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Talkin' Blues

Derek Trucks: Moving Forward, Back Where He Started

By Published: February 24, 2009
Derek TrucksOver the past few years guitarist Derek Trucks has been on the cover of Down Beat and Rolling Stone; he's been profiled in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal; he's toured with Eric Clapton and Carlos Santana; he's guested on recordings with J.J. Cale, Elvin Bishop, Buddy Guy, David Sanborn and Nashville dobro virtuoso Jerry Douglas; and he's done a DVD with McCoy Tyner, Ron Carter, and Jack DeJohnette. A child prodigy, he joined Bob Dylan on stage when he was 12 years old. Now at 29, he's been on the road for nearly 20 years, the last 10 as a lead and slide guitarist with The Allman Brothers Band.

In his mid-teens he formed The Derek Trucks Band, which he has continued to lead in addition to his work with The Allman Brothers Band. They've toured constantly, patiently paying their dues in small venues and building a loyal and enthusiastic fan base. Their hard work paid off; in 2008 they performed on the main stage of the Monterey Jazz Festival and in January, 2009 they had the honor of performing at American President Obama's Southern Inaugural Ball.

While all this was happening, he and his wife, Susan Tedeschi, (a Grammy-nominated blues singer and guitarist), became the proud parents of two children. Despite the whirlwind life he leads, Derek Trucks projects an unflappably calm. Nor has being named a guitar god by Rolling Stone gone to his head. In fact, his modesty, near complete disregard for fashion, low-keyed stage presence, and seemingly perpetual good mood appear to have more in common with Buddha than a guitar god.

Throughout his career he's been committed to touring and live music, but now he's shifted some of his focus back to where he started: Jacksonville, Florida. His decision to build a world class studio in his backyard signals the beginning of a new and highly creative chapter in his career as he explores the art of making records.



Chapter Index
  1. Already Free, His Band and Recording Studio
  2. Eric Clapton
  3. Branford and Wynton Marsalis
  4. Carlos Santana
  5. McCoy Tyner and John Synder
  6. Crossroads: Tal Wilkenfeld and Johnny Winter
  7. The Allman Brothers, Chuck Leavell and Barbara Dennerlein
  8. Meeting President Obama
  9. What if?


Already Free, His Band and Recording Studio

All About Jazz: On your latest release, Already Free (Columbia, 2009), you made your debut as producer, and this is arguably more of a group recording than anything you've ever done. Although there's plenty of guitar on this album, it's very much an album of vocals. It seems like you were able to step back and almost see yourself as a session player, is there any truth to that?

Derek Trucks: Yeah I really enjoyed the whole process of having the studio in the back yard. Going out there with no preconceived notions of what we were going to do, writing songs every day and just starting from nothing and ending up with a fresh tune that evening—and you know trying to serve the tune. That was the idea when we started working on this record, and I've got to say it's been much more rewarding than anything I've been a part of.

I felt the attention to detail was so much more prevalent, it felt really good, and this was the first time I've ever been able to listen to a record, two, three of four months after it's finished and I've still felt like there's not a lot I would change on it. Every other record, especially the ones we would do live in the studio in one take, it would always feel good goin' down, and I'd go back and there was always stuff I'd want to go back and re-hit before the record was released. But with this one, I felt more comfortable with it because we did take our time and live with it a little while before we settled on it. It's a little bit of a departure from what we've done before, but to me it's just more of a natural evolution of the band and getting more and more comfortable in the studio with the whole recording process.

AAJ: Already Free reminds me very much of the golden years of rock in the late '60s and early '70s, when label presidents like Clive Davis allowed artists to take full advantage of the studio and develop their artist vision. The material has such a cohesive vibe and so many layers of sound. It's the first one of yours where I've had the impulse to listen to it four or five times in a row, and with each play I discovered some new detail. Were you inspired by that era when planning and producing this CD?

