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Talkin' Blues

Derek Trucks: Moving Forward, Back Where He Started

By Published: February 24, 2009
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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