Walter Trout – ‘I’m Back’ plus Special Guest SIMO

Saturday 21st November 2015

O2 Forum Kentish Town, London, United Kingdom 

Well this evening was the definition of the word ‘comeback’ which is often used to describe reunion tours by bands who can’t stand each other but will make a ‘comeback’ if they are presented with a cheque that has the right amount of zeros. Anyway, for those who are a unfamiliar with blues guitarist Walter Trout and the harrowing medical situation that he and his family have had to struggle with and overcome here is a bit of background:

Provogue Records (part of Mascot Label Group) was poised for a major “Year of the Trout” marketing campaign and worldwide tour celebrating his 25 years as a solo artist. The label released Trout’s then newly recorded  album, ‘When the Blues Came Calling’, and reissued his catalog on 180-gram vinyl. Additionally, Provogue published his  autobiography penned with British music journalist, Henry Yates: Rescued From Reality: The Life and Times of Walter Trout.

However, Walter became seriously ill and in early 2014  Trout was lying in a hospital bed without the strength to move or speak, unable to recognize his own children, as he observed  his body waste away. He had lost 13 pints of blood and was in a coma for three days. But on Memorial Day, May 26, 2014, Trout underwent liver transplant surgery and the slow process of healing began. “At first I wasn’t  strong enough to play a single note on the guitar, but as I regained my strength, the music came back to me. Now when I pick up the guitar, it is liberating, joyful, and limitless. I feel like I’m 17 again.”

 One of the reasons Walter is still here and is now fit and healthy is through the overwhelming generosity of his fans and supporters which included a fan-organised YouCaring campaign which was set up by Kirby Bryant, the wife of British blues guitarist and Trout protégée Danny Bryant and this alongside various concert tributes raised $245,000 towards his healthcare. 

Walter Trout then made his first live appearance in two years at The Royal Albert Hall in London for Leadbelly Fest on 15th June 2015 and received three standing ovations after his triumphant live return. Read our full review of Leadbelly Fest here: http://justlistentothis.co.uk/live-reviews/leadbelly-fest-june-2015-royal-albert-hall-london-united-kingdom/

Walter then released ‘Battle Scars’ in October 2015 and it is Trout’s 18th album released by the Netherlands-based Provogue label and his 42nd overall, counting his pre-solo-career recordings as a member of the historic groups: Canned Heat and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers.

This show was Walter Trout’s first headline London appearance since his illness and everyone in the crowd was going to witness something incredibly special at this the fourth UK date out of six for the Walter Trout – ‘I’m Back’ World Tour. However, before Walter we were treated to an opening slot from Nashville-based blues rock trio Simo. Simo is JD Simo (Lead Vocals and Guitar), Elad Shapiro (Bass) and Adam Abrashoff (Drums) and they clearly won the crowd over at their debut UK live show.

Opening with ‘Right Now’, this tight sounding band created a Sixties vibe with such ease and to me, JD Simo had elements of Rob Tyner of The MC5 in terms of his vocals and overall swagger. New track ‘I’ll Always Be Around’ is taken from their new album ‘Let Love Show the Way’ which will be released on 29th January 2016 on Provogue Records. JD played swirly guitar riffs which weaved in and out alongside the light cymbal sound with such ease and precision.

Mascot Label Group signed Simo after his friend and label mate Joe Bonamassa was quoted as saying “JD is one of the best out there right now!” It was clear that on this live form SIMO have a bright future ahead of them and I am looking forward to hearing their new album.

In addition, they had really great merchandise with A3 posters for £2 and black t-shirts with their psychedelic Simo artwork which isn’t dissimilar to the graphics you see for Swedish blues act Blues Pills. Closing with ‘A Little Help From My Friends’ it was clear that the late Joe Cocker was clearly an influence and when they finished the crowd went crazy with excitement.

As I thought to myself ‘I wonder what the crowd thought of them?’ I turned my head and saw a large queue of punters by SIMO’s merchandise after their set and that said it all.  As I went to purchase one of the posters I heard the guy manning the merch desk tell someone in the queue that SIMO will be returning to the UK in March 2016 and several people smiled and were excited about this band’s return. For more information visit: http://www.simo.fm/

After the break the house lights dimmed and Team Rock radio presenter Nicky Horne walked onstage to introduce the man of the hour. He told us that he saw Walter at an event and he was incredibly thin. Nicky was surprised at Walter’s appearance and before he could say.  anything Walter was gone. “But now he is back with a new liver, a new album and a new lease of life. Ladies and gentleman Walter Trout!’