Derek TrucksDT: Definitely, you know when we built the studio we started acquiring old vintage gear, the got the recording console from The Kinks' studio that was in London for 25 or 30 years, so we were very much thinking of that era of recording when people really did take time to make records. They were making albums and focusing all the way in it, it wasn't overly compressed to fit the radio, and people were really striving to make lasting records. I was listening to a lot of the Sly Stone records, you know, his first three or four records, different Beatles records, different Hendrix records, even The Allman Brothers' Eat a Peach (Capricorn, 1972) and thinking more about how those records felt. That was kind of the mind set when we were making this album.

AAJ: Doyle (Bramhall II) is such an excellent fit with your band and his presence takes things in a new and interesting direction. His tracks remind me of that coming together of talent in groups like Moby Grape, Blind Faith, and Buffalo Springfield. I get the sense you two are very compatible musically, it seems like in another era you guys might have joined forces?

DT: You know we've actually talked about it. We have that band with my wife, Soul Stew Revival, and we talked about just makin' that band crazy over the top, just bringing people out, and I would love to have Doyle on the road with that band.

AAJ: Kind of like Delaney and Bonnie of the new millennium.

DT: Exactly, or Mad Dogs and Englishmen, you know, one of those over the top touring groups and you know having three great singers, Mike (Mattison), Susan (Tedeschi) and Doyle would be pretty unstoppable I think. We have a horn section in that band and I think it would be fun to get one or two strong background vocalists. I don't think those things have really been done in a while and I think it's time for it.

AAJ: That's an exciting thought, and I think that would allow you to better recreate on stage what you're doing in the studio.

DT: Yeah that's for sure, and you know the other thing we've been thinking about is how enjoyable it was to make this record. And I don't want to say easy, because there was a lot of time and energy put into it, but there weren't a lot of roadblocks once we started making it. It all happened very naturally and you know it just felt good doing it and we're all excited to get back in and just kind of continue it.

Whether it's writing tunes for Susan's record, Mike Mattison's record, Doyle's or ours, or some combination of all of them, I think when you have a studio like that it doesn't really matter, you just head out there and start throwing stuff against the wall. I think about the Muscle Shoals model, and Stax and Motown and all these old record houses where they were just a group of musicians who knew each other very well. They knew the sounds and they would just turn stuff out, and I'd like to almost get in that mindset. Not with the intention of releasing everything, but piling stuff up. When you do that, mediocre songs that would normally make it to a record get weeded out, and all the good stuff floats to the top.

AAJ: Miles Davis
Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
trumpet
liked to have people in his bands with different vibes, for example, John Coltrane
John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
saxophone
and Julian "Cannonball" Adderley
Julian
Julian "Cannonball" Adderley
1928 - 1975
saxophone
. That clash of ideas or style often resulted in a spark. Cannonball did something similar with his band by having Yusef Lateef
Yusef Lateef
Yusef Lateef
1920 - 2013
reeds
and Joe Zawinul
Joe Zawinul
Joe Zawinul
1932 - 2007
keyboard
. Who in your band is closest to you in terms of musical tastes, and who pulls you the most in a different direction?

DT: In my group I think the closest in taste would be Mike, and I think the person who probably stretches it the most is probably Kofi Burbridge, or Count M'Buto. I think because Kofi grew up in the classical world, he's got a lot of stuff he listens to that's new to me. All the guys came up in that fusion era too, they're well versed in that music, and it wasn't until later on that I really dug into that. We have a pretty wide variety of eras and backgrounds in this band, let's see, I'm in my twenties and we've got guys in their thirties, forties, fifties and sixties—we've got almost all the decades covered—it's pretty wild.

AAJ: In Dylan's biography he wrote, "There are lots of places I like, but I like New Orleans better." Already Free has a swampy feel of the deep South to it and Dylan's "Down in the Flood" is a perfect fit. Did the shock of Katrina and what happened to New Orleans have an impact on the direction of this CD?

