with The BLITZ Brothers
with The BLITZ Brothers
|Age:||Ages 21+ Only|
Accomplished, unique, passionate. Walter Trout is a contemporary blues master, who has won two Blues Music Awards for "Gonna Live Again" (Song of the Year), and the Rock Blues Album of the Year for Battle Scars.Buy Tickets
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Genre: blues rock / blues
Ticket Price: $20 advanced / $22 day of show / $35 reserved loft seating
Walter Trout is the beating heart of the modern blues rock scene. Respected by the old guard. Revered by the young guns. Adored by the fans who shake his hand after the show each night. After five decades in the game, Trout is a talismanic figure and the glue that bonds the blues community together, at a time when the wider world has never been so divided. He’s also the only artist with the vision, talent and star-studded address book to pull off a project on the scale of We’re All In This Together. “It was quite a piece of work to get this record together,” he admits. “But I guess I have a lot of friends, y’know…?”
Before you even hear a note, We’re All In This Together has your attention. Drafting fourteen A-list stars – including Joe Bonamassa, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, John Mayall and Randy Bachman – and writing an original song for each, Trout has made the most tantalising album of the year, and found solace after a run of solo albums that chronicled his near-fatal liver disease of 2014. “Now was the right time for this record,” he says. “Battle Scars  was such an intense piece of work, written with tears coming down my face. I needed a break from that, to do something fun and light-hearted. This album was joyous for me.”
Scan the credits of We’re All In This Together and you’ll find nods to every twist and turn of Trout’s electrifying backstory. There’s keys man and long-time friend Skip Edwards, who came up on the same early-’70s New Jersey circuit where Trout cut his teeth as the precocious lead guitarist for Wilmont Mews. There’s organ wizard Deacon Jones, the West Coast bandleader who brought a twenty-something Trout into the orbit of blues titans like John Lee Hooker and Big Mama Thornton. “Deacon sorta discovered me when I moved to LA in the ’70s,” reflects Trout. “So I owe him.”
Trout also welcomes a fistful of compadres from recent all-star project The Supersonic Blues Machine, in the form of Warren Haynes, Robben Ford and Eric Gales. Then there’s John Mayall: the ageless British blues-boom godfather who hired a troubled Trout for the Bluesbreakers in 1985 and now blows harp on Blues For Jimmy T. “Am I proud to call myself a former Bluesbreaker?” Trout reflects. “Yeah, of course. What a credential. That is a very exclusive club, and I know that when I’m gone, that’s gonna be one of the big things that they’ll remember me for: that I was a Bluesbreaker for five years.”
Since he struck out alone in 1989, Trout’s solo career has been every bit as celebrated. Touring tirelessly and spitting out classic albums that include 1990’s flag-planting Life In The Jungle, 1998’s breakthrough Walter Trout and 2012’s politically barbed Blues For The Modern Daze, he’s won international acclaim and enjoyed ever-growing sales in a notoriously fickle industry. Years on the road have also brought him tight friendships, as evidenced by 2006’s cameo-fuelled Full Circle album and this year’s unofficial sequel, We’re All In This Together. “The new album was originally gonna be called Full Circle Volume 2,” notes Trout, “but I wanted to make the title a positive statement in this time of madness.”
In another departure, whereas Full Circle saw each guest visit the studio to track their part, the advance of recording technology in the intervening decade meant Trout’s collaborators on We’re All In This Together were able to supply their contributions from afar. “In the studio, it was the core band of me, Sammy Avila [keys], Mike Leasure [drums] and Johnny Griparic [bass] on every cut, with Eric Corne producing,” he explains, “and then, for most of the tracks, people sent us their parts. But it’s very hard to tell we’re not in the studio together. If you listen to the Warren Haynes track, when we get into that guitar conversation on the end – it sounds like we’re looking each other right in the face, y’know?”
It’s true: this is an album where the chemistry fizzes, right from the first track. “I played Carnegie Hall with Kenny Wayne Shepherd and we talked about recording together,” explains Trout of the story behind opener Gonna Hurt Like Hell. “So I said to myself, ‘OK, I need to write a song for Kenny, and it needs to be an uptempo bluesy shuffle’. The lyrics could be about many different things. Say you’re a drug addict. It’s gonna feel good for a while, but as soon as you run out of drugs, it’s gonna hurt like hell. You could cheat on your wife and it’ll feel good for those ten minutes, then it’s gonna hurt like hell. I thought that Kenny played great on there. Especially the ending, when we’re trading back and forth. It’s hard to tell who’s who.”
