Walter Trout: Alive at Lefty’s8/26/2016
There are certain naming conventions live albums tend to stick to: “Live at Leads,” “Live at Budokan,” “Live at Carnegie Hall.” But Walter Trout’s new live album, “Alive at Amsterdam,” the slight deviation is what’s important.
That’s because just two years ago, the blues rock legend wasn’t sure how much longer he would even be alive. Hepatitis C and cirrhosis had left him with chronic fatigue, bad equilibrium and hand cramps that hindered his ability to play guitar at times.
“The last couple tours I did, I was really sick. I thought I was on my way out,” Trout said during a phone interview. “Those shows, I sat on a chair, and I couldn’t bend the strings. I would just play bar chords. When my hands would cramp up, I would play harmonica until my hand was able to play again. On quite a few nights, I would bend my index finger open and play the encore with one finger. It was terrifying. I figured I was getting ready to die.”
A liver transplant changed all that. Now Trout is making the guitar wail like it did in his prime. In 2015, he released “Battle Scars,” his musical version of his health struggles, which won him two Blues Music Awards this year.
Trout approached “Alive,” just like he does any show. He never makes a setlist for his band, even when he knew the show was being recorded for an album. It was just another night for Trout.
“It’s kind of weird. I’ve had this band 27 years, and I’ve never gone on stage with a setlist,” Trout said. “I got up, call a song and we start playing. We just play whatever songs come to mind that night. There are probably some songs I wish I would have played that night, but I just went out and played it like a gig. I don’t want to feel pressured.”
In addition to the BMAs won this year, Trout also had his star added to the Blues Walk of Fame in Norway, right next to BB King, ZZ Top and Charlie Musselwhite. But more than the acclaim and awards, Trout is especially proud that “Battle Scars” was cited by one of the survivors of the 2015 Paris terror attacks as helping him recover from the trauma.
“His father gave him my album, and he got in touch with me and said it gave him the inspiration to fight on,” Trout said. “I’ve gotten a lot of great response to the album, but that meant the world to me.”
After the transplant, Trout didn’t jump right back into music. He took almost a year to relearn how to play guitar, practicing for hours and hours every day. Now that he’s back to full strength, Trout wants to make up for the time lost to his illness.
“I just want to keep going,” Trout said. “We’re already booking shows into 2018. I’m going to do another album in January and February, I’m hoping to have some guests and do kind of a guitar jam album. I’ve got some great guys lined up that I can’t mention yet. But what I really want to do is just keep playing, because I’m enjoying this immensely.”