Derek Trucks Interview

<< return to previous page

RM: DTB now has "Key to the Highway," and "Anyday" in the repertoire.

DT: That ("Anyday") was a tune we just worked up for New Year's and it felt so good playing it we just stated putting it in the set. So maybe those are tunes we'll play with him. "Key to the Highway" was just a great blues tune to toss in. But in a way it was kind of a warm up, or at least to get those tunes back in my head or get 'em back in the front of your mind. That's the record that I listened to a ton early on, but then you know you get away from it.

RM: You don't sing. Do you make up for that by the way you play guitar?

DT: At times I try to play thinking as a singer. You're playing melodies and you're not thinking about guitar parts, you're thinking about cutting through on that level. But I just never really had the desire to sing; and being married to someone who can really sing, I don't want to be the hack in the house now.

RM: And you've got Mike Mattison.

DT: Yeah, he's got it covered.

RM: A reviewer of Songlines said you've outgrown the band; how do you react to that?

DT: It's a weird thing about reviews and critics. They can praise the record, but there's always going to be a little snide remark in there. I don't know if it's just part of the gig or what it is. But if I felt that way personally, I probably would have moved on. But I feel like there's a lot of music to be made with this group.

RM: You've been together a long time.

DT: Yeah, and I think it's a lost art. I don't think there's many bands that do stay together, and a lot of it is because people will believe what is read. There's a band, they've got something great doing on and somebody decides they're the sole reason for it, and they jump off and do their own thing and they all realize, 'wow this sucks. This is terrible.' I think you have to follow the path that got you there.

RM: The band is the right vehicle for you?

DT: There is something really honest about being with guys that you know well enough and that know you well enough where they're not just going to go with anything that is said. You're dealt with on a very honest level like you are with family. You can't get by with shit that you could if you had a new group all the time. You get called on your shit, and it goes across the board and I think it keeps everything really organic that way.

RM: It seems like family is a theme for your approach to music. There's the Allmans, your wife Susan (Tedeschi). Music is your big family.

DT: Oh yeah. I think it's important, especially if you want to do it throughout your life and you want to keep the music and everything really close to you. It's important to have people around that you actually give a damn about. It's weird because we've been around a lot of different groups and there's a lot of things working inside of different groups, and it's not always a healthy situation, so you try to set your situation up where it is and if there's an issue you deal with it immediately. If there's problems musically or otherwise you just discuss it you get it out and you don't wait for it to implode or explode

RM: Rolling Stone put you on its Top 100 guitarist list, others call you one of the best of your generation. But guitar heroes are no longer the pop-culture icons they were 30 years ago.

DT: Music has changed so much; that scene that was going on in the late 60s early 70s, it's the first time that musicians were viewed in that light. It lasted for a short period and then it was gone, and I think probably for the better. Not many that were held up in that status survived it. I don't think it's healthy for you. It was a weird thing going on then where guys like Hendrix and Clapton, a lot of them were held up in this light where they were almost deities ... Some of the guys dealt with it in the right way, some of the guys kind of got overtaken with it and some of the women too, and I don't think that's really going on in our scene any more.

It seems to have shifted away, in some ways in a negative way, where the music that's really being played and that musicians give a damn about is actually accepted, it's not that way any more. A band like this, 30-35 years ago would have had much more success than it does. It takes longer now. You just have to hit the pavement for 12 years before it starts coming back.

RM: Touring seems more important now.

DT: Oh yeah, we at one point were doing 250 days a year. You hit the road hard just to keep it rolling. That was before we got records out and everything else. You're just trying to build a grassroots following. And looking at it now, I can't think of a better way to do it because the fans that you do have are really loyal. And they care about the band and what's going on and they're going to support it in a real way. I think if you have overnight radio and TV success, I think it comes and goes pretty quickly.

RM: Where does studio recording fit in for you?

DT: I think it's nice to leave a document every few years of where the band is and what's going on. It's a different experience being in the studio. It's much more of a laboratory. You can throw out ideas that you can't really get across live. There's melodies. There's a thousand things that you do in the studio that you would never think about doing live. With this record, it's the first time I really felt like we explored the studio in a positive way. I've actually got the bug now. It makes me want to do it a lot more. I'm actually trying to build a studio behind my house so I can have an excuse to stay home, one, and then set up a laboratory and have all the great musicians that we know come down and contribute.

RM: Is there any studio work in the pipeline?

DT: No, this year is pretty solid. We're trying to get tunes together as a band so we can get back in, but between the Clapton tour and the Allman tour and us supporting this record it's pretty solid. We did do a DVD a few weeks back in Chicago and that will be coming out I think, July-August somewhere in there. We're really excited about that.
It was one of those where you have one shot at it. You know they're spending all this cash on 10 cameras, hi-def, and you've got to step up and either do it or not and luckily it was one of those nights were everyone played amazingly well. The vibe was right, the crowd was great, so we're excited about it. We had Jay Joyce who produced our record, he makes the DVD and it sounds great.

