The Roots Report: An Interview with Derek Trucks

I spoke with Derek Trucks of the Tedeschi-Trucks band a couple of weeks ago. They will be coming to the Providence Performing Arts Center on July 7th.  He was in his hotel room during the afternoon prior to doing an evening show in Selbyville, Delaware.

John Fuzek: Hey, it’s John from Motif Magazine is this Derek?
Derek Trucks: Yeah, man, how are you?
JF: Good, how are you?
DT: I’m good, man
JF: Thanks for taking the call
DT: Yeah, man, thanks for reachin’ out!
JF: Are you doing a show down there tonight (Delaware)?
DT: Yeah, we’re doing a show tonight with Fred Tackett and Paul Barrere from Little Feat, it’ll be fun!
JF: So, In RI you are doing a show with Hot Tuna? Will it be electric or acoustic Hot Tuna?
DT: I think it’s going to be electric, I think that they are doing the electric trio, I am not positive but that’s what i thought that they were doing. We’ve done some shows with Jorma recently where he’s played solo acoustic but I think they’re plugging in for this one.
JF: With your band set up I wouldn’t think that there would be any room left on the stage!
DT: yeah, we’ll make room! (laughs) For those guys we’ll sort it out! (laughs)
JF: Jorma is an interesting guy I have talked to him a few times!
DT: Yeah, he’s great, I love Jorma! That dude has been around for a ton and seen a ton but he is a sweetheart.
JF: He is pretty cool! I had a late friend who used to teach at his Fur Peace Ranch
DT: Is that right? I have heard it’s a great spot
JF: So, I have seen your band and it is pretty amazing. When I saw your band a couple of years ago I hadn’t heard your music prior to the show and I still really got into it. It’s big. How did you put this band together?
DT: You know over the years, I have been on the road close to thirty years now, it’s crazy, you always play with certain people and you kind of log it in the back of your mind about if I was ever going to put a band together I’d like to call that person (laughs) and with this band it was us reaching into those places and just calling everybody (laughs) we wanted to play with, it evolved over the last 7 or 8 years  but when I decided I was going to leave the Allman Brothers and I was ready to move on from my solo band and I was going to star something from scratch, I reached out to Susan and asked her if she was maybe into forming a band together and we talked about it for quite a while and we decided if we were ever going to try to put a big band together now would be a good time to do it, you know some of it is a leap of faith, what we were doing was working pretty well, I mean her solo band and her career was rolling along and my group seemed to be getting a little bigger every year but you know I think you have to, when you feel like you can see around the corner and you might run out of gas (laughs), and you feel like you want to do something else I feel that that’s the time, you want to keep the flame lit, you don’t want it to feel like work or you’re out of inspiration and I just felt like I had been doing the same thing since I was fourteen and I was ready to start from scratch and she was into as well, so we jumped on in
JF: when did you actually start playing the guitar?
DT: nine years old
JF: and you were playing with the Allmans at fourteen, and i was just LEARNING to play the guitar at fourteen… wow
DT: (laughs) yeah, a lot of it happened pretty quick, I think the first time I sat in with them, Well Gregg and a few of the guys, Well, Greg and my uncle and Warren and Alan Woody came out when I was nine and sat in in this little club in South Florida and  I think I sat in with them a year or two later but all of that feels like a different lifetime (laughs) that was a long time ago, it felt surreal then
JF: so what inspired you to pick up a slide? kids usually don’t go with a slide so early on in their playing
DT: It was just the sound of the records that were around our house, the “Fillmore East”, the “Layla” record, Elmore James, I just really loved the sound of Duane’s guitar, I think that’s why I really wanted to pick up the slide in the first place, and then when i got a hold of it, it just a, a lot of those things starting making sense, you know, at that age you don’t ever think things, if you hear a sound in your head and you can somewhat get to it, it’s kind of fun (laughs)
JF: I watched the video of you at fourteen playing with the Allman’s and i was like, “Shit, I can’t do that now!”
DT: (laughs) That’s funny, I can’t either sometimes!
JF: (laughs) Are you still playing in open “E” tuning?
DT: yeah, almost all the time
JF: I have seen a lot of people perform over the years and you are probably the only one i have ever seen plant their feet and dig in and play, not really moving from that spot, you are just so focused.
DT: That’s funny because for so long i would get shit for that (laughs)…you know, being a kind and being on the road, people would come up and say “are you not happy? why are you not smiling? (laughs) they would come up and try to mother you and think that you are just miserable but I was kind of just enjoying this! It seemed like every third or fourth review of my solo band really focused on that! (laughs) it looked like I didn’t want to be there (laughs) BUT I have always been of the mindset that “we know why we’re here!” (laughs) I don’t remember if it was a quote I read or maybe a quote that my dad told me that Duane said or something, they were in a band and they were all wearing these really nice uniforms and he said, “we’re here to play music, it’s not a fashion show!” (laughs) that kind of always stuck with me, too. You know what, just plant your feet and go! I remember seeing some black and white footage of John Coltrane from the Miles’ “So What” era and there was something about seeing him, eyes closed, playing, and then later this player named John Gillmore, just seeing the ways those guys would dig in and you could tell that every ounce of energy they had was focused on the melody they were playing and what they were reaching for and that always stuck with me, so whenever someone tells me I am not moving around enough those are the guys that I would think about (laughs)