Derek Trucks Derek Trucks and Mike Mattison

DT: When anything that major happens, especially when it happens to the musical community, I think all musicians who were sensitive to that were pretty shocked and devastated by what happened. On my wife's new record, Back to the River (Verve, 2008), she wrote a few tunes that were about Katrina. "Seven Hundred Houses" which I think is one of the better tunes on that record, is specifically about Katrina. So it was definitely on everybody's mind, so when we started thinking about that track "Down in the Flood," whether it's "Crash on the Levee" or "Down in the Flood," the first image that comes to mind now is New Orleans.

AAJ: It seemed like a full circle moment when I read that you did the final mix of Already Free at Electric Ladyland. One could argue that Hendrix's "All Along the Watchtower" might have been the greatest Dylan cover of all time. Beyond guitar playing, Jimi Hendrix was so creative in the studio, even Dylan was knocked out by what he did with that song. Putting your producer hat on, what's your take on the opening of "All Along the Watchtower" in particular, and Hendrix in the studio in general?

DT: You know for me, after working with Jay Joyce, the producer on Songlines (Columbia,2006), it really opened up my head to the art of producing and the art of making records, as opposed to playing live which was my sole focus up to that point. So with that hat on, and thinking along those lines, those Hendrix records are all the more impressive to me. He was the one in that generation, I mean there were a few guys making great records, but Hendrix was really the one who took that model, with the experimentation you could do in the studio, and really made it fine art. Some of the shit is really over the top, and he's really stretching the technology as far as it could go, it's hi-fi it's low-fi, it's comic book, it's classic melodies. And with a tune like "All Along the Watchtower" and what he does with a lot of tunes he plays, he takes a great song and he makes it epic. He makes it an anthem.

Our guitar tech, Bobby Tis, was a huge help in building our studio. His father (Bobby Tis Sn.) was the chief engineer at the Electric Lady Studios for 13 years, and he drew up the blueprints and transformed it from a rehearsal room to a world class studio. So it just seemed natural to go to Hendrix's old apartment and old studio and mix it. He's been such an influence, and the fact that Bobby Tis worked at Electric Lady—so from our home studio to his home studio to finish it off, that was definitely part of the thinking—I like when you can tie those loose ends together. And it adds to the myth of a record too.

AAJ: You don't sing on stage, but I'm curious if you find it useful to sing when you are writing songs?

DT: Yeah a little bit. I can do it with a slide and play a melody I'm hearing, but when you're writing lyrics it's definitely helpful to sing it out. With some of these tunes like "Maybe This Time," the track was finished, it was one of the tunes I wrote in the studio, but I couldn't quite settle on a vocal melody so I played the track for Doyle with all of the vocal ideas out of it, just a bare track, and had him just sing down vocal ideas onto the track, and he was just kind of singing phonetically to the song, and I went back and listened to that, and wrote lyrics to his melodies, so there's different ways to do it.

AAJ: When we think of singers like Bob Dylan, Leon Russell, or even Johnny Cash, it's clear that a compelling vocal isn't limited to those born with great range and power, like Susan. Now that you have your own studio where you can experiment in private, is it possible we might someday hear you on a vocal?

DT: [Laughing] You never know, I might do a few records and then wait till I'm gone and then release it.

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Eric Clapton

AAJ: You were out on tour with Eric Clapton for over a year. Growing up as an aspiring guitarist, there must have been some things you had always wanted to ask him. Here's a guy who hung out and played with Carl Perkins, Jimi Hendrix, Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, B.B. King, and was in the studio with George Martin and The Beatles. Could you share a bit about some of the things you asked, or some of the things he shared with you?

DT: I was fortunate that I knew it was going to be a year long, so I didn't have that moment where I thought, all right I'm going to have a few minutes with him, so I just felt like I could kind of let it unfold. It was great, because without having to ask questions you get a more natural story. It was great when it was just going gig to gig, or hanging out between gigs, just hearing those stories of the things you asked about. Hearing about him going to see Hendrix. You know, I'm hearing these stories that should be in the encyclopedia [laughs], it was pretty amazing stuff.

