On Thursday, March 16 Walter Trout played for a sold out crowd at the Aladdin theater in Portland, Oregon. Six months earlier John Mayall, whose band once included Trout as a featured guitarist played the same venue. But tonight it was Trout’s turn after a miracle liver transplant following lying on his deathbed for 8 months. During the course of the night he revealed that it was through the help from Portland blues artist and liver transplant recipient Curtis Salgado, who just underwent quadruple bypass surgery, that he met the doctor that gave him a second chance on life. Since his transplant, recovery and rehabilitation Trout has released three albums and is just finishing another. This was the first time that he played in Portland since 2010 when both he and John Mayall were featured at the annual “Waterfront Blues Festival.” The show opened at 8:00 PM with the Tommy Odetto band, a hard rockin’ power trio from the California Bay Area. His exuberant intensity was reflected through the band’s entire performance that captivated the audience during their 40 minute set.
Walter Trout came of age at the end of one of the most idealistic eras in recent U.S. history, the 1960s, which explains his ability to share his innermost feelings through music. The blues is an original modern genre that expresses carnal human emotions just as gospel music expresses sacred one’s and the roots of both are the “Spirituals.” When the band hit the stage the audience was mesmerized by not only the incredible music emanating from the stage, but the fact that they were witnesses to a resurrection that was impossible until relatively recently.
“This town is like a jungle, a friend of mine was walking and got shot….” Trout sang as he performed “Life In the Jungle,” while hitting power chords behind a driving beat. Trout was upbeat and exuberant during his entire performance and talked to the crowd in between songs. “It’s time to play the blues,” he announced and then explained to the crowd that one of the three greatest blues harmonica players, James Cotton died earlier today. “Normally I dedicate this song to B. B. King, but tonight it’s for James Cotton. A minor,” Trout told the band as they dove into “Say Goodbye To The Blues.” The band cooked as he stepped back and wailed on his guitar, proving that he regained everything that he lost and then some.
The band moved effortlessly from one number to the next that incorporated compositions from Trout’s entire career, like his “Radicals” period number, “Ride Till I’m Satisfied. Organ player Sammy Avila jammed with bassist Johnny Griparic and drummer Michael Leasure, while Trout stepped in and out of the spotlight between ear splitting guitar runs. The band did a number of songs off the Battle Scars album that documents his entire medical ordeal in the form of blues from the heart. Walter invited his son Jon to join the band, and he came out with a Stratocaster as they began playing “I’m Almost Gone.” Trout sang “open the windows and let me see the light and sound…the devil’s on the loose,” as he masterfully controlled the wailing feedback of his guitar solo, until the band broke into a jam.
“Playin’ Hideaway” had an audience scream along as Walter and John played off each other matching one another note for note in a masterful style of unique phrasing. Trout’s singing was reminiscent of Jack Bruce as the family jam session continued with a contagious exuberance via father and son having a guitar duel. Jon exchanged his Stratocaster for an acoustic guitar when “Please Take Me Home” began, which Trout explained was a tribute to his wife who had faith when he had none. Trout told the crowd that he was working on a new album titled, We’re All In This Together. It’s his 26th album with guest appearances by many of his friends like, John Mayall, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Warren Haynes, Edgar Winter, Sonny Landreth, Robin Ford, Joe Bonamassa, Randy Bachman and many others.
The band changed it up as drummer Michael Leasure took the lead and began to slowly build up to a locomotive rhythm by beating the time out of the skins. He got so into it that he was throwing his sticks in the air and catching them without missing a beat. Jon changed his acoustic guitar back to his Strat as the rest of band joined in playing the melody of “Going Down.” Keyboardist, Sammy Avila began singing “I’m going down, down, down, down, down…” before Trout took over and dove into a guitar shredding solo with Jon as the band jammed until the entire theater was vibrating in time.
Trout concluded his nearly 2 hour set by telling the audience that the only reason why he was playing for them was because of somebody that donated their liver. He encouraged everyone to realize the importance of donating body parts, because of the healing and life saving gift that it is. After the band left the stage the crowd’s applause and screaming brought them back out for one final number. Trout brought out Portland blues artist Miss Rae Gordon, who was the 3rd place winner of the “International Blues Challenge,” where Walter Trout was one of the judges. Trout said that he gave her a perfect score of “Ten,” as the band began to play “Happy Home” an original song by Gordon, whose nuclear vocals augmented the celebration of renewed life that every Walter Trout concert is, leaving the audience spent and satisfied.
Review by Bob Gersztyn
All photography copyright Bob Gersztyn