It’s Flashback Friday once again. This week, we tie in to our review of Walter Trout’s new CD The Blues Came Callin’. We now turn you over to Maureen as she takes up back in time to her insightful and illuminating interview with the legendary Walter Trout…
I had the opportunity to interview Walter following the release of his CD Common Ground. I was impressed and encouraged by his depth. As Walter now faces his greatest struggle his words ring even deeper….
me. Let’s talk about your latest CD Common Ground. I was impressed when I read that the title track was written “in response to cruelty in the world.” Was there something in particular that inspired you to write that song?
Walter Trout: Well, I can tell you that that concept of “can we find some common ground between us” where we can sort of agree and get together and attempt to find our mutual humanity between us- I had that idea for years and I kept trying to write it as a political song, you know, I put on TV and I’d sit there and watch somebody on the left and somebody on the right just scream at each other and disrespect each other and laugh when the other person is trying to make their point and shake their head and just be so disrespectful of each side and I watched this over the course of the years get more and more polarized and I tried to write it for years as a political song and I could never get it done. One day it just dawned on me that it had to sort of be above that and it had to basically almost be a prayer and a call for help because I see us descending more and more into that more rash disrespect between people and I think the mass media does a lot to encourage it for ratings –it becomes entertainment to watch people get their balls cut off on TV. I find the whole thing disgusting and I’m a very politically savvy, well-read, opinionated person and I’ve got to where I don’t even want to know about it anymore. I don’t turn on news stations anymore; I don’t want to know about it anymore. So once I realized it had to be a call to whoever or whatever you believe is a higher power than man- ‘cause if we’re it, it’s a pretty sad universe-once that dawned on me, that song wrote itself in about 10 minutes-but it took 10 years. But once I got that concept, instead of making it political-make it spiritual, it was 10 minutes-not even 10 minutes. I have the page that I wrote the lyrics on and there’s not even anything crossed out. It just came out the way it is. And then once I had the lyrics, the melody also just…the song happened almost instantaneously once I changed my focus. I almost felt like that song was given to me.
me. Almost like it was waiting to be born…
WT:It was handed to me-I just had to open up to it.
me. That’s beautiful. In the 60’s, folk songs were truly aimed at creating change and affecting people…with this song, was that your active thought – or your hope for it – that someone would really hear what you are saying?
WT: I would hope so. You know, I grew up in the 60’s and I was out protesting the Vietnam War and protesting the draft – I was a part of all of that. I was pretty radical in the 60’s and I was the biggest fan on the face of the earth of Bob Dylan and those early songs Masters of War and A Hard Rain’s Gonna’ Fall and songs like that but I was trying to write one of those when I was trying to make it political and it never came out. So it really came out, I think, as a religious tune, but I think it could be listened to by a Hindu or a Buddhist or a Muslim as well as a Christian – and they would be able to get something out of it because I’m not mentioning any sort of specific prophets or beliefs. It’s just a call to a higher power saying we are scraping and crawling and floundering and we need help to get back in focus here.
WT: Well, I agree with you, my life was defined like that too – it was the most important thing in my life and I believed very idealistically, when I was a teenager, that music could change the world and could change people. It was a social force. Now, back then, things like Rock and Roll and protest songs were still a little bit out of the mainstream-a little anti-establishment. You didn’t have Coca-cola sponsoring Bob Dylan or a Rolling Stones tour. It’s become big business, it’s become corporate. The radio has been taken over by corporate interests. It used to be FM radio, in the 60’s, played whatever they wanted and they could really mold their listeners, they could influence their listeners. Now, it’s all about demographics-one corporation owns 50 radio stations in America and they have some guy that sits in Minneapolis and programs all of them and has no idea that what’s happening locally in St. Louis may be different than what’s happening locally in Minneapolis. It’s a little sad to me-I feel it’s gotten watered down and taken over by the very people who the music was trying to be an antidote to back then. I think it’s still possible –I do believe it is still possible- that even bands who are big groups who are trying, maybe, to write some songs that have something to say-for instance, U2. I think they are a huge band but I do believe they are still trying to write some songs that maybe have some meaning other than “let’s party and get drunk and get laid” which is the majority of the crap that is out there now. Even bands like that – their tours are sponsored by big corporate interests and I think that’s a little bit sad. I think you have to look now out of the mainstream to find the kind of music that really might have some sort of deeper meaning to it, deeper thought behind it than “I want to make a single that sells a million and maybe I’ll get to tour with Kim Kardashian.” You have to look for it now – I think you can find it on things like satellite radio, I think you can find it on things like college radio, I think you can find it on the internet, but on corporate mainstream radio, you’re not going to find that anymore – that’s done. And to be honest, I think that the corporate mainstream radio is killing itself and they don’t even know it. They’re in their death throes, you know, and I think if they took more chances and were a little more on the edge and a little more unafraid to step out of their box that they’re in-they might survive. But I think corporate radio is on the way out. There’s a classic rock station in LA-it’s the last one left and it plays the same songs over and over and over. I used to listen to it but I can’t do it anymore. There’s more to classic rock than 40 songs-they’re killing themselves. They lost me! I used to listen to it-I won’t anymore. Even classic rock bands like the Stones who have been making records for going on 50 years now- on this rock station out here they play the same 4 songs. This band has 400 songs! For instance, Paul McCartney made a record a few years ago under a different name – The Fireman– have you ever heard that?
