The iconic US blues-rock guitarist Walter Trout is set to release his 30th solo album, Ride on
19th August 2022 via Provogue/Mascot Label Group, and sublime lead single Ghosts is out now
However fast or far a man travels, he can never truly outrun his past. On his new album he found himself eyeing the horizon and the green shoots of his triumphant late career. There was a new record deal with Mascot/Provogue. A move from California to Denmark with his beloved family. Even now, aged 70, Trout was still writing fresh chapters of his life story.
The last time we saw Trout stepping out, he was on the road in support of 2020’s Ordinary Madness. The campaign ended in frustration, when Covid rendered live work too dangerous, both for this liver-transplant survivor and his fans, condemning Trout to an enforced downtime in Denmark that he hadn’t known in a half-century. “I’ve been at this since ’69, when I started out in the New Jersey bars,” he reflects. “Suddenly, I’m sat on my ass for sixteen months, although I did still practise guitar every day. My wife and manager Marie knew I needed to make music. So her present to me for my 70th birthday was a brand-new record deal she had negotiated. My producer, Eric Corne, scoped out a new studio in LA, and my plan was to fly home to make a new album.”
Arriving on the US West Coast two weeks before sessions began, Trout settled to write the Ride material in his now-deserted house in Huntington Beach, California. But even in this beachside paradise, amongst the swaying palms and ocean breeze, the past came calling. As long-standing Trout fans know, the Golden State has been the bluesman’s home for 47 years.
In time, Trout joined John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers lineup in ’85, before embarking on an acclaimed solo career from ’89 onwards. But before that came his chaotic, self-destructive years as a jobbing lead guitarist, whether for revered-but-tricky blues pioneers like John Lee Hooker and Big Mama Thornton, or an unhinged tenure in an ’80s Canned Heat lineup controlled by the Hell’s Angels.
Trout’s well-documented excess in this era was darker than a young rock star cutting loose. It could all be traced back to his troubled childhood in New Jersey, he explains, where an unstable stepfather – himself the victim of shocking cruelty as a prisoner of war – was a terrifying presence. As Ride took form, such memories couldn’t help but flavour the music. “This album is obviously what I was going through mentally and emotionally,” he considers. “All I did was express it. I spent a lot of time crying, because I would dig down into my emotional core. I want my songs to have some sort of truth to them.”
From the grinding riff and freight-train harp that light the fuse of opener Ghosts, it’s clear Ride is like nothing else in Trout’s catalogue. “That song was actually written as a poem,” he explains. “It starts off with the lyric, ‘Sometimes I hear a familiar song and it brings back memories’. That’s the truth. I’ll be riding in my car, a song comes on the radio and I have to pull over and sob for a while. Ghosts sums this album up, y’know?”
Some memories are long-distant but eternally poignant. Try the title track, recounting the locomotive that rattled past his childhood home each night and enticed him to freight-hop to freedom. The stormy Hey Mama takes inspiration from the same period, with Trout debating whether his trauma could have been averted. “I’m not pissed off with my mom and I love her memory,” he says, “but my wife says, ‘Your mom probably could have done more to protect you from your stepdad’. Yeah, maybe she could have. But it’s easy to say that looking back.”
Other songs are more recent and raw, like the slow-burn wee-small-hours lament Follow You Back Home, which channels Trout’s anguish during a period of marital difficulty. Yet Trout’s ruminations are not always negative. Reverb-cloaked, faintly Hendrixian and vocally influenced by Chet Baker, the stunning album closer Destiny gives an unvarnished account of the guitarist’s first meeting with Marie at a Danish blues festival in 1990.
By now, Trout knows that nobody ever really leaves their old selves behind. But with Ride providing an emotional release-valve – both for its creator and his loyal listeners – perhaps this veteran artist can reconcile with his past, accept his future and live in the present as it unfolds. “I think you can interpret this album title a few different ways,” he concludes. “I mean, this album is definitely a musical ride and I certainly tried to cover a lot of ground. But, really, life is kind of a ride too, isn’t it? And I want to live mine to the fullest.”
Be sure not to miss Walter Trout on tour this summer:
Sat 4th June – Rory Gallagher Festival, Ballyshannon, Ireland
Mon 13th Jun – Chester Live Rooms
Tue 14th Jun – Buxton Pavilion Arts Centre
Thu 16th Jun – Brighton, Concorde
Fri 17th Jun – Islington Assembly Hall
Sat 18th Jun – Holmfirth Picturedrome
Mon 20th Jun – Bury St Edmunds The Apex Arts Centre
Tue 21th Jun – Frome Cheese and Grain
Wed 22th Jun – Southampton 1865