RM: Can you crank it up when you need to?

DT: You hope you can. That's one of the things being on the road for eight and 10 years as a band really does for you. Early on, I would notice in the high-pressure situations, sometimes it would just feel a little tight, like everyone was over-thinking it. It didn't feel natural. The last dozen or so chances we've had as a band to be in those situations where you really need to step it up everyone has, more than I expected that they would. Whether it's doing a show at Town Hall in New York, your really excited it's a beautiful venue and you know there's going to be people in the room listening. Where five years ago I think it might have been a little tense, it's the best show of the tour. And that's the way the Park West in Chicago was with DVD, I think it was the best show we played the whole tour. It's almost like you save it up for that night, and then the two shows afterward were not necessarily a let down but you feel like a little of the air has gone out because you've had this goal in mind the whole trip and you did it. The two shows after that, you still want to make it happen but it just doesn't have that same fire.

RM: How will it be to be playing with Doyle Bramhall II?

DT: I'm excited about it. The stuff he played on Susan's record I really enjoyed. Just the brief time I got to hang with him on the Clapton record was great, and I think he might be the reason I got the gig. He might have turned Eric on to our records, so I'm indebted to him that way. He's a great guy. I know we have a lot of common interests, musically and otherwise, so I imagine he'll be my partner in crime on the tour.

RM: Is a US tour on the cards?

DT: I don't know I've heard rumors about it, but nothing yet. I hope so.

RM: You play a surgical, meticulous style, how does that leave room for improvisation.

DT: I think it's just a matter of when you're onstage and focusing, you don't want to let any second go by where like you either half-assed it or phoned it in. You're hypercritical. You want to be able to listen back to a tape and not just be horrified by what I hear, and most of the time you are. So with the exception of maybe the record we just did, where the whole time you're in there you, know every note you play is going to be heard over and over. So you just focus in a different way and you don't air it out quite as much. There's some nights where you focus in a little harder than others. I wouldn't say focus; there are some nights where you are more meticulous and some nights where you feel freer. You just kind of get stupid with it -- let it fly a little more.

RM: How much are you focused on putting music out, how much do you take in when you play?

DT: It's a constant shift, man. It's a pulsating thing. There are some times where you're feeding off the audience; there are some times where you are completely self-absorbed or musically self-absorbed. There are sometimes where you are listening to the band and you don't really notice what you are playing. It seems to constantly shift. The peak moments you are kind of watching it all go down.

There are actually times where you can actually watch yourself and the band play, like you're almost stepping away from it. I remember the first time it happened it kind of freaked you out. And then you suddenly come back and there's a few wrong notes on the way back. On a great night you're a spectator too.

RM: You have cited Col. Bruce Hampton as a major influence; what's his place in American music?

DT: The colonel, he's a catalyst for so many ideas musically. Not only the colonel, but Jimmy Herring, Oteil. Jeff Sipe, all the guys that were in his circle musically. When I met them, maybe 12-13 years old, I was into the blues stuff, I was into the right stuff that way but outside of that I was pretty clueless to what else was going on, and they have such a broad view of things, and such an amazing take on things.

RM: Did you play with Aquarium Rescue Unit?

DT: We did shows with the Aquarium Rescue Unit. That's where I really got introduced to him. And the colonel was great -- always at the right time he would hit me with a certain book that would just blow my mind or a certain record. He turned me on to A Love Supreme and Sun Ra and just all these great records; it was right when I needed it. He seems to be a master of that. He takes musicians that have natural ability and just kind of shatters everything they thought about music and then you pick up the pieces and then you figure out that there's a whole new world out there. He also, somehow he makes you focus on making what you do important, but not take yourself very seriously. I think it's lost on a lot of musicians I think they have it backwards. You see a lot of guys, they take themselves real seriously and what they're doing doesn't hold that much weight with them."

RM: I got turned on to Sun Ra just a few years ago. It's exceptional music.

DT: There's so much of it, man, there's so many periods of it. There was a few years here that's about all I was into. There's so many great records and then John Gilmore his tenor player, man, he's on my list, top 3 or 4 tenors of all time. There's a few records with him. One is called Interstellar Low Ways. I think it's a track, Rocket Number Nine (Takes Off For The Planet Venus), it takes a tenor solo that's just beautiful. It starts really lyrical, really inside, it's beautiful and by the end of it it's just gone, to me its like the whole history of jazz tenor playing inside of one solo. It's amazing.
DT: There's some great footage of Sun Ra. I don't know if you've' seen it

RM: I've seen the Joyful Noise video - I connected it in my mind today with your Joyful Noise CD.