While we were on the road he was in the process of writing his book too, so he was very much in the process of digging that stuff up. Even to the point where I felt he was trying to get insight into the whole Duane Allman Brothers camp from me, so it would just kind of spark memories and spark his recollection of Duane and that time. I could tell that that time left a big mark on him; I think because he got that close with Duane right before he passed, that was a huge part of his life.

Derek Trucks / Eric Clapton Eric Clapton and Derek Trucks

It really is amazing the amount of stuff Eric was there for, just right in the middle. You know there weren't that many guys who made the connection with Capricorn Records, Muscle Shoals, the Deep South, and yet was in there with The Beatles, and Howlin' Wolf. As far as electrified rock music, he had his hands or feet in all of it; it's astounding when you think about it as a whole.

AAJ: There's that story that Tom Dowd told of being at an Allman Brothers show with Eric, and Duane opened his eyes during a solo and saw Eric and stopped playing.

DT: I've heard that same story, and that's when the "Layla" thing happened. Eric came out to see The Allman Brothers and Eric actually mentioned that show and Tom Dowd taking him to see Duane and the band somewhere in South Florida. Eric talked about how impressive it was, those guys -scraggly haired (laughing)—just playin' their asses off with something to prove. When Eric was talking about that very show, you could tell it was a fresh memory, he was reliving it. He actually told me about that show because my uncle (Butch Trucks) was coming out to the Madison Square Garden show we did with Clapton, and I don't think Butch had seen Eric since those days, so it was cool to see that little mini-reunion.

AAJ: I was really moved by the way you and Eric communicated when you started doing "Why Does Love Got to be so Sad" as the tour progressed.

DT: Yeah, yeah, those were some of my favorite moments of the tour.

AAJ: You could just see it, in those moments there was no age difference, no question of fame or icon status, you guys were just so intimate and in the moment. Even as someone in the audience, you could just feel the spirits talking. I'm curious what that's like for the musician, do you get the sense your talking soul to soul in those moments, and does something like that forge a special bond between you?

DT: I think so, definitely, when you're communicating on that level it's total trust. And all of your senses are full on in those moments, you're in a heightened sense of awareness and you're being really sensitive to the other player. You're trying to do your own thing and head down a certain path while also reacting. There were two or three nights when we played that and I felt it really happened. I felt good [laughing], it felt great!

AAJ: I wondered too, you toured extensively in Japan and China, were you ever struck by the sensation that music really is the universal language. You know, when the audience doesn't speak your language and you suddenly realize, we're communicating?

DT: Yes, completely. With The Allman Brothers it's a very American band, and they never really traveled overseas much, maybe one or two tours, but with Eric's thing, I think it has always been a world tour with him. So it was the first time I'd really seen that, almost the same size crowd in every city we went to. The whole world, it was shocking to me, to go to China, which is culturally a pretty clamped down spot, and you could feel the difference in every place we went, but yet there were certain moments in the night when it was pretty much the same across the board, the reaction to certain tunes—it would be the same in Detroit, Michigan as it would be in Stockholm, Sweden (laughs)—it's fascinating, but yes it definitely hit me that there aren't many things on this earth, if anything, that is as universal as music.

AAJ: I think Brian Wilson once said it was the language of God.

DT: Yes, that's pretty much on the mark.

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Branford and Wynton Marsalis

AAJ: You've played with both Wynton and Branford Marsalis. I've heard audio of Branford with The Allman Brothers and with your band. He was tearin' up "Joyful Noise" and "Dreams," he seemed to really be into it, playing in your backyard, totally at home there and having a great time.

