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Talkin' Blues

Derek Trucks: Moving Forward, Back Where He Started

By Published: February 24, 2009
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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