Yet it still comes as some surprise that Walter Trout, whose name would barely raise an eyebrow to many American listeners, was named by BBC Radio One as their sixth best guitarist of all time.
A listen to Trout's "Common Ground," released July 6 on Provogue Records, reveals the British are right about this California-based guitar slinger.
Trout rings every ounce of emotion out of his weathered Stratocaster, proving himself one of the best in the game at blues rock guitar.
The cover of "Common Ground" says a lot about the music within. Trout's worn Fender is buried, nearly to the neck, in a field of grain. What's inside is earthy, no-frills roots music, played without excess adornment.
Instead, what Trout gives listeners is what makes the blues so appealing -- raw emotion. Anything he is unable to convey with his tortured voice, he completes with the crying of the guitar.
The high point of the album is probably "Her Other Man," with its tale of infidelity and pain.
But while the lyrics tell quite a story, Trout spends less than a third of the song's 6:33 runtime weaving the tale vocally. The rest is dedicated to his guitar, backed by Jon Cleary (organ), James "Hutch" Hutchinson (bass) and Kenny Aronoff (drums).
Other songs of note include the title track, the autobiographical "Open Book," the funky "Danger Zone" and the good-time boogie of "Loaded Gun."
"Song for My Guitar" also provides a nice moment, as Trout pens a love song to his Stratocaster. One look at the instrument proves Trout and his instrument have been faithful to one another. The guitar is reminiscent of the late Joe Strummer's Telecaster or Willie Nelson's acoustic guitar.
Why trade in if you've got perfection right there in your hands?
As good as the album is, though, one gets the feeling that, like most good blues songs, these tunes would be best experienced live. Whether in a huge concert hall or a tiny bar, these are the sorts of song that really ratchet up the energy and emotion when played live.
Trout displays the distinct ability to connect with an audience.
Trout has had a long, accomplished career, and "Common Ground" simply adds another chapter to the story.
When we talk about the guitarists we treasure, this guy should really be among them. With well over three decades in the music business, he's certainly earned a spot as a revered bluesman.
This album has what we should all want out of our music: a tight crew of top-notch musicians, honest writing and a truckload of raw emotion.
Anyone who doesn't know Trout's music, but appreciates good guitar work needs to give it a listen. For anyone who's already a fan, it's an absolute must.
Released: July 6 on Provogue Records
The players: Walter Trout-guitar, vocals, harmonica, mandolin; Kenny Aronoff-drums; James "Hutch" Hutchinson-bass; Jon Cleary-keyboards
Produced, mixed and mastered by: John Porter
Engineered by: Doug Tyo