Walter Trout’s recent health issues and liver transplant have become common knowledge in the blues world, with fans and fellow musicians marshaling their forces and raising money to help Walter pay the bills. Astonishingly Walter Trout was able to not just make a record during this period, but maybe it’s the record of his life. It is no surprise to find the desperation, reflection, and introspection triggered by his travails made their way into his music. The Blues Came Callin’ is Truth with a capital “T”. Walter lays it all out, sings from the heart and plays from gut.
The Blues Came Callin’ was recorded between April 2013 and January 2014. Walter Trout’s uncertain life expectancy seems to have freed him to express himself in the most thorough way since his career began. The poignant lyrics of album opener “Wastin’ Away” seem at odds with the defiant, hard charging riffs and wild soloing. If Walter’s going down, he’s going out in a blaze of glory. “Wastin’ Away” throws down the gauntlet, accepts the challenge and kicks ass all the way to finish.
“The World Is Goin’ Crazy (And So Am I)” is getting airplay on SiriusXM at B.B. King’s Bluesville, but it features one of the weaker vocals from Walter on the record. He sounds bit frail and strained. I’m guessing it was recorded later in the sessions as he was getting weaker. I can’t imagine a life-long traveling musician like Walter being tied down with illness, unable to work, support his family, support his band, or even make sense of a world turned upside down. While his voice isn’t what it used to be, his guitar playing – and let’s be honest, we love Walter for his guitar playing – is ferocious. The tone is gritty, the notes are bent to Hell and back, and his usual speed is kicked into overdrive. Singing? What singing?
The influence of Walter Trout’s mentor and former employer John Mayall is all over The Blues Came Callin’. Mayall introduced Walter to the music of J.B. Lenoir, and here Walter cover’s Lenoir’s “The Whale Have Swallowed Me.” Co-producer Eric Corne captured a spontaneous jam that started with John Mayall at the piano laying down the boogie woogie. According to the liner notes, the rest of the band fell in behind him and what you hear on the disc in the one-take, no-rehearsal jam, and it is smokin’ hot. John Mayall turns up again on the title cut playing Hammond B-3. Walter Trout is a blues man who doesn’t always work within traditional blues formulas but this track is five and a half minutes of pure blues catharsis. It is twelve bars at a time of pain and suffering unleashed.
Elsewhere on The Blues Came Callin’, Walter Trout explores his past and present battles. “The Bottom Of The River” finds a drowning man realizing he wants to live. It starts out with steel guitar – presumably the one shown on the album cover – and Walter sings about “where I met my soul” and how the near death experience flashed his life before his eyes. Walter blows a lonesome harp before letting loose some fiery electric guitar licks. “Born In The City” explores his youth and his perpetual love of, and comfort in metropolitan communities. Walter describes “Take A Little Time” as a classic Chuck Berry rocker and he ain’t lyin’. The band captures the swing of Berry’s early Chess recordings with Sasha Smith tickling the ivories and drummer Michael Leasure laying down the Berry shuffle oh so well. Walter sings it like he means it, having learned the value of making time for love, but it surely applies to all aspects of life neglected due to the constant hustle and bustle pace of life.
The Blues Came Callin’ is mature record. Walter Trout and the band are focused, free, and on fire. There’s not a dud in sight. From touring band members Sammy Avila, Rick Knapp, and Michael Leasure, to guests including Kenny Gradney, Skip Edwards, Taras Prodaniuk, Deacon Jones, and the legendary John Mayall, all rose to the occasion and made the best music possible. Consciously or not, they made what could still be Walter’s last album and it not only enhances his legacy, it puts a mighty exclamation point on it. I am among those who hope and believe Walter Trout will be back in action soon. If the fire and defiance found on The Blues Came Callin’ is any indication, he will be back and better than ever in no time.
For those interested, The Blues Came Callin’ is available as a Special Edition CD/DVD. The DVD is a 40 minute documentary about Walter Trout’s career. John Mayall appears, as does Fito de la Parra of Canned Heat who shares some vintage photos of Walter with Canned Heat. The story is compelling and when you see Walter’s frail body, the music you just heard on the CD seems impossible. I highly recommend the special edition.
Please support the artist. We usually have an Amazon link here but in this case I urge you to buy the CD direct from Walter. The price may be a little higher, but he will get more of the money if you buy it from him directly and he certainly needs it more now than ever. You can also donate here: http://www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/walter-trout-needs-a-new-liver-you-can-help-/151911