Book review: HENRY YATES AND WALTER TROUT – Rescued From Reality: The Life And Times of Walter Trout

HENRY YATES AND WALTER TROUT – Rescued From Reality: The Life And Times of Walter Trout

MLG Publishing [Release date: 02.06.14]

‘Rescued From Reality’ is significantly subtitled ‘The Life And Times Of Walter Trout’. Compared to most anodyne biographies, Trout’s story is the real deal.  It includes a very uncompromising account of rock & roll excess on the breadline rather than rollers in the pool.

It’s a classic story of what author Henry Yates calls: “Industrial strength hell raising.” There are tales of escaping the draft, acid trips in a gorilla suit, biker drug gangs, dripping dentures, nights in a dog kennel, homelessness, death threats, rip offs, wild women, rivers of drink and a constant fight to kick-start a musical career.

Walter eventually finds redemption in sobriety and a hard earned solo career that is suddenly sidelined by a liver problem, which provides an unexpected and unwelcome reminder of his partying days.

The book title reflects a story that is at times as harrowing as it is comical and surreal. When you sift through all the highs and lows of a career spent as a go-to LA sideman, a guitar slinger in Canned Heat and a wild but valued member of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, you find the tale of a young man with a passion for music and a dazzling ability to match, but who is sidelined by life itself.

Even in his darkest moments, you suspect it was his musical ability that subconsciously sustained him and years later helped him to cope with his recent health problems.

Author Henry Yates, punctuates Walter’s chronological story with song titled chapter headings, which coherently summarize Trout’s story. Thus ‘Transition’ covers his early gigging years with Wilmont Mews and his move to Southern California, while ‘Outta Control’ is an apt description of his time with Canned Heat and ‘To Begin Again’ marks the end of his drinking and drug addiction.

The author also refreshingly let’s Walter find his own voice to tell his own story, while adding his own snippets of research and contextualized comments to help the flow of anecdotes.

Apart from being a disarmingly honest interviewee, Trout is a naturally funny and self effacing guy, who almost looks back on his own past in bewilderment, apart from the time when his late bass player and lifetime friend Jimmy Trapp saved him from returning to the bottle.

The book weaves its way in and out of Trout’s musical CV, though there is no discernible career as such, until he inadvertently becomes a sideman. An unlikely meeting with Duke Ellington as a wide eyed ten year old is pivotal and years later led him to becoming a mentor to a new generation of blues rockers.

There’s an account of his first band, his move to the West coast, his years spent playing with the old blues fraternity – including Deacon Jones, Big Mamma Thornton and John Lee Hooker – a hard lived 4 year existence with Canned Heat and 5 years of mayhem and occasional brilliance with John Mayall.

‘Rescued From Reality’ is not the stuff of blowing up hotel rooms, while the sex, drugs and rock & roll is not so much gratuitous as just brutally honest. It’s a personalized account of surviving hard times and making sense of some incidents that Hollywood films might reject as being too far fetched.

If you had never heard of Walter Trout before picking up this book you’d still be drawn into his story by his wide eyed recollections. Despite the slide into dealing, addiction and becoming an out of control touring musician, there’s always a redeeming consistent thread, which is that Walter was always a great musician.

And while ‘Rescued From Reality’ isn’t big on analysis, the author does give us his own psychological insight into his subject early on: “It’s not too glib to suggest that as the good old days turned bad, and daily life began to crumble, Walter was simultaneously born as an artist and bluesman.”

Years later when plagued by blues purists, Walter early career insecurities seem to have been replaced by a self evident maturity based on self belief: “You can be an artist who is secure in their vision, and just plough through the bullshit, or you can let yourself be intimidated by it.”

And there you have it. ‘Rescued From Reality’ is an enjoyable and insightful account of a unique blues-rocker with an interesting past.

What it lacks is the beef about the touring years and Walter’s guitar battles with Coco Montoya in The Bluesbreakers. There’s also little about his intense playing style and high octane shows, save for a cursory mention of sparking a potential riot while playing ‘Long Tall Sally’ in Denmark and Marie Trout’s refection on the intensity of his playing in the early days.

The upside is that it’s a beautifully illustrated and well written book. The luminosity of Trout’s life story wraps itself round the striking photos and immerses you just like his guitar solos. Once you’ve picked it up you won’t put it down.  ****

Review by Pete Feenstra

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