. Yes, you can hear, here and there, that Walter’s voice isn’t as strong as we’ve heard it. But there’s life, there’s hope, there’s determination here. Despite the subject matter of some of the songs, the album is life-affirming.
In Take a Little Time, Walter reflects, as perhaps – sadly – only people facing the most adverse of circumstances take the time to do, on the need to step away from the pressure, the busyness, the “telephone…buzzin’,” the “people at the door,” and just take a deep breath, and focus on the most important thing in life – the people you love. As somebody famously said, nobody on their death bed regrets not having spent more time in the office. The truth is, for most of us, “the days are flyin’ by, goin’ too damn fast.”
So has it always been – Job, in the Bible said, “My days are swifter than a runner, they speed by,” and the writer of the Psalms thought we should “number our days, so that we might live wisely.” Or as Walter puts it:
“You gotta take a little time, baby, Take a little time for love.”
Walter’s looked into the face of death and gained some perspective on life. That gives the rest of us the opportunity to get that same perspective now, before we reach the point where regrets loom large.
Thanks, Walter, for giving us this gift of an album – honest, lyrical, beautifully arranged and produced. Let’s hope we can all take your advice. (And here’s wishing you a speedy and full recovery).
Postscript: Walter’s wife Marie wrote on 1st June: “Walter continues to do well…[he] now has a very good chance of living for a couple decades or more. His body will regenerate… The experience has shown us the beauty of the human spirit. We have experienced a powerful and encompassing sense of community and goodwill.”