JF: I noticed that you play mostly with your fingers but have a pick stuck between your fingers
DT: Not so much anymore, I dropped the pick so much I just left it on the ground (laughs)
JF: I always try to check out guitar players’ rigs and I don’t seem to see any effects pedals with yours, do you use them?
DT: No, umm, usually just straight into the amp, every now and then MAYBE i will put something in, to experiment with, but I turn it on once every five shows, (laughs), I usually don’t even like a tuner in line, when I want to tune I will pull the cord out of the amp and go right into the amp, when an amp is sounding good and you have it where you want it when the tube are firing I feel like anything in the way kind of changes that relationship, I try to keep it as direct and clean as I can
JF: You play an (Gibson) SG, right?
DT: Yes
JF: What year is it?
DT: It’s a reissue, it’s fake old (laughs)
JF: What are you using for amps?
DT: There’s a guy in New Jersey named Alessandro and he’s been building me these amps, he’s been working on my Supers for a while, it’s kind of a cross between a Super Reverb and a Dumble, it’s a great sounding amp especially when the room sounds right.
JF: I like to see what folks use and I did especially for you because I thought to myself “he is getting some great sounds” and these days guitarists use pedal boards that are three feet wide and two feet deep
DT: (laughs) that’s true! You know I think about that a lot and it hits me like, i don’t think that years from now people will be trying to emulate those sounds, (laughs) ’cause we all tend to go back to the same places, when you are thinking of tone you think of Duane and Jimi used effects but they were very specific things he was using, or Albert King or BB King or Freddie, I think that those are the guys that will always be the touchstones for the way a guitar should sound
JF: Of all the folks that you have played music with who has been the one that you enjoyed the most?
DT: We’ve been so fortunate that it’s hard to narrow it down, I mean the guys that i played with for years, Kofi Burgridge in our band is one of my favorite musicians that i have ever played with, there’s something new coming out of him every night, which is an amazing thing, he plays keyboard, flute, Kofi is amazing, but then you think about getting to spend time with BB King and be on tour with him, and play music with him, I mean that stuff you never imagine that you are going to get to do, we had some real connections with him, some real musical and personal connections and that’s amazing stuff, you know, Clapton was amazing to be on the road with, him and Doyle Bramhall, I really learned a lot being out with those two, Jimmy Herring, these are guys you get to play with and they become your closest friends and musical allies in a lot of ways
JF: A few months ago i came across a concert by TTB of you doing a recreation of a Mad Dogs and Englishmen show. What inspired that to happen?
DT: Those few days were amazing, the rehearsals, seeing all of the original members getting back together for the first time in 40 years, that whole thing was pretty over the top,  we had done a few shows with Leon Russell with our band, he had opened and then sat in with us, it was a pretty great connection right out of the gate, I think Leon is one of those guys that doesn’t like too much music that is going on now so that fact that he enjoyed the band and accepted the band was a pretty big deal, i mean you could tell that he was into it, it sparked some of those thoughts about Mad Dogs and his music so it was a great connection and from time to time people would do interviews with Leon and he would speak very highly of the band and what was going on so that, we had that connection with him, at that festival in Virginia they always try to pair a band with some other big artists and have these strange one off shows and they contacted us about a year before we did the Mad Dogs thing about having Joe Cocker come and sit in with the band, and we thought it was a great idea so we reached out to Joe Cocker and his management and we had started kind of piecing it together and thinking about tunes and they seemed receptive, and about that time Joe got sick and they canceled all of the shows that they were doing the next year and then he passed away, so between the time that we started talking to him and that show happened he had passed and the idea came up, “should we do a Joe tribute?”, I liked the idea but we hadn’t met him or really connected with him yet, so it didn’t seem real enough, but then we thought about doing a Mad Dogs and Englishmen tribute and we knew Leon and i figured that I would reach out to him and if it was something that he was interested in then we would pursue it, I really thought is was only a 20% chance that he would want to do it because I’d read enough stories about how crazy that tour was, it kind of spun everyone out, it was magic while it happened but I wasn’t sure that it was something that they would want to revisit, but he was wide open to is and as soon as Leon was into it anyone else that was in the band heard about it and was down, I think that they were all shocked, too, they were like “Leon’s in?” (laughs) Rita Coolidge and Claudia Lennear, and Bobby Torres, it was an amazing thing that happened and it was great to be a part of it and I think that our band learned a lot from doing that, you know even just learning all that material was great for the band and some of those tunes have remained in and out of our sets since then, so there was really a lot of beautiful music there. Chris Stainton that I played with in Clapton’s band was in the original Mad Dogs, there was a lot of talent on that stage

