The ‘World’s Greatest Rock Guitarist’ comes to Gilly’s
By Khalid Moss
If you have a hankering for high-energy rock ‘n’ roll without having to mortgage your house to purchase tickets, it doesn’t get any better than an evening with California soul man, Walter Trout.
Trout, who will be making a return appearance to Gilly’s nightclub Thursday, August 18, is a sonic perfectionist with an incurable urge for blues-swept riffs and melodies. The Stratocaster master is number six on the UK’s BBC Radio One list of top 20 guitarists of all time. In his book “Whispering Years” writer Bob Harris anoints Trout as the “world’s greatest rock guitarist.”
“He made his bones in Europe,” said Gerry Gillotti, owner of Gilly’s. “Fifteen years ago when I first hired him he couldn’t draw. But he went to Europe and became real popular. Nowadays, he’s popular everywhere.”
Trout’s 20th and latest album is Common Ground, a profoundly spiritual statement that contains the prayer, “If there is anywhere peace can be found, let it be on common ground.” It’s an odd but uplifting plea for the 60-year-old rock star.
“I’m blown away by the polarization and cruelty in the world today,” Trout said on his website. “It goes beyond my understanding. I wrote the lyrics to that song as an attempt to come to terms with that, and as a wish that somehow – regardless of our faiths, nationalities and politics — we can find a place where truth and compassion can take us beyond our differences.”
Born in Ocean City, New Jersey, Trout’s initial inspiration was the legendary Paul Butterfield Blues Band featuring the screaming guitars of Mike Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop. Trout jammed with local bands before joining Brit John Mayall’s blues band for a five-year stint in the ‘80s. Mayall, who has a well-earned reputation for launching the careers of guitarists Eric Clapton and Mick Taylor, took Trout under his wing in 1984. Together they climbed to the top of the international blues touring circuit.
“Without a doubt, working with John was the single most important experience I had coming up as a sideman,” Trout said. “He’s a truly great bandleader in the tradition of Count Basie and Duke Ellington. He knows how to run a group with firm rules, but at the same time how to make you relaxed and play your best onstage every night. He knows how to put the right people together and how to be generous, and then there’s his ability as a songwriter and a performer. I learned so much from John when I was in his band.”
Trout mounted his solo career in 1989 and began touring in Europe, releasing his first record, Life in the Jungle that same year.
“In a sense I have almost created my own genre,” Trout said. “I have assimilated so many styles and so many influences from the great adventure of American music. I love Jeff Beck as much as I love B.B. King. I believe in telling stories and honesty and searching for the truth.
“And I have no interest in stifling my creativity. If I have a song in my head or I’m playing a solo and it gets a little outside the box or off the beaten path I’m going to let it flow and come out or take me where it leads me. My quest in all of this is that I’d love to be able to do it all.”
Trout has returned to Dayton numerous times in the past 15 years but Gillotti said one appearance was especially memorable.
“On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, Trout was scheduled to play my club,” Gillotti recalled. “They were driving from Kansas City or St. Louis and stopped in Indianapolis to get some gas. He called and said they were going to be delayed, so they arrived about an hour late. They took the stage and Walter gave a brilliant speech about how you can’t let people tell you how to act and how Americans had to stand their ground. The place was packed and the people loved it. People talk about it to this day. It was an inspiring night even though it was a tragic night.”
In a 2011 interview at the Bospop Festival in the Netherlands, Trout put his life in rock ‘n’ roll in perspective: “I started my career in 1969,” he said. “I’m sorry to admit that but it’s more than 40 years ago. I don’t know why I’m still alive but I still do 200 cities a year. I’ve also done 20 CDs in 21 years. Nowadays I just close my eyes, start writing and boom! There’s a new CD.”
Walter Trout will perform on Thursday, August 18 at Gilly’s, 132 S. Jefferson St. in Dayton. Tickets are $20 and for information on how to purchase tickets, visit www.gillysjazz.com.
Reach DCP freelance writer Khalid Moss at KhalidMoss@DaytonCityPaper.com.