DT: Yeah he's an unbelievable player. He and his wife came out to one of our shows in North Carolina, and the first time he said, "I'm just here as an audience member to check it out, my wife wanted to come." [Laughing] So I told him, "Man next time just please bring your horn!" So the next time he came out he sat in and just absolutely destroyed those tunes, it was definitely one of the highlights of our band's musical career. I remember, the show in Charlotte, when he hit the stage and took his first solo, the energy just completely picked up, he made everybody play harder, and it was just a really and truly a magical moment, he's one of those guys that elevates all the players around him, he really does, but in a way in which there is no stress involved. You're not self conscious about it; you just dig in a little bit harder. He's great, I mean, not many people feel comfortable with an orchestra and a rock band.

One thing that struck me, he walked on our tour bus before the show and we were watching a Muddy Waters DVD and he walked in and saw it, and you could tell, he just immediately dug that as much as he dug straight ahead, and that says a lot to me.

AAJ: But with Wynton, it's more like you play in his backyard isn't it, upscale jazz venues?

Derek Trucks / Wynton Marsalis Wynton Marsalis, Susan Tedeschi, Derek Trucks

DT: Right, one time I played with Wynton and his orchestra at the Lincoln Center in New York. Susan and I came out, and they did a version of "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" and we did "I Wish I Knew" with Susan singing, and then I played with him in DC the day before the inauguration. It was me and Bela Fleck, and Mark O'Connor, and Wynton, and we did "Sweet Georgia Brown." [Laughing] I'm the only electric instrument of the night, so I'm at a whisper of the tone. So it's definitely being in his backyard, whereas with Branford it was him coming out. But you know, with Wynton, he did come out to an Allman Brothers Beacon show once, and it was great seeing him there. And afterwards I went up to Harlem to a jazz club called St. Nick's with Jaimoe [Johanson] and I went out the back of the room to meet a few people. I heard a trumpet player playin' and there was a ton of musicians there waitin' to sit in, and I heard somebody blowin' and I said, "Who in the hell is that! That's strong, and whoever is playin' drums is swingin' his ass off." So I came around the corner and it was Jaimoe and Wynton. [Laughing] You could have given me 500 guesses and that's not the pairing I was thinking, so it was great hearing both of them in that setting, it was pretty unhinged, it was great, I'd never heard either one of those guys play like that.

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Carlos Santana

AAJ: To my mind Santana's "Soul Sacrifice" was one of the most amazing rock performances ever captured on film.

DT: Oh yeah.

AAJ: So after touring with him, what surprised you most about Carlos as a musician and as a person?

DT: For me, growing up—my Dad saw Duane a bunch, he was at The Fillmore, so for him that was the pinnacle of rock music and guitar playing, and that's the way it always felt in my household. It was Duane and Dickey [Betts] and Eric on the [Derek and the] Dominoes stuff, and really the only other guy he had a huge amount of respect for was Carlos Santana. So Santana was always in that circle, at least that's how I felt about it growing up.

So to get to meet him, and hang out with him, he was so generous with his time and energy, it was pretty overwhelming. When he accepts you, he's incredibly sincere, a true friend, a great guy. And the other thing, early on with my band, not being a singer and having the band named after me, he was kind of the archetype of that. And even the success his band had playing pretty much improvisational music, with maybe a chant vocal, and maybe some strong melodies here and there—I don't really know of any other people who have made that work. So he was a source of inspiration that way too. For our band, we felt like, you know there are examples for what we're doing—it can be done, so don't despair. [Laughing].

AAJ: Just think, Santana did "The Healer" with John Lee Hooker in one take! With that rhythm and sound, I thought that was one of the most innovative things I'd heard in the blues in decades.

Derek Trucks / Carlos Santana Carlos Santana and Derek Trucks

DT: Yeah, man, and it almost seems like that one take resurrected John Lee Hooker's career right before he passed, which is so nice to see somebody actually get his due while he's still alive. (Note: Hooker was 72 when this was released.)

AAJ: And he rocked on that!

DT: (Cracking up) It's funny you mention that tune, because I haven't bought many records in my lifetime that have just been released. But when I heard "The Healer" I knew I had to have that! I burned that record out, it was really that one track that I burnt out, there were other great tracks, but that was magic for sure.

