Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, February 1, 2002

Blues guitarist Debbie Davies makes her second appearance in Hawaii as part of the Rhythm & Blues Mele.

Canned Heat veteran
courts guitar stardom

Walter Trout tours long and hard,
hoping to build on his strong
following in Europe

By Gary C. W. Chun

Life on the road can be tough, but Walter Trout, the American blues and rock guitar slinger, would rather be there than making a cozy life in Europe.

That's where Trout is considered one of the top 20 guitarists OF ALL TIME, fer cryin' out loud, ranked right behind Jimmy Page, according to a British Broadcasting Corp. poll. With so much respect elsewhere, why can't the New Jersey native get even a little bit of love on American soil?

"My wife will be the first to tell you, I'm very American!" he said last week by phone from his Huntington Beach, Calif., home, which he shares with his Danish-born wife and three sons, ages 8, 5 and 5 months. "I wouldn't make it living in Europe, although I'm very happy to tour there. Living in a little beach town in California, I just like it here! All I gotta do is fly eastward for 10 hours when I tour Europe. We regularly spend vacation time in Denmark, rent a house on the North Sea, take the kids and visit the country their mom is from. And usually after a tour in Europe, I can go home and just go down the street to play with my house band four nights a week. So I'm not interested in moving there at all. I'm just fine where I am."

The Winter Rhythm & Blues Mele 2002

With Walter Trout and the Radicals, E.C. Scott and the Debbie Davies Blues Band
Where: Hawaiian Hut, Ala Moana Hotel, 410 Atkinson Drive.
When: 8:30 p.m. today
Admission: $25 advance, $28 at the door
Call: 941-5205

While his living arrangements are comfortable, Trout has business to attend to at home. "I made up my mind three years ago that I wanna get my career going in the States. Because of that, I'm on the road constantly. My latest album, 'Go the Distance,' is No. 12 on the Billboard blues chart, and it's only now that I'm becoming a well-known act here, starting to get the big summer festival offers. I recently got the cover of the biggest national blues magazine, Blues Revue, so things are goin' real well.

"I've been steadily on the road for eight-month stretches for the past three to four years, so the next time I finish this upcoming tour, my youngest should be walking already!"

Also starring Walter Trout.

TROUT GREW UP on the island of Ocean City, off the Jersey shore. He honed his music in the competitive club scene where another now-legendary singer/songwriter cut his own teeth. "During the '70s, I was in a competing band opposite one that Bruce Springsteen was in. At the time, he was just playing lead guitar in a band called Steel Mill. He wasn't known as a writer back then.

"I remember times when our bands would be at opposite ends of a club, trading off sets, both of us doing covers of Motown songs, Sam & Dave, Otis Redding -- all of the bands then did a lot of nightclubs and I have nothin' but respect for what Springsteen's become, although I think I'm the better guitar player!"

Until recently, Trout played hard, both on and off stage, and with the help of his loved ones, cleaned up his life considerably. "I learned a lot of things when I played with John Mayall and Canned Heat, most of which is not for public disclosure!" he chuckled. "But I did learn how to play the big stages, and to be comfortable and spontaneous on those occasions."

And he does give back to his former bandmates. "I recorded a song for the upcoming Canned Heat album as a guest, along with George Thorogood, Eric Burdon and on the last recording John Lee Hooker did before he died."

TROUT'S LIFE experiences infuse his songs -- it's the only thing he knows. "When I play or sing, it's gotta be honest. If not, I can't look in the mirror.

"When I write, they're songs of what has happened to me, believe in and seen in my life. One of the few times that I've projected myself into another person's situation was on the song that kicks off my latest album, 'Love So Deep.' I told from it from a guy's perspective, a friend of mine's who went through a breakup."

With each recording and tour, more American blues audiences are discovering Trout. "I originally was resigned to be just Huntington Beach's favorite guitarist, but Ruf Records (a German-owned label with an American subsidiary) came to me to help my career get going in America and got me a booking agent.

"I said that if you give me a big push, I'll get out there and I'll tour. My wife Marie manages the band, so as long as the label has the monetary involvement, my part of the deal is to hit the pavement.

"I couldn't turn down this opportunity and was willing to give it a shot. It's always been my dream to do in America what I've done in Europe.

"I'm still tryin' to find the balance between my personal life and the touring, though. Two weeks after the Hawaii gigs, I go to Germany for seven weeks, then get three weeks off and then start an American tour that stretches to November.

"It's gonna be a long season away from the kids!"

Even though Trout is just beginning to earn respect here, "I take nothing for granted. I've been touring since 1968, so I've paid my dues, so to speak. I don't let it get to my head like it might've been when I was 25. For me now, family is the most important thing. . .

"I admit it gets pretty lonely on the road. I won't be coming out to Hawaii with my wife and kids, but I do have an ulterior motive, as I'll be able to scope out Hawaii and look for a nice, quiet place to visit for a later family trip."

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