One listen to Ain’t Goin’ Back announces the presence of Louisiana slide-guitar maestro Sonny Landreth. “He’s the greatest slide guitarist in the history of the world,” states Trout. “There’s nobody that can touch him, I don’t care who you bring up. He’s really a New Orleans musician, so I messed around with different grooves and came up with an almost ’50s-esque Americana song with lyrics about the stupid things I did in my youth. Sonny sent me his track, then called me and said, ‘I don’t know if it’s any good. If you want me to do it over, I won’t be insulted’. I’m like, ‘what are you talking about, man – it’s f*cking great!’”
On a track listing where guitar heroes dominate the credits, a curveball arrives with The Other Side Of The Pillow, driven by South Side harp pioneer Charlie Musselwhite. “I’ve known Charlie since I was with Mayall,” says Trout, “but I grew up listening to his records in high school. He’s one of the originators, along with Paul Butterfield, Mike Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop: the guys who started going into Chicago’s black clubs in the ’60s and playing blues on their own. I have a friend named Richard T. Bear – one of the top studio keyboard players – who came up with that line, ‘I’m gonna make love to another woman, because you made love to another man’. So I took his verse, and I came up with my own groove.”
One of the album’s most radio-ready moments, meanwhile, is She Listens To The Blackbird Sing, featuring ex-Royal Southern Brotherhood guitarist Mike Zito. “That was a gas to record,” remembers Trout. “I was getting ready to drive to the studio and I sat down with my acoustic guitar and that melody just came out. Mike and I go way back: he credits me with sobering him up, and I’m happy to have been a part of that. What Skip Edwards did to that song is remarkable. We gave him the raw track and he took it out to the stratosphere.”
Having bonded with Robben Ford in The Supersonic Blues Machine, Trout enlisted the jazz-blues great for the “Freddie King-esque guitar instrumental piece” that is Mr Davis. Elsewhere, the album’s sole cover – a mighty rendition of Elmore James’ The Sky Is Crying alongside Warren Haynes – was sparked by a live hook-up. “Warren invited me to play with him a few years ago at the New Orleans Jazz Festival,” recalls Trout, “and he wanted to do The Sky Is Crying. We did that song and it stopped the show. So I was talking to him at the Ramblin’ Man Fair in the UK and I said to him, ‘What do you think, maybe we should record that?’”
Writing the funk-flavoured Somebody Goin’ Down for Memphis virtuoso Eric Gales was a challenge that paid off (“He just completely blazed on that song”) while She Steals My Heart Away built bridges with Texas bandleader Edgar Winter. “There’s a bit of history there,” laughs Trout. “Twenty years, I hired Edgar’s drummer, a guy named Bernie Pershey. And then, eight years ago, I hired another drummer from him – Michael Leasure. But when I saw Edgar at Carnegie Hall, he said, ‘Oh man, don’t worry about it!’ We really hit it off and I happened to mention this record. He was methodical with his part. He’s a perfectionist.”
Crash And Burn is decorated by a star turn from electric-blues great Joe Louis Walker (“He’s got some great humour in his playing”) while Idaho soul man John Németh saved the day on Too Much To Carry. “Curtis Salgado was all set to do some harmonica and vocals,” recalls Trout, “but right before he was supposed to record, he had a heart attack and a bypass operation. So we got in touch with John, and he was gracious enough to jump in.”
Joining Trout Senior on Do You Still See Me At All is eldest son, Jon. “We sat down with guitars in the kitchen and wrote that tune together,” recalls the Trout paterfamilias. “I think Jon has my musical DNA, and that’s understandable – he’s been hearing me play since he was in the womb. What’s really moving to me is that Jon played guitar from the time he was a little kid, but he liked different styles of music and never tried to play leads or blues. Then I got sick and he felt like he was going to lose me. He made the decision that he needed to carry this stuff on. And that’s when he dug in and began teaching himself how to solo.”
