[Slowhand] Derek Trucks

Scott Wallenberg scottw at racerxill.com
Sat Apr 1 15:51:06 EST 2006

By Steve Wildsmith

of The Daily Times Staff

Judging by his schedule this summer, it's safe to conclude that Derek Trucks
is either (a) insane, (b) a workaholic or (c) one of the most dedicated, as
well as one of the most talented, guitarists on the planet.

Probably a little of all three. Even to Trucks himself, his decision to tour
this summer with his own band as the opening act for the Allman Brothers
Band, for which he also plays guitar, while juggling guitar duties on rocker
Eric Clapton's summer tour -- all at the same time -- makes his stomach

Factor in trying to balance responsibilities as a husband (to
singer-songwriter Susan Tedeschi) and father to two small children (Trucks
is only 26), and it can get downright nauseating.

``When Blake (Budney, the Derek Trucks Band's road manager) sent me my
schedule for this summer, I told him immediately not to send it to me
anymore,'' Trucks told The Daily Times this week, chuckling with equal parts
weariness and anxiety. ``I don't want to see how crazy it looks on paper. It
seems less overwhelming if I don't have it right in front of me, staring me
in the face.''

In reality, such a hectic schedule should be nothing new to Trucks, who's
been performing professionally since he was 9. He comes by his musical
virtuosity honestly -- his uncle, Butch Trucks, is the drummer and one of
the founding members of the Allman Brothers Band. The young Trucks first
shared the stage with the group when he was 12.

As a boy, Trucks proved his virtuosity by mastering the guitar in a few
short years. He picked up the instrument for the first time when his father,
a manual laborer raising a family in Jacksonville, Fla., while his more
famous brother toured the world as an Allman, bought a used guitar for $5 at
a yard sale. Trucks, who had grown up on the music of his uncle's band,
immediately conjured the ghost of band founder Duane Allman, who died in a
motorcycle wreck early in the band's career.

It was only two years later that Trucks was touring the Jacksonville area
with his own band, Derek and the Dominators. Emulating Duane Allman and
blues great Elmore James, he began playing slide guitar, but by the time he
was 14, he began to incorporate elements of Indian classical music and jazz
into his repertoire. His teenage years were a dizzying combination of
touring and education -- both in pursuit of a diploma and his dream.

Thanks to his connections with uncle Butch, Trucks was introduced to
musicians that included Buddy Guy, Bob Dylan, Col. Bruce Hampton and Willie
Nelson. But it was Trucks' guitar playing that earned him a spot on the
stage alongside these icons, as well as in jam sessions with groups such as
Blues Traveler, Widespread Panic and Phish.

Gradually, Trucks' various groups grew into the Derek Trucks Band, which
today includes bassist Todd Smallie, drummer Yonrico Scott, keyboardist and
flute player Kofi Burbridge and vocalist Mike Mattison, who's joined the
fold for the band's most recent album, ``Songlines,'' released earlier this
year. (An unofficial sixth member, percussion guru Count M'butu, took part
in the ``Songlines'' sessions as well.)

``I think this is our most complete album to date,'' Trucks said. ``I think
it's too early to tell, really, where it fits in the whole grand scheme of
things (the Derek Trucks Band released its first album in 1997), but it's
definitely a turning point for the group, and I think Mike was the missing

``He's just a great guy to be around, and he's hugely talented. We have to
have guys who are both, and it's great having somebody who's attitude and
music fit with everyone else in the group. For a long time, we wanted to
write tunes for a vocalist, but we really didn't have the right voice to
write for. Now, it feels like all the pieces are there.''

``Songlines'' has a distinctively exotic feel, thanks to M'butu's
African-based percussive rhythms and the influences of world music from
India and the Caribbean on Trucks' composing. Of course, it's anchored in
the blues and Southern rock, which Trucks was weaned on, but the flavors
combine for a rich stew that's received glowing reviews from the music

Already a veteran, however, Trucks has learned over the years not to give a
lot of thought to the ink his work receives, good or bad.

``You try to let that stuff just kind of roll off your back, because you
have to focus on what you do,'' he said. ``Luckily, with two young kids
running around, I don't have time to take that [stuff] serious. I have other
things on my mind. Besides, you don't really put that much weight in that
stuff, whether it's good or bad press, because you have to have some amount
of confidence in what you do. Even if they're over the top about it or if
they don't understand it at all, hopefully you know what you do and how much
better that you want to get and where you actually stand.

``And of course it's always nice when you actually do release a record and
the feedback is positive. It keeps you on the path of what you're doing,
because when you do a record and you get that involved in something, even
when it feels good to you, you're really not sure how good it is.

``But you have to take the good press with a grain of salt, too,'' he said.
``It's great to be recognized, but you don't really feel like all the sudden
you're playing that much better or the band's took this huge leap. I think a
lot of what's being said is a result of all the legwork of years and years
of hitting the road starting to catch up, and that's a nice feeling.''

Of course, Trucks can't escape the attention he gets for being a member of
his other band, the Allman Brothers. Although he's been sharing the stage
with the legendary group, which rose to fame in the early 1970s and gave
birth to the Southern rock genre, for almost a decade, he was asked to join
in 1999. The band, founded on the sound of two incredible guitarists --
Duane Allman and co-founder Dickey Betts -- trading licks and matching each
other solo-for-solo, had gone through several great ax-players over the
years, and suddenly Trucks was catapulted into the position of playing
alongside Betts. (Betts has since been replaced by Gov't Mule founder Warren

It was with some measure of trepidation, Trucks said, that he approached the
band about the opportunity to tour with Clapton this summer.

``It's one of those things much like when I got the offer to join the Allman
Brothers -- it's just kind of a no-brainer, and I knew I had to do it,'' he
said. ``It's a huge honor to be asked, because Eric has seen it all and been
through it all. He's made classic records two or three times, and `Layla'
(which Clapton recorded as part of Derek and the Dominoes, alongside Duane
Allman) is the reason I started playing music.

``I was really surprised at how supportive everybody was. I just told them
that I couldn't not do it, and they were excited. Clapton was one of those
guys around before the Allman Brothers Band, so they had a huge respect for
him from the beginning. If it had been anyone else, they might have been
freaked out, but with him, they understood.''

Saturday's show at ``The Shed,'' on the Smoky Mountain Harley-Davidson &
Buell lot in Maryville, will be one of the few times Trucks won't be pulling
double duty -- this summer, the Derek Trucks Band will open for the Allman
Brothers, meaning Trucks will be playing the entire night. And when the
Allman Brothers aren't playing, he'll be jetting to wherever Clapton is
performing to play alongside the man whom inspired English graffiti in the
1960s that read ``Clapton is God.''

Crazy or not, Trucks looks at it as the opportunity of a lifetime.

``It's insane, but it's going to be an honor to do it,'' he said. ``Playing
with him and getting to hit all these places he's playing, all these venues
around the world that I've always wanted to visit -- it's amazing. Plus,
it's going to be family-friendly, so my wife and my kids will be able to tag
along when we rehearse for three weeks in the south of France.

``My life has just been an interesting run that way. Everything just falls
into place. It's overwhelming at times, but to do the Allman Brothers thing
for all these years and then have Eric Clapton call you, you realize how
fortunate you are.''


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