How Walter Trout Cheated Death With Help From the Blues

How Walter Trout Cheated Death With Help From the Blues
Jeff Katz

Few OC-based musicians bleed the blues like Walter Trout. The soul, dexterity, heart break and elation in his voice and his guitar playing have always flowed out of him when he's on stage. But laying in a hospital bed in Nebraska, having literally lost all the blood in his body following complications from a liver transplant operation last May, his love of the blues was one of the main things his body has had to hold onto to keep him alive.

"I went into a coma for three days and when I came out of it, I had a thing called encephalopathy where I didn't know who I was and I couldn't speak English," Trout says, recalling the experience. He's been in Nebraska know for months undergoing treatment at the Nebraska Medical Center. "I'd think about my wife and kids and my desire to write and play music for people and do what I had to do and fight it with everything I have. I still am."

Most of Trout's fans worldwide and in his longtime hometown of Huntington Beach might've hoped that just getting a new liver was enough to make the 63 year-old guitar legend whole again. For decades, Trout--who's released a massive 23 album catalog--has garnered legions of blues-loving admirers throughout Europe, India and other places around the globe.

In a Herculean effort, Trout's friends, fans and family raised almost a quarter million dollars in an online fundraising campaign to help pay for his medical expenses in securing the liver which had been fried after years of what Trout describes as years of partying, alcohol and substance abuse. But that was only the beginning of the battle. Since his diagnosis, Marie has chronicled her husband's ordeal on his website in brutally detail that really isn't for the squeamish. Then again, given the skin-searing honesty we're used to from Trout and his music, could we really expect anything less?

"I don't see any need to bullshit people or sugar coat anything," Trout says over the phone from a hospital bed at the Nebraska Medical Center. These days he's still working on strengthening his legs holding a guitar on his own. "We're all here together and I'm not going through anything that a lot of other people aren't gonna go through in their lives," Trout says.

The bluesman took that realization with him to the studio in the midst of his illness from April of 2013 to January of this year to record his acclaimed new album, The Blues Came Callin' with his band and producer/engineer Eric Corne. By then, Trout had gone from the slightly chubby, jovial guitarist known locally for his regular gig at Perqs in Huntington Beach to being a shadow of his former self. He'd lost about a 100 pounds and was sometimes barely healthy enough to record. He remembers writing the lyrics to the song "Wasting Away" on the new album after taking a good look in the bathroom mirror at his skeletal face.

"I walked right out into the living room, grabbed a piece of paper and wrote that song," he says. "There are a lot of songs that were brutally honest but I felt I had to write them as a therapeutic thing for myself." The album was released approximately the same time as his biography Rescued From Reality: The Life and Times of Walter Trout by Henry Yates, both of which have been well-received by fans and critics.   Despite these two big accomplishments, Trout's entire year on the road had to be canceled in order to regain his strength. That included dates all over Europe, such as the Northsea Jazz Festival in the Port of Rotterdam with Derrick Trucks. But even though it looked bleak for Trout and his band and road crew who counted on him to make their living, there turned out to be a silver lining.

Trout's son Jon, an excellent guitarist and bandleader in his own right, and Trout's long time U.K. protege Danny Bryant signed on to front Trout's band on a tour paying tribute to the blues hero. They'll be playing a mixture of Trout classics along with some of Jon and Bryant's original tunes at the Coach House tonight as part of a USA/Canadian tour this month. Considering Bryant has been playing professionally since age 18 and Jon's first concert ever was a tribute show for his father at Shepard's Bush Empire in London in front of 2,000 people, Trout is confident that his band and his fans are in very capable hands.

As we stand by and hear bits of news about Trout's recover in Nebraska, it begs the question of whether the OC music scene--which largely ignored Trout for so many years despite worldwide acclaim--will snap out of it and finally start appreciating the blue legend we almost lost.

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"There's only been one music critic in OC that's ever given me the time of day and I've put out 23 albums and I think the last album review I got in any paper in OC was probably 15 years ago.I don't know what I did, maybe I was drunk in my youth and fucked some of these guys girlfriends or something," Trout says jokingly. "I don't know what the hell. But I kinda don't worry about it."

Whether or not he's ever given the full amount of credit he deserves, Trout is just happy to be alive, regaining his strength and quietly turning his inspiring story into fodder for yet another album. Though it's still a long way off, Trout hopes to sneak into a few jam sessions and start playing again by 2015.

"My son brought in a guitar here the other day and I can barely press on the strings. I didn't have the muscles in my arms and fingers," Trout says. "But I'm gonna do my best to get back out there and keep playing. It's what sustains me, it nourishes me and heals me spiritually to get up and play to people and feel that guitar in my arms and play it."

A Tribute to Walter featuring The Walter Trout Band, Danny Bryant and Jon Trout happens tonight at the Coach House. 8 p.m. $15. For full details, click here.

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