STARING up at the stage from his front row seat, a young Mitch Laddie was awestruck by his music idol Walter Trout.
The iconic Bluesman was playing a gig in Sunderland in 2004 and before aspiring teenage star Mitch knew it he was performing alongside him.
The guitar playing singer-songwriter has been performing in the region for decades - under his own name and previously with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers - and Mitch’s family was often in the audience and got to know him.
When the pair met they connected straight away.
“He was my idol and I'd just watched him from the front row in total awe for the last hour and a half.
“Before I had the chance to say hello he yelled my name and came towards me with open arms and a welcoming smile.
“We instantly hit it off and to cut a long story short, he helped me sign my first record deal and launched my career at 16.
“He could have left it there but he didn’t.
“He went on to play on my first record and has invited us on numerous UK and European tours,” says the 23-year-old, from Consett, in County Durham.
The friendship remains and Mitch credits his mentor with launching his career - so far he has released two critically acclaimed albums and has a reputation across the European blues scene as a ‘volcanic guitar genius’.
Mitch - like a legion of fans around the world- was floored when Walter was diagnosed with a life-threatening liver disease last year.
Walter's wife, Marie, says: “It has been heartbreaking for me to watch Walter struggle through these past many months, as we tried various treatment options provided by Walter’s doctors and liver specialists.
"One by one the treatments failed.
“Yet through it all, Walter’s courage and determination continually amazed me.
“Even as he has become a shadow of his former self, after losing 100 pounds and much of his strength, he continued touring, writing, playing, singing and recording.
“Music and playing for people offered Walter what it always has - it is therapy and a lifeline for him when the Blues comes callin.”
Walter has become so unwell he is currently in a Californian hospital, in and out of intensive care, awaiting a liver transplant.
He has had to pull out of his 2014 concerts, including the fourth Durham Blues Festival which he was to headline at the city's Gala Theatre this June, but hopes to be well enough to tour again next year.
Though he has medical insurance it will not cover the full costs of his treatment, including medication and aftercare, so fans around the world are raising funds to help.
More than $200,000 has been donated but more is needed so Mitch and his dad, Graham Laddie, have teamed up with friend Gary Grainger, host and producer of the award winning blues show on Bishop FM, to organise a concert called Blues for Walter.
Gary, who at the age of 61 has been nominated in the emerging artist category of The British Blues Awards, says: “Walter is very popular amongst blues fans in the North-East and played a superb headlining gig at Durham Blues festival a few years ago.
“A benefit gig was the obvious answer and many North-East blues and blues rock acts were interested in playing, in fact I could have filled three days of music without duplication of any acts.”
The event will be at Mainsforth Community Centre, in Ferryhill Station, County Durham, on Saturday, May 10 from 3.30pm to 11pm.
Acts will include Sunderland's Trevor Sewell, well known in the US and winner of many songwriting awards, and The Mentulls from Guisborough, in east Cleveland, who have supported Walter.
Top of the bill will be the Mitch Laddie Band.
Mitch says: “Walter is truly the most generous, salt of the earth guy that I’ve ever met within the music industry.
“In fact, he’s one of the kindest, most honest guys you could hope to meet in any walk of life.
“He has a true passion for helping out young musicians that he sees something in and for that, I owe the guy my career to date.
“I’m proud to call the man one of my greatest influences, my mentor and my friend.
“His illness is nothing short of devastating and it’s time for us young guys and all his fans to give something back.
“Let’s get this guitar hero back onstage so that he can inspire us for many more years to come."
Tickets for Blues for Walter are £10 from etickets.to/buy/?e=11496