By MIKE CHAIKEN
Walter Trout is honest.
“I thought I was done,” said the blues guitarist in a phone interview earlier this year.
He recalled how he was in a hospital in Nebraska. His liver had failed. He had just had a transplant. He had lost more than 120 pounds, half of his body weight.
Walter said his son came to visit him in the hospital and brought along the bluesman’s trusty Fender Strat. His son wanted Walter to play again.
But, said Walter, “I was too weak to hold the guitar or lift it.”
So the nurses handed the Strat to him.
“I couldn’t press down on the strings,” said Walter. “I lost all my muscle.”
That’s when he thought his days as a bluesman were over.
But when he went home at last after the transplant, he said, “I played and played.”
“Now I think I’m playing better than ever,” said Walter.
“I feel great,” said Walter, who is back up to a healthy weight.
Fans will get a chance to see for themselves how great Walter is playing when the fully recovered guitarist steps up on the stage at the Infinity Music Hall in Norfolk Friday night.
As Walter explained it, the liver disease snuck up on him. He would get cramps in his left forearm and hands. He said he tried everything to resolve it, but it didn’t work.
“I was in excruciating pain,” said Walter, who is a recovering alcoholic.
He had no idea it was liver disease.
At the time his liver was failing, he and his family were living in Los Angeles. He needed a new liver. But there were too many people ahead of him waiting for a liver as well. His wife discovered that he had an 18 percent survival rate if he stayed in LA. In Nebraska, he would have an 83 percent chance of survival.
The family moved to Nebraska. Within seven weeks of moving to Omaha, Walter said he had a new liver.
At that point if a transplant was not performed, Walter said doctors expected him to survive no more than 10 days.
“I was pretty much dead,” he said.
As the disease took its toll on Walter’s body, it also played with his head.
“I would lay in my hospital bed and watch myself on YouTube,” said Walter. “I couldn’t relate to that guy.”
“I can’t do that and I don’t think I can do it again,” Walter said he told himself.
When Walter wrote and recorded his most recent album, “The Blues Came Calling,” he was already sick. (This was prior to the transplant.) “I was barely able to walk… I’d drive to the studio and hobble in.”
Where he normally would spend 10 hours a day in the studio, said Walter, now he could only manage two hours. There were a few days where Walter would have studio time booked and he had to call in. “I can’t do it today.”
“It was pretty tough,” he said.
And those times informed the music found in the grooves of that release.
Fans offered a great deal of support during those dark days in the hospital and after the transplant, thanks to the posts shared by his wife on his website. The fans offered words of support. And they also offered up donations through a crowdsource funding account established by Walter.
The assistance from fans was needed, said Walter. The medical expenses were mounting. And since Walter was sick, he couldn’t play. And if he couldn’t play, he couldn’t tour to earn a living.
“The response was overwhelming.”
During his illness, Walter found out that his music meant something to people. “It was an incredible thing to realize.’
Now, the liver is doing fine. Walter is doing fine. And when he was interviewed, it was clear he was rejuvenated.
By the time you read this, Walter was expected to have entered the studio to record a follow up to “The Blues Came Calling.” He said he had accumulated a lot of musical and lyrical ideas, given his circumstances.
“It’s taken me a while to figure out what I want to say and how I want to say it,” said Walter. “The last album was dark,” he said. Now, he said, all he sees in his life is sunshine.
However, he said, don’t expect him to record an album of variations of “Kumbaya.” After all, he is a bluesman.
The blues is about living a hard life. And Walter has been through some hard times.
“It’s definitely deepened my appreciation for the genre,” said Walter of his chosen musical form.
“I love lots of music… Charlie Mingus, Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell, Bill Monroe,” said Walter, “but the blues has been always first and foremost my favorite.”
When Walter comes to Connecticut, fans will hear a musician who has been practicing every day for this opportunity.
Given how long he was laid up, said Walter, “It’s almost like starting over. I’m learning my entire catalogue. I’m going through 22 albums. We’re doing songs we’ve never done live or resurrected for the set list.” It’s also the first time he’s had a chance to play in concert the songs from “The Blues Came Calling.” When the album finally came out, he was too ill to tour behind that album.
Walter Trout and his band play the Infinity Music Hall, Route 44, Norfolk on Friday, July 31 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $34 to $44
For more information, go to InfinityHall.com or WalterTrout.com
By MIKE CHAIKEN