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McCoy Tyner and John Snyder

AAJ: Well if working with Santana weren't enough, you got to work with McCoy Tyner, Ron Carter, and Jack DeJohnette? I noticed John Snyder who produced the 1997 debut CD of the Derek Trucks Band also produced this McCoy Tyner project, was he responsible for getting you this opportunity?

DT: Actually it happened through McCoy's manager [Steve Bensusan], who also runs the Blue Note clubs. We had played The Blue Note and stayed in touch with him, and actually Susan and I were doing a photo shoot for The New York Times at the Blue Note and Steve approached us, he said they were thinking about doing a guitar record with McCoy and asked if we would interested, and I said, "Of course, how much is it going to cost me? I'll be there! Whatever it takes." [laughing] That was great, and then I was really pumped to see that John Synder was doing it, and most of the times I've been on recordings with John it was because of him. I got to record with The Band before [bassist/vocalist Rick] Danko died because of John, I got to record with R.L. Burnside and Joe Louis Walker and a bunch of great acts through John Snyder.

Derek Trucks / McCoy TynerHe's the one who did our first record, when no label or anyone was interested in recording us, John put up his own cash and stuck his neck out. And he was the first major supporter of the band, and really kept the band together and alive for a long time, so I'm hugely indebted to him, and he's been somewhat of a mentor to me, I was really young when I met him, I was maybe 15 or 16, I met him on the Junior Wells sessions, and he immediately opened up to me and we became good friends. I would always pick his brain about all sorts of things, and he would either recommend great books or I would get a package in the mail every once and awhile with four or five books, pretty heavy reading, and whether it was Bertrand Russell or whoever, we've had an ongoing dialog for about fifteen years now.

AAJ: He's amazing, I got a CD the other day which was virtually the last recording that Paul Desmond ever made, with Chet Baker, and I noticed John Synder was there for that.

DT: Yeah, John's all over that stuff. After I met him I went through a lot of my CDs and I was shocked by how many of the reissues had been produced by John. He was right there in the middle of it for a long, long time. I mean, CTI and his own label Artists House, he was and still is ahead of the curve. Like with artists owning their masters, stuff that's still unheard of today, he was experimenting with that in late '70s and early '80s. [Laughs] He got fired off of a lot of gigs for being too generous.

AAJ: That pays off later.

DT: I think it does! And he's still working and a lot of them aren't.

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Crossroads: Tal Wilkenfeld and Johnny Winter

AAJ: There were so many stellar guitar moments at the Crossroads Festival, but I wondered if you caught Jeff Beck's set with Tal Wilkenfeld? That was a pretty awesome bass solo she dropped on those people.

DT: That was great, Susan and I are both good friends with Tal, so we went out front for that, so that's one of the few sets we caught from the audience's perspective. We got to catch that, we were so excited to see her on the big screen, and people just freakin' out, asking, "Who is that chick?" I loved it!

AAJ: She looked like she was about 14, but I was surprised she was in her twenties. But some amazing playing.

DT: A great player. I think she's in Japan with Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton right now.

AAJ: Of course you backed Johnny Winter at the Crossroads Festival. I love those Muddy Waters albums he produced and played on, he and Muddy were both on top of their game: "Mannish Boy," "I'm Ready," and "I Can't be Satisfied." He was so close to Muddy, did you have a chance to talk to Johnny backstage?

Derek Trucks / Johnny Winter Derek Trucks and Johnny Winter

DT: You know what, I didn't really. I've spent a little bit of time with Johnny and he's been really gracious to me over the years, but he's not too communicative, he's a bit of a recluse.

But you know, we just did a Blues Cruise and I spent a lot of time with Bob Margolin who was also on those records with Johnny and Muddy, and John was in Muddy's band for years and he's an encyclopedia of knowledge when it comes to Muddy. He's really the disciple who's out there preachin' the gospel of Muddy Waters. So I've gotten a lot of great stories out of Bob, he makes no apologies that he's here to spread the word about how great Muddy was. And I love when someone takes on a roll like that and just does it!