DT: There's some great Gilmore footage in that one. It's a great interview with Gilmore. They were asking him why -- he was a pretty big deal for a while - and everyone was like why are you staying with Sun Ra you have all these offers to go out and tour with McCoy Tyner, with Art Blakey? And he kinds of gives the story on that video (he said:) "I all of a sudden heard it. We were playing this tune called Saturn and it hit me, I guess I'll make this my spot." Forty years later he was still doing it., man. It was not about the money or the glory for those guys, that's for sure.

RM: Is Sun Ra's collective ideal - they lived together - in any way a model for your band?

DT: I think so. Spending all that time just really being into him and his story and that music, think it's got to rub off on you in that way. Sun Ra was taken on a lot of levels. Some people took him seriously. Some considered it a total joke. Some people considered the musicianship horrible; some people thought it was genius. I think the way he and those guys would just let it roll off, and they kept doing their thing regardless of what was being said, I think it was a little bit of a model too.

RM: I first saw you with Phil Lesh in 1999.

DT: I didn't know any of that music until those days when I started playing with him. I got a random call from him on my cell phone, we were out on the road. Phil Lesh gave me a call. Our soundman was a Deadhead and I was like, "Is Phil Lesh, is he a bass player?" and he was like "oh yeah he's great." So I called him back and he asked me to come out and fill in for the guitar player that split (Steve Kimock) and I was like, "I'd love to but I don't know any of your music. I've never listened to any of the records," and he was like you know, "perfect, come on out." And every day they'd hand me a set list in the morning with three or four CDs and all the tunes burned on 'em and I'd just spend all day listening to these Garcia parts, and it was great experience to have to learn that stuff, be on the spot every night, tunes you learned that morning. It was a great experience, trial by fire.

RM: You weren't playing Garcia licks on that tour.

DT: I'd never heard 'em. If I would have (played them) it would have been by accident. I was just hanging out with Jimmy Herring last week, and he took that role when I left the band. The record that Phil heard that made him call me was the record that Jimmy Herring played on -- our record, the Derek Trucks Band, and he was asking about guitar players and I was like "Jimmy's the guy." So I played him a track on our record that had Jimmy and he was like "Oh yeah, you think he can do the gig?" and I was like "Oh yeah, he's got it covered." Jimmy was great in that role for a while.

RM: You've said you try to emulate the sound of horns.

DT: Yeah, you know, Wayne Shorter, and Gilmore and a lot of those guys. There were years where I just refused to listen to guitar players. It was all singers, horn players., Indian classical. Because there were so many, especially in the blues scene that I grew up around, there were so many guys that just emulated someone, and that was it - it was all Stevie Ray Vaughn licks, it was all - it became a thing to rebel against -- I'm just not going to listen to any of it anymore

RM: Where did you get your own musical voice and when did you feel it was your own?

DT: Somewhere in there, a few years after fumbling around with all that shit

RM: You just put the guitar influences off to the side?

DT: Yeah, for a little while, and then you come back to it and you realize how great that stuff really is, and you can incorporate a little bit.

RM: How were you affected by the theft of your gear?

DT: Blake our manager he was like sit down I've got bad news. So I was thinking it was health or somebody was hurt. He was like the gear was stolen and I was like oh, then a half-hour later I got pissed about it. But you know it can all be replaced. We were lucky, the response was pretty amazing. Two people showed up at the Beacon with 1964 Super Reverbs (amps) as gifts. But it doesn't sound the same, you know. I've had that amp for like 15 years, and I played it nonstop. It feels different. But it's coming around.

RM: Did you have stuff done to yours (amp)?

DT: Yeah, it was just weird speakers and shit in there you can't really replace.

RM: A lot of it was vintage, right?

DT: Oh yeah, the (Hammond) B-3 (organ) was from the 50s. The amp was from the 60s. Todd's bass head was early 70s. Rico had had his drum set for about 20 years. So it's a lot of stuff. An old (Hohner) Clavinet.

RM: Do you feel like they knew what they were looking for?

DT: That's my feeling, you know. Either that or it was completely random and somebody just thought they were getting lawn mowers in the trailer. They opened it up and were like "What the hell -- what am I going to do with this shit?"

RM: I read you don't use effects pedals, and the amps are really important to your sound.

DT: This whole tour, it's been tweaking amps. The first few nights were frustrating. You're so used to the sound. You just can't get it. It's getting closer now.

Learn more about Derek and upcomiing gigs on his Official Site

Also check out Derek Trucks Band setlists and more Here

Interview & photos © 2006 Randall Mikkelsen
. All rights reserved.

This interview or any photos contained within may not be reprinted
anywhere in any form -- online or offline -- without the express
written consent of Randall Mikkelsen and
However, we certainly encourage you to link here.

. .

. .