JF: I don’t really want to bring it up but I would be remiss if I didn’t, but we just talked about Joe Cocker dying, and Gregg (Allman) recently passed, Butch (Trucks) passed, all these great performers are passing away, it’s really sad and I know that you were close to them, I am sure that has had a profound impact on you and your life

DT: Yeah, those guys and Colonel Bruce Hampton we were super tight with, it does feel like an end of an era in a lot of ways, most of the giants have split, so, it makes you, I mean it makes you think and be thankful about the time that you had with them,you really got to share a lot of life and music with these people, heroes and family, it’s a crazy thing to wrap your head around but it also makes you reevaluate what you are doing in some ways where you realize that you have to keep those flames lit, we always felt that way anyways but then you start realizing when BB’s gone, and Leon and Levon Helm and Butch and Gregg, and a lot of these guys that were the keepers you gotta take up that mantle and keep charging down the road ’cause there’s not a lot of us out here doing it that way where you really are thinking about the music first and you took time to learn how to play an instrument (laughs), you’re not out there trying to bullshit people 24/7, it adds a little weight to what you’re doing in a way but then you think about it you don’t want it to be over whelming but then you think that we’ve all been training for this for a long time and we’ve all been groomed for this and this is just what you do, you just gotta keep doing it (laughs) out buddy Colonel Bruce Hampton he would say, “90% of it is showing up!” (laughs), you already did the leg work, you just got to keep doing it! You just can’t tap out,
JF: Do you think anyone new is out there is doing any good stuff? Is there any hope for music?
DT: I mean there’s always hope, in some ways I think back to when I was first on the road, I think I felt the same way then, I thought, “Wow, it’s never been this bad”, (laughs) all dog shit everywhere, but there’s always a handful of musicians and things that you don’t know about yet, I feel like there’s always an underground scene, I don’t think that that drive to really connect through music is ever really going to go away. I mean one of the bands that we are touring with this summer, The Wood Brothers, every record that they put out I feel like it could have held up in any of our favorite decades of music, they have a record called Loaded, that I feel like every song on that record is pretty classic and timeless, so there are people out there doing it, but it is certainly far from the mainstream, and i feel like it’s always a but of an uphill battle which is why I, we, feel insanely lucky to be able to keep a 12 piece band together doing what we’re doing, I mean we feel like we are spies sometimes, people are showing up, for so long you do it that and you think that it’s this impossible uphill climb and then it slowly starts working but you never lose that edge and I am with you,man, you look around at a lot of the festivals now and most of them are going EDM, there’s a huge stage with a half million dollars in lighting show and a laptop (laughs) I mean it may work for some people, but that’s not John Coltrane for me
JF: I mean there is SOME talent to it but it’s not like playing guitar
DT: right, these are two different things, it’s high art and it’s things to go with your buzz (laughs)
JF: Exactly! I was out the other night with my girlfriend and we popped your CD in and she said, “Wow, this is a really great band!”
DT: thanks, there is a lot of great talent there, we love being able to do it
JF: I have always been curious, I know the Allmans had this, but what is the advantage of having two drummers?
DT: It obviously has to be the right two because it’s not good if it’s the wrong people, but when it works, man, there’s  just an energy and a weight to it that you just can’t get any other way, it feels like a freight train coming when it’s working, the two guys in the band listen hard to each other
JF: What are you listening to these days?
DT: We have been in the midst of writing and thinking about a new record so I have been listening to a lot of the tunes that we have been writing (laughs) we are down that rabbit hole at the moment, i mean i still listen to, you listen for inspiration a lot of times and it’s still Albert King and some of those Taj Mahal records and Nina Simone
JF: This is a question from a reader, “Seeing the similarities in the jam band scene and the current generation of jazz players how can these two spheres of music intersect/interact and should they?”
DT: I think they do, I think there are a lot of those blurred lines I mean bands like Soul Live and a lot of those groups kind of in and around New York City i think there are a lot of connections between those two scenes I mean some of it is kind of regional I think that there’s only the only driving jam scenes are only in a few major cities so that seems to be where that connects but there’s a lot of connections and mutual respect between those two scenes
JF: How did you and Susan get together in the first place?
DT: She was on the road opening for the Allman Brothers in 1999 when I had just joined the band so we were on the road together for months and months, though I think we had met once before in a club in Atlanta when we were playing down there but where we got to know each other was on that  Allman’s tour.
JF: It was something I was always curious about because it seemed so random
DT: It’s a small world out here in the touring musician’s scene (laughs)
JF: Well, I really appreciate taking the time and chatting with me. Just one more thing, what do you have on tap for the Providence Performing Arts Center Show on July 7th?
DT: We vary our set lists from night to night and we are kind of in the process of writing tunes and adding stuff to the set so between now and then it’s kind of hard to know what kind of show it will be, there’s a lot of records to dip into now so it’s fun
JF: So, I imagine this is going to be a pretty long show?
DT: Yeah, I think so, probably four and a half or so hours between all the bands so everyone will get a chance to stretch out a bit, a lot of people on stage you gotta pass the ball around (laughs)
JF: Ok, thanks so much!
DT: yeah, man, see you soon!

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