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The Allman Brothers, Chuck Leavell and Barbara Dennerlein

AAJ: I saw a YouTube clip of Dickey Betts calling you on stage when you were just a young kid to play with The Allman Brothers, you looked to be in your early teens. And I was trying to imagine what that would be like for a kid, and here's what I came up with. If I were a kid and I went to a Yankees game with my glove hoping to snag a ball, and they called me into the game. That's how I might have felt in your shoes.

DT: That's about how it did feel. They were my first and biggest influence and at that point there was no music that I was more into. So to get to sit in—I don't get nervous much, [laughing] but I was pretty damn nervous!

AAJ: But you really nailed it. And what impressed me, was that Dickey Betts looked past your extreme youth and treated you with respect as a musician, I got the sense he was impressed.

DT: Yes, they were great to me then. That was a great moment, I definitely remember that whole day really well. I'd never played through an amplifier that loud or played with a band like that, and I remember the first thing Dickey said was, "Don't stand in front of my amps, you might loose your hearing. I know how to stand in front of it, so stand over here, it's safer." [Laughs] And I said something like, "Yes sir."

AAJ: I interviewed Chuck Leavell last year and he had a lot of kinds things to say about you. I wondered, you're probably in the best position to judge this, well maybe not from age, but when we lost Duane [Allman]—and we heard that this 20 year-old pianist would be stepping into the void left by Duane—what an incredible achievement Chuck accomplished.

DT: Yeah I love Chuck. And the first record he did with the band, he played some of the most classic solos that have ever been on an Allman Brothers record. I mean that solo on "Jessica" is so recognizable; what a feat, and that was a lot of weight, I'm sure that was quite a task jumping into that, when I joined the band it was 30 years after the fact, and I still put a lot of thought into it, I can't imagine doing that when the wound was still fresh.

AAJ: And I wanted to get your take on something else. When I listen to what Jaimoe and Chuck did with their early Sea Level albums, I got the impression that they had been trying to do something for The Allman Brothers and eventually they just gave up and went their own way, but that would have been an interesting musical direction for The Allman Brothers.

DT: Yes I think some of that definitely got in there, but sometimes you need different outlets, and I think that started as a trio, We Three, and it turned into Sea Level. But yes, there was some great playing—Jaimoe, Lamar [Williams] and Chuck.

AAJ: I should also mention I interviewed Barbara Dennerlein a couple of years ago and asked her about you. She said your playing knocked her out and she loved your sound.

DT: I've heard a lot of her stuff now, and she was supposed to make it out to a show the last time we were in Germany, but I think she had car trouble. So I hope I'll run into her soon, she's great, an amazing player.

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Meeting President Obama

AAJ: There's a video of Barak Obama telling a reporter that he loves Howlin' Wolf's London Sessions (MCA/Chess, 1971), with Clapton, and the song "Wang Dang Doodle." That's pretty cool, and he's got Coltrane on his iPod. I wondered, when you were in Washington for the inauguration, did you at least get a chance to see him?

Muddy WatersDT: Yes, Susan and I got a little bit of face time with the Bidens and the Obamas. It was nice, it was such a crazy day, and we were there for the swearing in. We had pretty good seats for that, and the energy there was just amazing. I haven't seen that many people in one place ever, and I've never seen a crowd like that, I mean, anytime you have that many people confined in a limited area it's going to be a pain in the ass. On normal days there would have been a lot of bickering and petty bullshit [Laughing] but everybody was in just such a good mood. I saw a lot of people start to get annoyed, and then shrug it off like "Not today." [Laughing] I thought to myself, even if it just lasts one day, I appreciate that sentiment.

AAJ: That's definitely something your great, great grandkids will be talking about.

