Where: McPherson Playhouse, #3 Centennial Square
When: Saturday, March 11, 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $47.50/$37.50 from the Royal McPherson box office (250-386-6121) or rmts.bc.ca
Walter Trout’s career could have ended at any point during the last 50 years, for a variety of reasons — some of which were self-inflicted. A wrong move here, a missed opportunity there, and his catalogue of searing electric blues would have ceased to exist.
“It doesn’t seem that long ago to me that I couldn’t get a record deal,” Trout, 72, said. “Nobody was interested. I was literally told, ‘No one wants to hear this shit.’ And here I am. In April, I’m going to start work on my 31st album.”
His life story is a miraculous one, to say the least. Trout fought back from the brink of death in 2013, his body ravaged by untreated Hepatitis C brought on by years of drug and alcohol abuse. With no health insurance, or money, he relied on a crowd-funding push and tribute concerts in his honour to pay his medical bills, which exceeded a quarter-million dollars.
Though healthy and three-decades sober, the former Canned Heat guitarist is still in battle mode as he continues his career as a respected bluesman. “I think about mortality a lot,” he said. “But I can tell you that if I knew I was going to croak tomorrow, I would say, ‘Man, I’ve had a great time.’ ”
He received a liver transplant in 2014, which resulted in an eight-month hospital stay. During that time, Trout dropped more than 100 lbs. and his prognosis swung between extremes; following one complication, he lost 13 pints of blood, and fell into a coma. That wasn’t the worst of it. When he woke, brain damage had temporarily robbed him of the ability to speak or walk.
He had to re-learn how to sing and play guitar, which took him a year to accomplish. But when his health eventually improved, Trout returned to making music. He’s been on a career-best roll ever since. A string of post-surgery albums, beginning with 2014’s The Blues Came Callin’, has restored Trout’s name in the blues community, where his resume speaks volumes. His most recent recording, Ride, arrived in 2022.
Trout was in his 20s when he joined the backing bands for a who’s-who of musicians, including Lowell Fulsom, Joe Tex, Big Mama Thornton and John Lee Hooker. He was addicted to heroin during those days, but his playing continued to attract attention. He became key member of both Canned Heat and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers during the 1980s, before embarking on a successful solo career. Each album since 2000’s Live Trout has made it to the U.S. blues album charts.
Trout credits Mayall with being a guiding force in his career, on and off stage. “John Mayall, to me, is a unique, incredible, eccentric and magnificent artist and human. I learned so much from him, and about spontaneous playing. To me, he is still massive in my career. He has earned my respect and love.”
Though he enjoyed some career highs while playing with the blues icon, now 89, it wasn’t until he achieved success under his own name that he came to appreciate the difficulties of being a bandleader.
“I do feel like I have more to say [post-surgery] and more to put into it,” Trout said. “Before I got sick, I used to take gigs for granted. I realize there were a lot of nights I was up there playing and thinking, ‘I wonder what time I can get back to my room and start watching HBO.’ But after losing the ability to play, and then regaining it, I don’t take it for granted any more. I approach it a lot more seriously.”
Trout will make his way to Vancouver Island for his first Victoria performance, on Saturday at the McPherson Playhouse, in years. When he’s off the road, he splits his time between Huntington Beach, California, and his home in Denmark, where his wife, Marie Brændgård was born. Trout, a New Jersey native, initially moved to California 48 years ago, drawn to the state by its weather and work.
“When I was in Jersey in 1974, I was really struggling,” he said. “I couldn’t get anywhere. You either had to go to New York City or Los Angeles. So I packed my car and drove to L.A.”
Trout has nothing to hide at this point in his career, and speaks openly and honestly about his mistakes, childhood trauma, and ongoing mental health management. He’s been cited as a major influence on blues superstar Joe Bonamassa, who has enjoyed the level of success Trout was destined to attain at one point.
Trout remains impressively upbeat in spite of it all. “I’ve had ups and downs but I’ve never been bored. It’s been good, it’s been bad, I’ve struggled and I’ve had success. I’ve been through addiction, homelessness, and divorce, but it’s been awesome.”