WT: Well, he did this experiment where he would go in the studio and in one day he would write a song, he would record it and play all the instruments and then they would mix it. He would go in, in the morning, and by the end of the day they would have a brand new song recorded and mixed. He did a lot of electronic stuff, he did a lot of tape loops, he experimented and he thought it was so far out of what people expect of him that he put it out under a different name and it’s called Electric Arguments by The Fireman and it’s stunning. I’ve never heard it played on the radio and it’s one of my favorite, newer records. It’s very unique-sometimes it takes a little getting used to-but the creativity of it is astounding and the poor guy had to put it out under a different name. It never gets played but it’s worth your checking out. Matter of fact, the opening track is so nasty, I played it to my band in the van on the last tour-I said “I’m going to play you a cut here; I want you to tell me who this is.” I played it and at the end of the song everybody went “I don’t know.” My drummer said “was that Buddy Guy?” And I said “no, that was McCartney” and they all said “you’re kidding me!”
WT: Well, one of the things that I have tried to do throughout my career of writing is to try to lean towards a positive message. Songs that can maybe make people feel better, maybe uplift them, maybe get them to believe that there is hope-not just wallow in sadness or wallow in frustration or wallow in desperation. I find a lot of music does that and there’s a lot of blues music that does that. If I write songs about even regular Blues themes like adultery-I wrote one about it called “Her Other Man” on Common Ground. I tried to stay away from the typical blues themes like this is “the backdoor man” or whatever –all the typical themes-but there is a line in there “as her lover kisses her it’s more than she can bear as she lays beneath her lover and she dreams of yesterday.” It’s yes, she’s doing this but it’s not making her feel good. It’s not hey baby let’s get laid and let’s party up. It’s yeah, you’re doing this but it feels like shit! I’ve tried to write songs that will make people feel good. I’ve tried to write something that has something to say and could mean something to somebody. That is what I hope my music can do – to move someone and make them feel something. That was a long-winded answer to your question.
me. Actually, that was a wonderful answer to my question and it makes me think- because when I speak to people about the blues there is always the element of the humanity and human nature and the idea that the way the songs were written expressed that element of being human. But that doesn’t necessitate that “being human” always implies the negative-there is still the other side of that that can still be “Blues” but not always the down and out kicked to the curb kind of thing.
WT: Sure. You can always write Blues songs that are topical that talk about things happening in the world, things that have happened to friends of yours. I wrote a song on “The Outsider” called “Child of Another Day” and it was all about people I’ve met who I think are sort of living their life stuck in the past and I was trying to present that to people-here’s four different people I have met who I think are sort of stuck and maybe try to not get stuck if you can help it. Look towards tomorrow because yesterday’s dead and gone. Don’t get caught up in it, don’t stop.
me. So a lot of your writing is basically storytelling then?
WT: I think so. I do. And I think I’ve done a lot of writing to the working man, everyday common people and their struggle to find some dignity in this world and to find equality in this world. I’ve done a lot of that. I recorded a song that I wrote with Jeff Healey called “Workin’ Overtime.” I did one called “They Call Us the Working Class but We ain’t Working Anymore”-it’s about that.
WT: I feel for them. My Mom was a teacher, my Dad was a carpenter and when I hear certain politicians trying to get out there and say that teachers and firemen and policeman are what’s ruining our economy –it makes me throw up. Teachers are underpaid not overpaid.
me. It sounds like you are coming from a spiritual place…
WT: Yeah! I hope so. Sometimes it comes from a little bit of anger from things I see. “They Call Us the Working Class” was written in 2008, when everything collapsed – that was written with a little anger. The everyday, struggling people getting ripped off by the power elite and not really seeming to have much they could do about it.
me. I wonder too about how musicians struggle!
WT: Well they struggle, but it’s fun too! You know, being an artist, sure it’s a struggle. For me I’ve done 20 albums in 21 years and sometimes it’s a struggle to come up with “do I have anything more to say?” The travel is a struggle sometimes too, but to get up and play and to look people in the face when I am playing and singing to them and seeing that it affects them is the thing that makes my life worthwhile and I feel incredibly blessed to have been given that gift and I work really hard not to ever take it for granted. I know that if I ever lost the ability to do that I’d probably just shrivel up in a ball and fade away. It’s what gives me a purpose.
me. When you think about how one lives one’s life, that is, to me, a very spiritual practice to put yourself out there, to give to others on a daily basis – you are obviously giving from your soul and your heart and from all these things and your hope is that maybe they take away something that lifts them up a little bit!
WT: I’m not out to depress people I want them to come out of it feeling good and to wake up the next morning and say “wow I feel great this morning that was a really great concert last night and I’m in a good mood and I’m ready to go out and face this struggle.”
…and we’re back!
We hope you enjoyed this Flashback Friday feature. Walter Trout’s new album The Blues Came Callin’ is available now at all the usual outlets and on his own website. Walter Trout is a recent liver transplant recipient and will be out of action for a while. His band is out touring with Danny Bryant out front and special guest, Walter’s son, Jon Trout also. Please support the band out there on the road keeping Walter Trout’s music going while he recovers.
Tour dates can be found here.