DT: It was great, seeing Aretha Franklin and Yo-Yo Ma, and that night to play. I think he showed up a little before 1 am to our ball, so it was a long day for him, and us! But he was great man, he was great with his time, the Secret Service had to pull him away, "Mr. President, we've got to go, we've got one more ball left." It was fun, Susan and Michelle Obama and the President were talking about having kids, as busy as their schedules are, and how crazy it is to tour with kids. It was great; it felt like a real life moment, it was a lot of fun.

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What If?

AAJ: Last question, if you could go back and somehow be a witness to four musical events, one each from jazz, blues, rock and classic, which would you choose?

DT: Seeing Howlin' Wolf in his element, I don't know when his peak was, as far as havin' his great bands with Hubert [Sumlin], but seein' Wolf when he was on top of his game in a sweaty club, that would be high on the list for blues.

For jazz it's a toss-up. I think the first thing that came to mind was seein' Charlie Christian
Charlie Christian
Charlie Christian
1916 - 1942
guitar, electric
at Minton's, some of those jam sessions with Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
1917 - 1993
trumpet
and Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
1917 - 1982
piano
and Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
1920 - 1955
sax, alto
, that would have been pretty great. But with jazz there's three, so I'm just going to throw them out! (Laughing) Seeing the Sun Ra
Sun Ra
Sun Ra
1914 - 1993
keyboard
Arkestra in the mid-'60s probably, when John Gilmore
John Gilmore
John Gilmore
1931 - 1995
saxophone
was just playin' out of his head. They were just deep into it, makin' great records, so seein' those guys do their thing. Or the John Coltrane
John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
saxophone
Quartet around the time of Live at Birdland (Impulse!, 1963). So for jazz that's probably the three.

Derek Trucks

Classical, let's see, I would love to have seen Glenn Gould perform, I would love to have been there when [Krzysztof] Penderecki first broke out "Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima"—just for the craziness of it. And the riot that [Igor] Stravinsky's Firebird Suite caused, I would have liked to have been there. And from all the stories I've heard of his tone and how beautiful it was in person, I would love to have seen Joshua Heifetz.

For rock, it would be some of those famous Fillmore shows. I never got to see Duane [Allman] so that would be first on the list. You know, seeing Duane or Hendrix, or Duane and Clapton together that would have been great. Any one of those three, but I think seeing The Allman Brothers in their heydays would have been life changing.

Selected Discography

The Derek Trucks Band, Already Free (Columbia, 2009)

Susan Tedeschi, Back to the River (Verve, 2008)

Elvin Bishop, The Blues Roll On (Delta Groove, 2008)

David Sanborn, Here & Gone (Decca, 2008)

Buddy Guy, Skin Deep (Zomba, 2008)

The Derek Trucks Band, Songlines (Columbia, 2006)

J.J. Cale/Eric Clapton, The Road to Escondido (Reprise, 2006)

Susan Tedeschi, Hope and Desire (Verve, 2005)

Jerry Douglas, The Best Kept Secret (Koch, 2005)

The Derek Trucks Band, Live at Georgia Theater (Sony Music, 2004)

The Allman Brothers Band, One Way Out (Sanctuary, 2004)

The Derek Trucks Band, Soul Serenade (Columbia, 2003)

The Allman Brothers Band, Hittin' the Note (Sanctuary, 2003)

Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Little Worlds (Columbia, 2003)

The Derek Trucks Band, Joyful Noise (Columbia, 2002)

Susan Tedeschi, Wait For Me (Tone Cool, 2002)

The Allman Brothers Band, Peakin' at the Beacon (Epic, 2000)

The Derek Trucks Band, Out of the (House of Blues, 1998)

The Derek Trucks Band, The Derek Trucks Band (Landslide Records, 1997)

Gregg Allman , Searching for Simplicity (Sony, 1997)

Photo Credits

Top Photo: Darren Stone

Trucks With Eric Clapton: Chris Tuite

All Other Photos: Courtesy of Derek Trucks


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