[Slowhand] Derek and Eric Wall St. Journal

Scott Wallenberg scottw at racerxill.com
Wed Mar 1 18:02:40 EST 2006


Allman and Clapton Are Playing With Trucks


Three things worth knowing about Derek Trucks: He is young, he is a
veteran, and he is the most awe-inspiring electric slide guitar player
performing today. That may seem both a bold and contradictory claim; let's
take it one step at a time.

A youthful 26, Mr. Trucks played his first paying gig at age nine in his
hometown of Jacksonville, Fla., and at 14 began building the band he
currently leads. Since then, he has toured under his own name, jammed with
guitar heroes like Buddy Guy and Joe Walsh, and, since 1999, been an
integral part of the Allman Brothers Band (which includes his uncle Butch
Trucks on drums) filling the role originated by slide guitarist Duane
Allman, who died in 1971.

In recent weeks, rock radio has leaked the news that Mr. Trucks will be
part of Eric Clapton's handpicked touring entourage for most of 2006. "Last
year I started hearing various rumors that Clapton might be looking for a
slide player, and then I got a call to come out to Los Angeles," Mr. Trucks
said recently from a hotel room while appearing in San Francisco. "To hear
his guitar sound! He's one of those guys who's been able to keep his tone.
It was the same hands, the same technique. You remember really quick why he
is who he is."

An obvious question: Will they re-create "Layla," the timeless rock anthem
from 1970 that featured Duane Allman alongside Mr. Clapton as Derek and the

"Eric brought up the Duane connection, but it was more off the cuff. It
would be a thrill to play those tunes with him, but I think once the band
gets together it will kind of lead itself. I know when and where I'm
supposed to be for rehearsals, and that's about it."

The recent release of Mr. Trucks's sixth album, "Songlines" -- which will
itself require time on the road -- promises an exhausting year ahead. But
Mr. Trucks's commitment to his own group is steadfast. "I could feel it was
a real turning point while we were doing the record. We grew into a band
making this album, rather than just capturing a live performance in a
studio, which is pretty much what we've done till that point."

Mr. Trucks is proud of his groove-producing sextet, whose musicians range
from men in their 20s to one in his 60s. Singer Mike Mattison,
percussionist Count M'Butu and keyboardist-flutist Kofi Burbridge are
recent arrivals, while bassist Todd Smallie and drummer Yonrico Scott
started with the guitarist when he was in his mid-teens. "The last three
years it's been snowballing. I think everyone's starting to realize that
the band is forming its own sound now."

Combine the band's progress, the new album, and the Clapton world tour, and
add an appearance this coming Friday on Conan O'Brien -- his band's
national television debut -- and it seems certain that Mr. Trucks's career
is poised to reach a higher level. Whatever happens, he's already drawing
to his concerts 20-somethings who regard the Allmans, Mr. Clapton and
similar '60s stars as progenitors of the current jam-band scene, as well as
gray-haired rockers who heard those bands in their prime and still prefer
their music with guitars out front and a solid blues foundation underneath.

Yet whether it's blues-rock or jam-band, Mr. Trucks bristles at being
confined to any one musical category. "There's not a scene I really am head
over heels about. I don't think there's any that completely fit the bill
for what we're trying to do, you know?"

Mr. Trucks's new album opens with a rousing version of jazzman Rahsaan
Roland Kirk's "Volunteered Slavery," leading to the Southern soul of "I'll
Find My Way," the electrified Delta blues of "Crow Jane," and eventually
Caribbean rhythms and an Indian raga. "I think there's a way to incorporate
all these styles that the band is playing so that it's more of an original
music and not just a collision of different genres."

When Mr. Trucks appears live, the band's set lists are as diverse as his
recordings. When he slips a small medicine bottle onto his finger and
touches it to the strings, his guitar is the thread pulling it all together
with an unhurried fluidity that reveals a musician who has learned to speak
through his instrument. That he chose to focus on slide guitar as a
pre-adolescent has much to do with it.

"The first connection I had with it was listening to Duane Allman on the
Allman Brothers' 'Live at Fillmore East' and to [bluesman] Elmore James.
The sound just really struck me and made me want to do that. That, and
having small hands. When you're nine years old, it didn't hurt as much to
play slide.

"Later on I felt like it was pretty much only with the slide that I could
get out what I was trying to do musically. It's a fretless instrument, so
you can get all the little nuances that vocalists get that you can't get on
other instruments."

Mr. Trucks found that what he was attempting on slide guitar had little
precedence: The majority of slide specialists who came before him had kept
to an established blues-rock approach. "As an instrument, it has territory
I could really explore," he says, "while with the electric guitar, after
Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan, you have just a thousand clones out
there. The slide guitar really is kind of untapped."

Onstage, Mr. Trucks is unorthodoxy in action: Often his right hand snaps,
more than plucks, the strings. Unlike most guitarists, he plays straight to
the amplifier without pedals or special effects, yet can elicit the breathy
detail of a saxophone or the growl of a well-tempered chainsaw. On his new
album, he produces a grating, oil-drum effect on "Mahjoun." On the "Crow
Jane" track, he follows the vocal so closely that it is moments before it
registers that the melodic line has been assumed by the guitar.

"I try to be ultra-sensitive with whomever I'm playing, even the guys that
I've played with for 10 years," he says. "I think part of it is I don't
want to feel like I'm completely comfortable, so I just keep working at it."

Today, Mr. Trucks still resides in Jacksonville, where his father bought
him the garage-sale guitar that started him on his journey more than 17
years ago. He and his wife, the singer-guitarist Susan Tedeschi, are
raising two children while pursuing their respective careers. (Mr. Trucks
added lyrical touches to Ms. Tedeschi's latest album, "Hope and Desire.")

Among his generation, Mr. Trucks is an anomaly: a rising rock star who is
unpierced, untattooed -- a long blond ponytail his most outstanding feature
as he closes his eyes and works his guitar in concert. Don't expect any
windmill strumming or stage leaps. (Of the recent Grammy Awards broadcast,
he says, "You had all these superstars on stage and everyone was trying to
make their big moment count. It's just not musical, man. At least sing in
tune!") Like many of his musical heroes, he favors art over artifice,
musical growth over grand, momentary gestures.

"They all stayed students, you know? They're always learning. Playing with
the Allman Brothers I get that feeling, especially with [drummers] Jaimoe
and Butch back there. They've been at it almost 40 years and they're not
resting on their laurels. They keep that fire burning."

Mr. Kahn is author of "The House That Trane Built: The Story of Impulse
Records" (W.W. Norton), to be released in June.


More information about the Slowhand mailing list