'We have a liver': Words that were music to ailing bluesman's ears

Walter Trout , who grew up in Ocean City and came of age in Collingswood, was given 90 days to live in March. He has been "hanging on, stubbornly," said his wife, Marie.
Walter Trout , who grew up in Ocean City and came of age in Collingswood, was given 90 days to live in March. He has been "hanging on, stubbornly," said his wife, Marie.
Posted: May 28, 2014

The message Walter and Marie Trout have been waiting for since September finally arrived Sunday.

We have a liver that looks to be a good match for Walter.

By early Monday afternoon, Walter Trout - the international blues guitar star with South Jersey roots - was in an operating room at the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.

"The surgical nurse . . . let me know they're playing Walter's music" during the procedure, Marie wrote on her Facebook page, adding several hours later that the lead surgeon had told her: "Walter made it through the surgery with an A+."

She also wrote, "We are filled with thankfulness for this opportunity. To the donor and his or her family. To you for your support."

Walter Trout, 63, grew up in Ocean City, N.J., and came of age in Collingswood. He has been awaiting a liver transplant since last fall. In March, he was given 90 days to live.

He has been "hanging on, stubbornly," Marie, 51, said in an interview last week from the Nebraska Medical Center, where Trout has been hospitalized for nearly two months. "It's been a dreadful, dreadful wait," she said.

The couple, whose sons are 20, 18, and 12, live in Los Angeles but are in Nebraska because Trout's chances of obtaining a liver were greater there than in Los Angeles, where waiting lists are longer, Marie said.

The guitarist was too ill last week for interviews. But his website (waltertrout.com) and his wife's Facebook page (Marie Trout) have become a global fan forum - blues lovers in Europe revere him - as well as a platform for organ donation advocacy.

"There's such a shortage of organs," said Marie. "You can give an amazing gift - the gift of life - by becoming an organ donor. It doesn't cost anything. You can do it online" at organdonor.gov.

Her husband has been clean and sober for 27 years, but the hepatitis C he contracted during his drug-using days had been destroying his liver.

Trout became noticeably ill in 2013 amid plans for a 25th-anniversary celebration of his solo career. His new CD, The Blues Came Callin', will be released June 10, and a biography, Rescued from Reality, coauthored by Trout and the British writer Henry Yates, is to be published June 2.

But a grand tour of Europe, Australia, and the United States had to be postponed.

Trout went solo in 1989 after performing with the band Canned Heat and with blues legend John Mayall (who's on the new record) and his Bluesbreakers. He got his start in the late 1960s playing in South Jersey bands with names such as Cold Beer Unlimited.

"Walt Trout was the kid who was always running around playing air guitar. And how many air guitar players get to be one of the best blues guitar players in music?" said the writer Tim Kelly, 61, who lives in Ocean City and knew Trout at Collingswood High School in the late 1960s.

Trout's Collingswood years also coincided with "some dark times in his life," said another former classmate, Jerry Chambers, who helped arrange a triumphant homecoming concert for Trout and his band in 2009 at the Scottish Rite Theater.

Friends of mine who were there that night remember Trout playing a song called "Collingswood" and breaking down as the crowd gave him a standing ovation. "It was incredibly moving," Chambers recalled.

Other hometown friends have fond memories of Trout, as well.

"He tells everyone I taught him to play, but all I did was show him a few chords and a basic lead. He took it from there," said Jack Jeckot, 62, of Collingswood, a retired Mount Laurel school system music teacher.

"I could never claim to be as good as he was," Jeckot added. "You could hear a jazz influence from the very beginning. Nobody plays like Walter - he can really touch you, or he can rip your head off. It's unbelievable."

Fans have responded to Trout's plight with similar passion. An online campaign at youcaring.com has raised $225,000 (the goal is $250,000), and benefit concerts have been staged in London, Glasgow, and Oregon, as well as elsewhere in the United States.

"The blues community really takes care of its own," said longtime radio DJ Michael Tearson, who emceed a fund-raiser May 14 at the Twisted Tail in Philadelphia.

"Walter brings enormous spirit and enormous heart to the music," added Tearson, 65, of Westmont. "He has an amazing intensity."

Trout's first cousin Tracy Allen, 61, a retired draftsman who lives in Pleasantville, Atlantic County, helped organize the concert. He especially empathizes with Marie because his wife, Dee, is battling cancer.

"Walter is a superstar," Allen said."

Marie Trout noted that at least two songs on The Blues Came Callin' are colored by her husband's illness: "Wasting Away" and "The Bottom of the River."

The latter tune, he said in an interview posted on YouTube, is about when a person hits bottom and must decide, "Am I going to live or am I going to die?"

"Walter isn't pulling any punches," Marie said. "It's a beautiful testament to the power of the blues."


kriordan@phillynews.com

856-779-3845 @inqkriordan

www.inquirer.com/blinq

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