Walter and his three-piece band walked on to rapturous applause and cheers and it was a very special moment and at times during Walter’s illness it seemed like this moment may never come. Walter arrived on that stage moving his feet and jamming with an incredible collection of musicians including keyboardist Sammy Avila whose solos were lively and fluid especially on opener ‘Help Me’.

‘Here’s a true story!’ Walter bellowed as the band went straight into Luther Allison’s ‘I’m Back’ which was also the name of Walter’s world tour. Walter’s guitar playing is full of such power and intricacy that every note was like he was ringing a bell. Walter’s new bassist Johnny Griparic had rhythm coming out of his ears and his bass was driven and fierce during the emotional ‘Goodbye To The Blues’ which Walter told us was in A minor. Walter dedicated this to the late great B.B. King who Walter had met when he was sixteen. ‘I asked him to sign my album and he talked to me for over an hour’ Walter recalled. His guitar sounded orchestral in parts and you could really tell that there is real warmth and love in this band which is wonderful to witness.

‘This is the depressing part of the programme. Marie (Walter’s wife and manager) went out one day and I wrote six songs in a couple of hours by the time she got back.’ ‘Almost Gone’ was proof that Walter had a remarkable recovery and lyrics like ‘I can feel my body closing down’ describes the horrifying experience in the only way Walter Trout can; through the power of music.

‘Omaha’ conveyed the harsh reality of organ transplants as Marie Trout had done some research and found that the liver transplant statistics  in Los Angeles were that out of one hundred people only eighteen survive. Compare that with Omaha, Nebraska and the figures are eighty two out of one hundred survive. So they transported Walter to Omaha via helicopter and then he spent time after the surgery in recovery at Nebraska Medical Center for five months in the liver ward. Walter recounted ‘There were days when  somebody in the ward died while  waiting. I’d hear families out in the hall crying and doctors trying to comfort them’. 

‘Omaha’ is a heartbreaking song and he captured the emotion beautifully and Walter’s guitar just cried out. Walter was then joined onstage by one of his sons Jon Trout for ‘Tomorrow Seems So Far Away’ and Jon played some really funky electric guitar. ‘Playin’ Hideaway’ was very ZZ Top and the crowd was singing along throughout and drummer Michael Leasure really excelled on this track.

‘I’m Haunted By The Night’ really captured Walter’s fear and it is lyrically one of the best tracks on his new album ‘Battle Scars’ for me and ‘Far Away’ was about Walter’s near-death experience which in Walter’s words ‘Concludes the depressing part of the programme. I just wanna jam with my kid!’

Jon Trout came back for ‘Rock Me Baby’ and the crowd loved the father and son playing guitar together as the audience roared with approval. As they hugged it was clear that they had both come a long way but they did it together as a family. Then the band went into ‘I Can Tell’ and Walter introduced his friend and fellow blues guitarist Danny Bryant who provided a roaring solo as Walter let him play out. It was a beautiful snapshot of their friendship and talent and not their egos.  Danny Bryant’s new studio album ‘Blood Money’ is released on Friday 29th January 2016 and features Walter Trout as a special guest on the title track. For more information visit: http://justlistentothis.co.uk/reviews/danny-bryant-new-album-and-february-2016-uk-tour-announcement/

During ‘I Can Tell’, drummer Michael Leasure threw a drumstick up in the air and caught it but unfortunately he dropped it the second time as the crowd cheered. The third and final time during his drum solo which was the epitome of cool he caught the stick and everyone loved it.

‘Marie’s Mood’ was an instrumental that Walter had written about the love for his family and it was a pleasant piece of music and was perfect for the evening. The band then left the stage and the crowd chanted for an encore. The band then walked back on for an instrumental of ‘Amazing Grace’ and the energy from Walter, his band and his guests translated throughout the  O2 Forum Kentish Town like an electromagnetic pulse.

Everyone in that venue witnessed a piece of music history take place as Walter Trout, a man who has released 42 albums (18 of those released by the Netherlands-based Provogue label) returned to the live stage after a serious life-threatening illness and liver transplant.

Seeing Walter Trout ultimately survive such an ordeal with the overwhelming support from his family, friends, fellow musicians, his record label and his worldwide fanbase proves that there are kind and caring people in the world and even though some people and organisations try to destroy our way of life, the human spirit and human love will always prevail and if someone needs help like Walter and his family did then people will help as the fan-organised YouCaring campaign proved.

Ladies and gentleman, Walter Trout is officially back!

Glenn Sargeant

Visuals: Kieran White at KW Media

For more images please visit www.kieran-white.com 

(Many thanks to Walter Trout, Steve Marsh and Lee Puddefoot at Mascot Label Group, Danny Bryant, Walter Trout’s band and crew and the venue staff at O2 Forum Kentish Town for all of their support and hospitality)