It had been nearly two years since Walter Trout played in Portland at the Aladdin Theater in March 2017 when he performed to a sold out crowd on Wednesday, December 4, 2019. Since it was the middle of the week and the show started at 8:00 PM people didn’t mind that there was no opening act, so they could get to bed before midnight. Trout opened with “I Can Tell” and followed with “Me, My Guitar and the Blues,” a scorching blues rock guitar driven song that plumbed the depths of despair and ascended into stratospheric ecstasy as Trout attacked his Stratocaster with unrelenting passion.
The next song was “Put It Right Back” from 1995’s Breaking the Rules about Trout’s divorce from his first wife thirty years ago. It was a bring down the house blues rock number. “I’ve been sober for thirty-two years,” Trout declared. After a five year stint with “Canned Heat” John Mayall called one day and asked Trout to come play guitar for him which he did. It was during the peak of Trout’s drug and alcohol abuse years and he got clean and sober while playing with Mayall who patiently put up with him. Trout explained that his mentor was now 86 years old and had just recorded a new album that he was going to promote on a tour next year comprised of 200 one nighters.
He wrote “I Saw Mama Cryin” for his mom after all the violence he witnessed and experienced during his childhood. Trout explained that his step father was an alcoholic that had been a Japanese prisoner during WWII and was tortured. He had what is today called PTSD and treated but back then returning veterans were told to suck it in and be a man. Alcohol was the main drug of escape at the time and it released Walter’s father’s inner demons that manifested themselves violently when he was drunk. Walter and his mom would sneak out one day when he was gone and move to another city to escape. Somehow his step dad would always find them and apologize and make up and then his mom would take him back and it would start all over again. All that pain and suffering percolated until it distilled itself into an explosive guitar driven exploration of the subject.
“Welcome To the Human Race” was from 2008’s The Outsider album and Trout explained the premise of the tune, “over the years I’ve learned that some people love you and some hate you, so welcome to the human race.” The band built up intensity as Trout repeatedly sang “I’ve been loved and I’ve been hated” with great intensity building up as he repeated the refrain “welcome to the human race.” For “Common Ground” a more laid back Country Blues song, road manager Anthony Grisham was invited out to play acoustic guitar. It was a ballad type song that Trout sang with passion, “here the truth can still be found on common ground. Trout uses every song as an excuse to perform another amazing guitar solo and this was no exception as he wailed to high heaven. He is an amazing human being when you consider that he rose up from his deathbed like Jairus’s daughter and at the age of 67 was performing with the passion and intensity of a man half his age. The crowd was enthusiastic and many of the attendees had been fans for decades which was reflected in the over fifty crowd with a sprinkling of young blues fans.
This is a story song about hepatitis C and my near death, rebirth and rehabilitation to relearn how to walk, talk and play guitar again by starting from scratch and practicing 6 to 7 hours a day for a year to relearn how to play guitar. “There are 18 songs on the Battle Scars album and it was created as therapy in my recovery,” Trout explained how the idea for one of the songs on the album began after he was in bed for 6 months and a beautiful white light appeared as he left his body and experienced bliss as he ascended to where there were light beings that we might call angels beckoning him like Fedallah on the whale to come fly with them. When they asked Trout about whether he wanted to go or not he said that he wanted to stay so he went back to his body and wrote a song for the light beings titled “Fly Away” which turned into another rip snorting wild get down amazing guitar solo. Trout had the audience clapping as keyboardist Teddy ‘Zig Zag’ Andreadis began playing harmonica. Andreadis has played with everyone from Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley to Guns and Roses and Billy Bob Thornton. Trout began singing “the universe all these obstacles in my way” in between Andreadis’s harmonica accompaniment. “Obstacles in My Way” reached back to Trout’s 1997 eponymous album which turned into a harmonica led get down jam.
After Battle Scars Trout explained that he did a record to celebrate being alive with a pantheon of guests, including Sonny Landreth, Joe Bonamassa, John Mayall, Randy Bachman, Jon Trout, John Németh, Joe Louis Walker, Edgar Winter, Eric Gales, Warren Haynes, Robben Ford, Mike Zito, Charlie Musselwhite and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. The 2017 album was titled Were All In This Together and “Gonna Hurt Like Hell” was a song on it with Kenny Wayne Shepherd. When Kenny asked what the song was about, Walter said it was about his insane drug and alcohol filled early days. It’ll feel god for a minute and then it will hurt like hell. Things I did when I was young and now I’m old is the gist of it. Once again Walter Trout demonstrated some phenomenal rocking out guitar playing as he danced across the stage like he had been resurrected thirty years younger with more amazing bring down the house blues rock.
Trout told the band that he was deviating from the set list and was playing a song that he recorded with John Mayall, “a blues with a solid “A” fellows,” he told the band and began playing “The Blues Came Callin’” from the 2014 album of the same name that became his last before he was hospitalized with hepatitis C before eventually receiving a liver transplant. Tour manager Anthony Grisham had a Gretsch electric guitar on this time and proved that he knew how to play it as he dove into the intro until Trout started singing, “last night the blues came calling, I heard it call me by my name.” Then Trout took over on lead and amped it up a couple of notches as he let out some unearthly peals until he turned it over to Andreadis who played keyboard runs reciprocating with the driving bands intense rhythm. At the same time Trout continued to manipulate the sounds coming out of his Stratocaster like a sorcerer conjuring up another dimension.
Trout introduced “Red Sun” by explaining that he got the song from a couple of elderly New York street musicians. Floyd Lee and his partner Joel had never gotten any recognition until Trout recorded their song on his 2019 release, Survivor Blues album. He made sure that Floyd was credited with writing it and now receives publishing royalties from it. Trout said that Floyd will be a 100 and bought a new guitar with his first royalty check.
Johnny Griparic did a bass solo for the intro and then all the band members took turns as they did solos on their instruments. Griparic’s bass playing and Michael Leasure’s drumming created a very entertaining rhythm section both sonically and visually as their body language and facial expressions reflected orgasmic pleasure in playing their instruments. Trout introduced band members before they all came forward to take a bow and exited only to come back and do one final number for the encore “Best You Got” from Walter Trout and the Radicals’ 2003 album Relentless. The show ended just before 10:00 PM.
Review by Bob Gersztyn
All Photography by Bob Gersztyn