Randy Bachman’s contribution to Got Nothin’ Left, meanwhile, was sparked by an encounter at last year’s Jeff Healey 50th Celebration Show in Toronto. “Randy tapped me on the shoulder and goes, ‘Man, I was driving, and this guitar solo came on the radio, and it got so intense I had to pull over. I called up the radio station – and it was you, man!’ We became friends, started emailing back and forth, and I wrote something for him that was ’50s rock ‘n’ roll. When his vocal comes in, I started laughing, because I just heard Takin’ Care Of Business by BTO. His voice hasn’t changed!”
Nor has the hand-in-glove relationship between Trout and Mayall, who delivers a harp masterclass on Blues For Jimmy T. “That was pretty awesome,” nods Trout. “Even though John has been on three of my records, it’s still the biggest honour for me. This time, I wanted to do something different with him. That’s why I came up with the idea of doing an acoustic song, kinda like a Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee type of thing, with lyrics about my old bass player and best friend Jimmy Trapp. It’s really emotional for me to hear that.”
Last – but most assuredly not least – is the title track, which saw the formidable Joe Bonamassa hit the studio in person to go head-to-head with Trout’s band. “That track, we did live,” reflects the bandleader. “Joe specifically requested that he played with the band. He told me: ‘I really want to be on this record, but I want to come in and play live with you, I don’t want to just overdub. I have one day in March and I have three hours – and that’s it’. It was awesome. We were sitting three feet away from each other, just going at it.”
They say you can judge a man by the company he keeps. If that’s the case, then We’re All In This Together is further proof of Walter Trout’s position at the hub of the blues scene. This is the sound of an artist not just getting by with a little help from his friends, but positively thriving, on an album that is sure to light another rocket under his blooming late career. “I’m 66 years old,” considers Trout, “but I feel like I’m in the best years of my life right now. I feel better than I have in years physically. I have more energy. I have a whole different appreciation of being alive, of the world, of my family, of my career. I want life to be exciting and celebratory. I want to dig in. I want to grab life by the balls and not let go, y’know…?”
The Blitz Brothers were a popular rock band who frequently opened for touring headliners in the 1970s and 1980s. Richard “Blitz” Livoni began playing guitar at the age of eight and continued through college, eventually opening for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Hoyt Axton, Tim Buckley, Jackson Browne, Linda Rondstadt, and others.
“I hated electric guitars when I was a little kid,” says Livoni. He liked jug bands. “Kazoos and shit.”
But when the Animals released “House of the Rising Sun” in the 1960s, Livoni says he went out and rented an electric guitar and amplifier. He taught himself to play Paul Butterfield’s East-West and every track on John Mayall’s Blues Breakers album as well. “I became a victim of the Jimi-Jeff-Clapton syndrome.” He laughs.
Livoni was playing in an Orange County band called Fast Eddie when he left them to start the Blitz Brothers in 1973. The original members were Livoni, Jamison, and a former Mickey Mouse Club Mouseketeer on drums and vocals named Dickie Dodd, a former member of the Standells who sang their big hit “Dirty Water.”
The Blitz Brothers made their name at L.A. clubs like Gazzarri’s, the Starwood, and the Pasadena Hilton. “Van Halen was our competition.”
By the time the Blitz Brothers migrated south to San Diego venues such as the Spirit Club, Ledbetter’s, the Palace, and Neutral Ground, Livoni had gained a reputation as a blistering-hot guitarist.
When Livoni shuttered the Blitz Brothers in 1986 (“One reason was that nightclubs weren’t drawing because of changes in the liquor laws”), he needed a job. “I put an ad in the Reader advertising myself as a recording engineer and I’ve been booked steadily ever since.”
The first Blitz Studio was in the basement of his home in Mission Hills. Blitz went on to record bands and write music in a private stand-alone state-of-the-art digital studio in south Mission Hills on Reynard Way, as well as playing with Sons of Edison.
A quarter century after they split, the band reunited on August 7, 2011, at Winston’s in OB. Why start over? The answer, Livoni says, is Barney Roach. “Being the big daddy of the band was no fun.” Roach, who will fill the spot once occupied by Danny (Jamison) Blitz on bass guitar, is the new hustle behind the organizing of gigs and rehearsals and all of the day-to-day tedium, says Livoni, that goes with running a band.
What’s in it for Roach? “I get to be in a band with one of my all-time guitar idols,” he says.
After the band reunited with Livoni and founding drummer Dickie Dodd, keyboardist Rick Randle was added to the lineup in early 2013. Livoni underwent an emergency surgical procedure on June 20 of that year, after suffering retinal detachment.